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Letting My Daughter Go

When my daughter got married at 20, I worried she was too young. But I was the one who wasn’t ready.

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The author (left) at her daughter’s wedding, walking with the veiled bride. (No Eye Has Seen Photography)

“I can do that and be married, too,” Emily assured us.

Married? The word lodged behind my ribcage. “Who said anything about marriage?” I asked desperately.

“Mom, did you think I was dating just for fun?”

And what would be so terrible about that? “How about to get some experience, to see who is out there—”

“And I found him!” Emily said. “How was I supposed to know it would happen that fast? It could have taken another five years.”

“You’re barely 20.”

“Yes, Mom, I know.”

We tried talking sense into her, at least what we thought made sense. You really haven’t known him long enough. How can you support yourselves? We can’t afford to make a wedding now. Don’t you want more time with your brother and sister? We got married at the sensible age of 26. You’re both too young! Every concern or objection her father and I raised, Emily countered with her practicality and natural optimism.

“Mom, I know this wasn’t on your timetable,” Emily said calmly. “I can appreciate how hard it must be for you.”

Oh, so it was my problem.

“OK,” I said, catching my breath and trying another tactic. “So, how about getting engaged, but waiting a year before getting married?” Or two.

“Mom, do you know how hard that would be?”

I stared at her. And then I got it. Emily and Michael were following the halachic dictum of no touching until they stood under the wedding canopy. How could I have forgotten? And what could I say to that?

“Besides,” she continued, “who wants to be in limbo? We want to start our life together. Sooner than later.”

My mouth went dry. “How soon?”

I wish I could say I was thrilled when Emily and Michael officially announced their engagement; everyone else seemed to be. Well-meaning friends offered comments like: “You’ll get to be a young grandmother,”or “Count your blessings, so-and-so is 30 and still looking.” None of this made me feel better. For one thing, it wouldn’t trouble me if Emily got married at 30. And becoming a bubbe—oy vey—was the last thing on my mind; I still had two teenagers at home. The truth is, I am a slow adapter and resistant to change; the idea of becoming a mother-in-law, much less a young grandmother, sent me into a tailspin. I wasn’t anxious to acquire a new set of relatives, either; I was pretty consumed with the ones I already had.

Before I could say “mother of the bride,” there I was toasting l’chaim, breaking a plate with Emily’s future mother-in-law, my home filled with smiling guests clapping and singing for the chossen and kallah. Amid all the mazel tovs, I couldn’t rid myself of the disappointment gnawing at my heart. I felt thrust into a role I wasn’t ready to play. And I didn’t want to share my daughter with a boy I barely knew. I wanted more time with her. Just her.

I feared the changes marriage would bring to our relationship. Emily and I not only shared a close bond, but we were also business partners at the magazine. Even while she was in college, we talked just about every day. Raising a kid who’s also a CEO is both exhilarating and exhausting. I had been with my daughter every step of the way on her entrepreneurial journey—accompanying her to media interviews, driving her to speaking engagements, editing magazine articles, helping with promotion, trouble-shooting, number crunching, and listening to her dreams and plans for inspiring Jewish girls to creativity and leadership. And she never stopped, never gave up, all through her teenage years. How would my future son-in-law fit into this dynamic?

But the decision had been made, and there seemed nothing left to do but surrender. I loved my daughter and wanted to make her happy, even if I wasn’t. So, I put aside my writing projects, parked my emotions, and threw myself into full-scale wedding-planning mode. The timetable seemed as crazy as the engagement itself: four months. “Don’t worry, Mom, I can help you,” Emily assured me. Of that, I had no doubt. I just wasn’t sure I would survive it.

Emily and I managed to avoid the dramatic conflicts one often hears about in wedding planning. Our differences centered around certain religious customs: how high the mechitza on the dance floor should be, what kind of music the band would play, and the wedding procession itself. During this stressful time, Michael’s parents offered incredible support. If there is a bashert for in-laws, they certainly fit the bill. They were in love with my daughter and in awe of her accomplishments. Michael’s mother’s positivity rivaled Emily’s. “Those two kids are going to do amazing things together. I just know it,” she gushed, no doubt sensing my trepidation. “Just embrace them. Think how blessed we all are.” Michael’s father assured my husband and me that we needn’t worry at all about Emily. She was in great hands. Having heard enough horrible in-law stories, my husband and I indeed felt blessed.

