Reply To: Going off the Derech

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Write or Wrong —

Upon first reading SMC’s presumption that something traumatizing must have happened to your son for him to go off the derekh, I completely disagreed. There are many, many reasons that a person may decide to no longer be religiously observant that have nothing to do with suffering trauma. It was — I thought — far too presumptuous a declaration.

But your last post suggests that SMC may well be onto something. There is a significant difference between an adolescent’s (perhaps understandable) desire to forge his own path and make choices different from the ones his parents taught him to make, and going so far as to act in a way that is blatantly, explicitly disrespectful. That your son might choose to indulge in activities that you wouldn’t approve of *on his own* is one thing. But acting in a manner that interferes with your belief system, and your enjoyment of Shabbos, is quite another.

The fact that he’s smoking and listening to music on Shabbos *in the house* is, I think, an issue of great concern. In my mind, it bespeaks a real sense of anger…a real need to lash out in a direct, searing, and hurtful way. If, outside of your religious differences, there isn’t a strong basis of conflict between your son and the rest of your family, I would be concerned. The message that your son is sending is that he’s so angry at religion (or the way he has been treated by religious people) that he’s willing to sacrifice his innate drive to be respectful and loving to you and the rest of your family. That sort of anger doesn’t stem merely from theological opposition to religiosity…it bespeaks, I think, something much deeper — particularly if he’s old enough (18?) to go off and engage in these activities outside of your view. When ‘sticking it’ to religion trumps maintaining a cordial and respectful relationship with the family that you otherwise love, the anger undoubtedly runs very deep.

Disclaimer: I am no therapist. This is all merely my opinion. It is not at all uncommon, in my experience, for OTD children of religious parents to act in accordance with halacha in the presence of their parents — not out of fear, or because they’re trying to ‘fool’ their parents — but merely out of respect for them and their happiness. People are free to make their own choices, but there’s no reason to shove the choices you make that your parents disapprove of in their face, simply lehachis. Agitation for its own sake is not something we do to people we love. I would interpret your son’s choice to act out in front of you as a crying out for help — not for help returning to the fold of Yiddishkeit per se, but for help in dealing with whatever it is that has caused him to be so angry.

The other possibility is that he’s upset that you’re making such strident efforts to make him chozer b’tshuvah, and this is how he sends the message that he’s not interested.