When the B’nai Mitzvah Theme is Family Feud | MitzvahMarket | MitzvahMarket

When the B’nai Mitzvah Theme is Family Feud

When the B’nai Mitzvah Theme is Family Feud

When the B’nai Mitzvah Theme is Family Feud

By Drew Kramer

Psst…Check out A Culture of Study: The Jewish Value of Education Prepares for B’nai Mitzvah

Don’t let the Instagram photos fool you. No matter how happy a b’nai mitzvah appeared on the Internet, all family gatherings provoke a wee bit of drama. Family is complicated. It would be lovely to imagine a world where feuds fizzle in the context of shared family simcha, or joy.

However, in reality, family events like a b’nai mitzvah can become a forum for old fights to flair. When a child reaches b’nai mitzvah, it comes in the context of the family’s story–and all families have their warts. Whether your child’s milestone comes in the wake of a divorce or a fight over granddaddy’s fortune, the event can become loaded by the coming together of people for whom the fine line between love and hate skews hostile. For the teenager facing the stress of public speaking in a foreign tongue, the added anxiety of a public airing of grievances among strained relations can become too much to bear. If you are feeling anticipatory anxiety about a family fight at your child’s b’nai mitzvah, begin with a deep breath and take steps to prepare yourself and your child for the emotional weight of the day.

No matter the magnitude of the past slights, center all family members around the shared support and love for the child. If possible to address the sources of tension directly without igniting warfare, remind the most contentious players that love and light is the theme of this event. After gently setting settable expectations, set yourself up for success. Create seating arrangements that allow for space between difficult people. If giving one relative the honor of giving a blessing will create animosity with another, spare yourself the headache and invite all or none to publicy wish the child well. 

If there are friends or family members who are notoriously toxic and unable to control their behaviors, consider keeping your guest list small. While grudge holding is not a behavior anyone wishes to hand down, save reconciliation for another time and place. It is OK to keep the room filled with only the people that lift you up. In the event that a challenging individual cannot be omitted from the celebration, grit your teeth in a smile and do whatever it takes to keep the energy warm and inclusive. Just because negative people are in the room, doesn’t mean that their energy has power. Good vibes begin with the hosts. Set aside your own differences for the day and pretend like nothing happened. Greet the whole room with open arms. You can do it. 

While I hope this would be enough to create a drama-free family event, one has to prepare oneself for the event of a dramatic scene. “It’s natural for emotions to be heightened during the special day, especially if it doesn’t look like how you once expected it to,” acknowledges Lauren Tetenbaum, a Westchester-based mental health therapist who provides cognitive behavioral therapy and coaching to women. She adds, “If emotions run high, try to regulate your stress through mindfulness exercises, including deep breathing.” If your buttons are pushed, do not give in to the urge to react. Walk away. Shift your attention to your child and the pleasure of celebration. As Tetenbaum encourages, “focus on celebrating with the friends and family who bring you joy.” 

The big day will come and it will go. It will never be perfect in its execution. The food might be cold. Your aunt will snub your husband’s cousin. Someone will fall on the dance floor. In the aftermath of this long anticipated event, the lows will hopefully fade into funny anecdotes that made the day more memorable. Only the highs are preserved in photographs. What your child will remember is the love of family and friends coming together in the unified celebration of this coming of age event in Jewish life. At this nexus of childhood and adulthood, let the b’nai mitzvah celebration be a model for forgiveness and empathy–even if just for one night.

Posted in Editorial, Mitzvah Advice and tagged , , .