***

“Dr. Price is going to question your mental state when she hears the news,” I said to Emily, half-joking, en route to her yearly physical. The irony of accompanying my engaged daughter to the pediatrician just about did me in. As I sat in the waiting room, surrounded by moms with dozing infants, I remembered how this pediatrician had once reassured me that my precocious preschooler was a normal kid: “As long as Emily seems happy, knows how to play, and has friends, you have nothing to worry about, Mrs. Krieger.”

Now what would the doctor say?

Turns out, she was fine with it. Dr. Price just wanted to make sure Emily had actually met her fiancé.

“See, Mom? Not everyone thinks like you do,” Emily said on the drive home. “I’m not the typical 20-year-old.”

Tell me about it.

I figured that with the wedding a few weeks away, now would be a good time for The Talk. I asked her outright if she had discussed family planning with the doctor.

“Mom, can we not talk about that?”

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savtie says:

Evelyn I absolutely loved your essay! Our granddaughter got married this past Sunday, June 17 at the age of 22 so I can relate very well to your feelings! You are a gifted writer & captured the essence of what it feels like to prematurely “let your daughter go”. May she, Michael & all of you continue to enjoy good health, nachas & shalom. Kul tov. Shirley Stein

tk_in_TO says:

For those of us who are, in fact,  bereaved parents, who have buried a young child, the concept of “mourning” a child who just got married is disgraceful, inappropriate and utterly insensitive.

EvelynKrieger says:

You are right, it is a very strong word.  The idea of “mourning” is not for the child, but for the loss of a certain relationship, the way things were.  

ccohen322 says:

Fantastic essay, enjoyed reading it very much. Kudos for moving on and having the courage to share.

marjorie ingall says:

A beautiful, honest essay. Thank you. 

For what it’s worth, I didn’t find the term “mourning” insensitive. It felt truthful. Honesty is what makes first-person writing meaningful and real. I also understood that Ms Krieger meant she was mourning a set of expectations. (I also know people who have used it for when a child came out as LGBT.) No, grieving for a changed relationship or a child not being straight is not the same as grieving for a dead child. But parents are entitled to their feelings, and grief is not a competition. (Is someone who lost a 12-year-old more entitled to mourn than someone who lost a 1-year-old?) I’m sure Ms Krieger will help a lot of parents with this essay and I thank her for writing it. 

Joanna Sanford says:

A great read – my sister and her husband became orthodox after their marriage (at 27 & 32), and are raising their five children in a completely orthodox home.  It’s been hard for extended family members (reform & conservative Jews) to understand, and reading essays like this really helps me with better knowing the world my sister has chosen.  Their oldest daugthers (twins) are about to turn nine.  It’s nice to get a glimps of what their future may hold through this essay.

Rachel Levitan says:

This could not have appeared at a better time. My daughter is marrying next week and by just changing a few adjectives, it could have been written about us. Thank you for giving me some perspective.

jamiesin says:

For an old man, a beautiful message. Many thanks!

Amy Freedman says:

Thanks for writing and sharing. As a mother of 3 daughters, who knows what is ahead for us. Change can be hard, but also exciting.
Amy

Pragmatician sometimes says:

Very well written.
I’ve read similar accounts but from different perspectives and this one happens to be a logical and important one.

Fortunately my daughter that got married last summer in Israel did so without a handkerchief on her face that they called a veil. Yes she had a veil on but it was a veil. Chabad though a wonderful group of people is still an ultra orthodox sect of Judaism.

nice piece. Very honest.

emunadate says:

Great article. Too bad not more young people date like this in a mature way. Here are some tips for someone who is ready to find the right one…
http://emunadate.blogspot.co.il/2010/11/dating-tip-by-david-devine.html

Evelyn: I had a million things to do this morning, yet couldn’t stop reading your beautiful, heart-felt essay. I’m in awe of your honesty. And if Emily is anything like her mother (which I bet she is), she’s off to a great start. Judy

dutchessabroad says:

