The Divorce Dilemma – B’nai Mitzvah Planning for the Modern Family
By Cantor Shira Adler
Are you one of the 30% of American Jewish families who are divorced? If the answer is yes, then you’re a survivor, having successfully managed one of the most painful chapters a family can endure. Whether you’re amicable or barely speaking to your ex, planning your child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah can be a wonderful growth promoting process so setting aside differences may be worth it in the long run. A good place to start is to draw upon the skills you have already learned and put to good use in your divorce process.
Whether your divorce was high vibe or litigious, everyone can agree, what is so special about a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is that it honors and celebrates the spiritual maturation and educational achievements of your child. When both parents remember this, finding common ground is so much easier.
There will be many details to discuss and decisions to be made from caterer to DJ, invitation colors to seating plans. Keep in mind, what matters most is the ceremony. As is typical in B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies, honors assigned during a service such as who gets an aliyah, become more emotionally sensitive when dealing with remarried spouses, interfaith family members and step-siblings. So which area do you tackle first?
The location: If either or both parents are affiliated, be mindful that this doesn’t become a territorial match. Think of your child first and where he/she is most comfortable. This may mean choosing an independent “off-site” location that is unassociated, thereby avoiding any painful memories or split family loyalties.
The clergy/officiant: Meet with your clergy/officiant early in the process to discuss your needs. Design a unique and personalized service that is sensitive and inclusive of everyone. The emotion and timbre of the ceremony will matter much more than which DJ you choose.
The guest list: Be fair to both sides of the family and show sensitivity. You do not need to overcompensate by inviting the entire class and every second cousin out of guilt for wanting an all out extravaganza. Often the best events are celebrated by those who share the greatest connection to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah.
Remember, children often feel responsible for their parents divorce so I caution parents to consider the Bar/Bat Mitzvah process can be intense for your child. Be careful not to add to their stress level with weighty decisions that are better left to the adults.
Once you have a shared vision of the overall ceremony you should approach your child and ask their opinion. Their voice needs to be heard as much, if not more than yours.
Finally, planning an event of any magnitude can be stressful whether you are divorced or not. Try this simple visualization that may help melt the stress away. Picture yourself, standing by your child’s side as he or she chants from the Torah and reads their speech. It is this moment that makes all the hard work, sacrifice, compromise and intention worth it. If you look carefully, you will see in your child’s eyes something reflected back at you… their love. It is the same love you beamed at them on the day they were born. This is the only moment that truly matters and it is one that will last a lifetime. Regardless of which roof you live under, you are still after all connected, a family and you will always be able to share love for your child.
Learn more about Cantor Shira Adler here.