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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 couldn’t let it go. I had wisdom on this matter. No matter how mature you may be, I told Emily, having a baby right away would jeopardize your studies and career: “You have no idea how all-consuming an infant is. Nobody does, until the day you bring one home.” I urged Emily, begged her, to postpone motherhood for a couple years at least.

She looked out the car window. “OK, Mom, I heard what you said, and I’ll take it into consideration. But, the decision, really, is between me and my husband.”

We drove home in silence, the word husband ringing in my ears.

***

The wedding unfolded without a glitch on a sunny, picture-perfect June day, with 200 friends, family members, and a fan club of girls. I danced the hora in a cloud of disbelief; the whole event seemed like an out-of-body experience.

The morning after, to my surprise, Emily’s friends had already posted chuppah photos on Facebook. I saw the Times wedding announcement. There was no denying it: I had a married daughter.

Michael and family members arrived later at our house for a brunch. When I saw my daughter in her new shiny sheitel, I just about lost it. Who was this young woman? I tried to be a gracious host, to act normal, until it was time for Emily and Michael to head to New York for their first sheva brachos and then move into their Brooklyn apartment. I fought back the tears, until their car pulled out of the driveway.

My sister hugged me. “It’ll be OK.”

But it wasn’t. The emotions I had put on hold arrived special delivery at 3:00 in the morning. I lay awake trying to get to the root of my anxiety. Did I really think she was too young for marriage? Was I worried that her dreams would be squelched? Did I think Michael was too frum?

Unable to fall back asleep, I got up and walked down the hallway to Emily’s room. I sat on her bed, the one her father had built for her, which I knew she’d probably never sleep in again. I looked at the plaques, awards, news clippings, fan letters, and bat mitzvah mementos decorating the walls. Emily’s beloved Jewish books filled one shelf, her childhood favorites on another. A pile of magazine samples sat on her desk. How long would I keep Emily’s room the same? Then I noticed a laundry basket filled with her clothes. Were those to be donated, folded, or was I supposed to wash them? I laughed. Some things never change.

As I sat in the stillness of her room, I realized that change was what I had been fighting all along. Change, the root of our fears. Until I learned to ride that wave, I’d be stuck on shore, pining for something out of reach.

That summer, during my wedding recovery phase, I met up with an old friend at Starbucks. When she asked me how I was doing, I told the truth: “I know I should be happy, and yet … I’m just not. I’m sad. Emily won’t be home at all this summer. I’ll miss our girl time, our family trips, the three kids staying up yakking half the night. Now when she visits, it will be with … him. They’ll probably stay in the guest room!”

My friend, a Jewish mom of three girls, squeezed my hand. “You’re right. Things are never going to be the same. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be good. Emily will still need you, just in different ways.”

I sipped my tea, blinking back tears.

And then my friend said something that took me by surprise. “You need to give yourself permission to grieve.”

“Grieve?” That sounded like an awful word to pair with a “wedding.”

“Yes. No matter how wonderful it is for her, you are experiencing a loss. Let yourself feel it. Mourn for it, and then you can move on.”

***

During the following months, my husband and I had more opportunities to get to know our son-in-law. We observed how he managed to inspire changes in Emily that we were never able to do, like eating lunch sitting down, not falling asleep with her laptop, and exercising. As she promised, Emily continued her studies at Yeshiva University while also growing her business and giving speaking engagements. Michael, with his youthful energy and head for business, joined her team by helping with technology and marketing. This surprising and welcome turn gave me some breathing room. My daughter now had someone else who would willingly listen to her business challenges, who would brainstorm with her, who would accompany her to conferences, someone who was totally devoted and not going to quit. My status as Emily’s number one fan now had a rival—except he wasn’t, he had become part of the family.

Now, as their first anniversary approaches, I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter when and how you do it, marriage is an act of faith—there is no formula or guarantee. I can think of couples I know, religious and secular, who followed different paths to the altar: marrying young, marrying old, long courtship, short engagement, living together, or remarrying—each ending in divorce. Surely, by midlife I have learned that no one path is right.

And yet, having heard so many stories of delayed adulthood, failure-to-launch kids, and aimless twenty-somethings, I know I should count my blessings. I have a responsible daughter with dreams and goals and a life plan. So, she launched herself earlier than the typical American teenager. Can’t I live with that? Emily found a wonderful guy; he just happened to show up a few years early. My job now is to work on embracing the changes her new life brings. To accept change is the beginning of letting go, which is something every parent must do—sooner or later.

***

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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.

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