Evelyn, While My husband and I are bereaved parents, I didn’t read anything insensitive in your friend’s sage advice or your response to her suggestion. You have been/ are fortunate in seeing your children grow up, but life consists of many moments of growth AND losses. Your daughter’s (not that) early entering into matrimony means the end of a phase of life for you. What sets the berieved apart from the others is the loss of seeing the future unfold in front of their eyes, in their offspring, what we all share is our moving through time, our personal lifeline. For people without children to see grow into adulthood this awareness of “leaving something behind may come in a slightly different fashion, unannounced by empty nests, weddings, and becoming grandparents, still we do have have that in common. Your writing is eloquent, your sensitivity finally tuned. I’ll look for your YA novel. And inspired by your essay, I’m going to write about my getting we’d at eighteen.

Ruth, in this particular instance the young woman CHOSE Chabad and ultra-orthodoxy, while her parents are Modern Orthodox. I highly doubt anyone would have made her wear the handkerchief if she didn’t want to. I personally think it’s a cute tradition. I’m not saying that there aren’t instances where ultra-Orthodox women are probably forced or pressured to be more modest than they’d like to be, but I don’t think this is the instance here, so your comment is a little insensitive.

Beautiful piece, so honest and full of emotion. I wish all the best to you and your daughter.

Why are we following the non Jews into marrying at 30 and beyond for the first time. Don’t you see that limits your childbearing years and throws them into the middle of your career building years. So very impractical.
If you want a problem free pregnancy youth is your best ally.

Maggie Anton says:

What a poignant article. My son is a baal tshuvah and married last year in a similar wedding. But being married and Orthodox has definitely matured him, and what can I say? I married at age 20 and am still working on my first husband, 42 years later.

Elana Sztokman says:

Your essay demonstrates a lot of good parenting — giving the child freedom to be who he or she wants to be. That’s beautiful and admirable. At the same time, I think that the essay makes several very troubling references to orthodoxy that we shouldn’t gloss over just because your daughter is lucky to have smart parents.
.
For one thing, the photo is creepy!! Creepy… the whole veil covering the face thing. Your daughter is such an intelligent, free-spirited type — who puts photos of girls on the front cover of her magazine. So this whole covering the bride’s face is just beyond anything that I would consider okay.

Also, even if the groom passed the “test” and the interrogations, a quick courtship with no physical contact — standard practice in Orthodoxy, i know — is just not healthy. And the risks are huge, of placing your fate in the hands of someone you don’t really know. The rest of your life, children, all of it, without really knowing the other person or having touched him on his hand, ever, it’s just really scary.

I’m glad things are working out well for them, but I don’t think the story is a good one. Not because of your parenting or your daughter’s character, but because of the cultural expectations surrounding them. Orthodoxy continues to send terribly troubling messages about women and about how relationships are built and sustained.

Huh? As if touching a person really helps you learn who they are. It just makes you feel an emotional connection without telling you one thing about them. The way you get to know someone is by talking to them, spending time with them and experiencing life together. You get to know people and experience life with many many people you don’t engage in physical contact with…

Also I think the veiling custom is nice if you actually bother to learn about it.

It’s arctually more healthy to refrain from physical contact as it decreases the likelihood of infection from bloodborne and sexually transmitted diseases to a statistical zero.

Ruth Okon says:

thank you for putting into words what I could not, when my then 23 year old daughter moved across the country to be with her (shegetz) boyfriend. He is a good, kind man, even a mentsch at times. But she left us to be with him and I mourned her moving away.

Yisroel Lubin says:

Its not a cute tradition. There is a problem with it. Under the chuppa two witnesses are called to see the groom place the ring on the brides finger. How can they be called to testify that they saw the groom put the ring on his wife’s finger. All they can testify to is that they saw him put the ring on some woman wearing a wight gown who had her face covered by a handkerchief. This is the point of it so no one can see her and she cant see out.

very touching.
I am 26, living with my loving partner for 3 years. And even though I’m secular, reading this made me look at my relationship with my mother at a different angle, especially looking back at the time he and I started our relationship and when we moved in toghether. She took it very hard and made it very hard on us too… But about a year – year and a half later it seemed to me like she started to accept us, him, me, the new situation… I feel like now I understand her a little better.

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Letting My Daughter Go

When my daughter got married at 20, I worried she was too young. But I was the one who wasn’t ready.