You have all these classes for marriage & chinuch, support organizations, chessed organizations, social workers, therapists, rabbinical advisors, rebbetzins, etc....but when you encounter a problem as even slightly outside-the-box, all these same resources promoting their assistance end up failing miserably, showing themselves useless or even harmful.
(And when I mention rabbis or rebbetzins in this context, I DON'T mean the Gadolei/Gadolot Hador. I mean the lower-tier ones, who can be diamonds, mediocre, or really bad, depending.)
It's like the false-front buildings of America's Old West.
In reality, these structures were short-ceiling cramped stores. But the owners constructed impressive false fronts to give the impression of being spacious 2- or 3-story buildings.
Not friends or well-meaning neighbors who gave well-intended yet incorrect advice by mistake. We're all guilty of this. That's forgivable because usually the person decides on their own to turn to us, and we respond as best we can based on whatever knowledge we had at that time.
Those are honest mistakes by well-intentioned people who cannot know better — forgivable.
But people who chose to serve in a particular position for a specific purpose — and then, due to their lack of care or middot, failed to fulfill that purpose.
The Social Worker that Didn't Work
I explained the primary problem at that time: skipping school when he was only in elementary school.
He rode the bus to school, then just got off without entering the school gate, going wherever he wanted (including coming home and refusing to go back to school).
There wasn't something wrong at the school to make him act that way.
He's just an extremely energetic, independent, adventurous personality (born like that) who wants to DO things in life and not sit and learn how to do things—but rather live life with gusto every moment.
The social worker responded in a sympathetic manner, then said, "You know, I have a kid like that and I take him to school every morning and wait there to make sure he goes through the entrance."
"Really?" I said. "How do you manage that? Do you have other children? What do you do with them?"
"I take them with me."
"Really?!" Wow. How did she manage doing that on the bus during rush-hour every single morning in the pouring rain? (It was rainy winter season at that time.)
"Yeah," she said. "I take all my kids to their various schools and daycare in the morning and personally make sure they get wherever they need to go."
I felt she was avoiding giving me the full story. And then it dawned on me.
"Do you have car?" I said.
"Well, yes," she answered reluctantly, then quickly added, "But that doesn't matter."
"It doesn't?" I said. "Of course it matters. A car makes doing what you do possible. I don't see how I can do what you do using the bus. I have small children, including one that needs a stroller. How am I supposed to drop everyone off in the morning in the rain riding packed buses?"
"I don't know," she said, sympathetically. "But you need to find a way."
"But he runs," I said. "I can't catch him. I can't run after him through the rain pushing a stroller and holding on to other small children. Every morning? Even on my own, I wouldn't be able to catch him. He's much faster than me."
(Also, it's not modest for a grown woman to go racing through the streets. Also, I didn't think it was healthy for my younger children to be running with me in the rain & cold like that—even though they'd probably enjoy it. They liked their older brother tons and thoroughly enjoyed all the stuff he did, which they found so interesting and entertaining.)
In fact, the logistics seemed impossible. Our younger children attended gans near our home; I brought them there on foot.
How was I supposed to get this child to school on time AND get the younger children to where they needed to be—especially when their respective destinations lay at opposite ends of town? I could not take the younger ones first because their gans were not open that early.
She made more syrupy sympathetic noises, then said, "I understand it's difficult. But you just have to find a way. That's your job as his mother."
Ooh...so it's my fault for not finding a solution that doesn't exist. Ouch. I must be a real failure as a mother then.
"You know," I said, sincerely, "I'm wracking my brains to think of any kind of alternative, but simply do not see one."
"Could your husband do it?"
No, of course not.
My husband davened in a minyan in the morning (of course), attended kollel full-time, then worked until he came home anywhere between midnight and 1 AM.
If he woke up earlier to catch an early minyan to be home in time to escort our son to school, when would my husband sleep? When would he eat breakfast?
Furthermore, while my husband has always been an extremely energetic and upbeat person (which is why he maintained and continues to maintain such a packed schedule) AND while my husband certainly possessed the ability to race off in pursuit of our fleeing son, it's still questionable whether hubby would be able to actually catch the boy.
And even if my husband managed to catch up with our son, how was he supposed to get him to school? By force? Drag the kid?
It's also super embarrassing to have to go running after your child in front of all the crowds of people out and about at that time.
And of course, the unspoken rule is my husband would be expected to do all this cheerfully and patiently. Almost first thing in the morning. Every day. In the rain and cold.
So I nicely explained to her why that wasn't feasible either.
"Do you have any suggestions?" I said. "Because I honestly cannot think of any way to accomplish what you recommend."
She didn't of course (because she was asking the impossible), and she just sympathetically repeated that we simply needed to do it because that's our responsibility as parents. (Nice guilt-trip there, too.)
Later, I confided this conversation to a friend who also admitted she experienced the same dynamic with the social worker.
For completely different reasons, this friend also mustered the courage to call the social worker for help. (Like me, she felt turning to social workers was only for really dysfunctional people, but also out of desperation for the good of her children, she felt she had no other choice.)
And it went the same way for her too: no realistic advice, no support (practical, financial, or emotional, nothing), nothing feasible at all, no understanding of her situation, nothing.
If You Can't Help, At Least Try Not to Hurt...Offer Good Words Instead!
Not with everyone. There are real gems out there (like the rebbetzin who ultimately mentored me, as partly described here:www.myrtlerising.com/blog/allowing-others-their-own-lifes-journey).
What this social worker did was similar to the example given in the previous post about the legless men climbing a hill (www.myrtlerising.com/blog/the-ultimate-enemy-of-our-spiritual-success-in-this-world-and-how-to-ignore-its-voice).
It's as if the 2-legged man, the legless man on a horse, and the legless man in a helicopter all responded to requests for help from the legless man at the bottom of the hill by berating him, "WE made it over the hill! If WE can do it, then why can't you?"
"Well," the legless man replies, "I have no legs, horse, or helicopter—how can I make it up the hill?"
"You just need to find a way! If you really cared, you would do it! WE did it!"
"But you guys have resources that I don't...a helicopter, a horse, legs..."
"Doesn't matter! You need to find a solution!"
"I only have the use of my arms," the legless man replies. "And my arms aren't strong enough to pull my weight. Furthermore, dragging my body through the dirt and rocks would rip up my skin and clothes. Do you guys have any suggestions how I can get up the hill?"
Of course they don't. The only reason why they made it up the hill was due to their resources.
And that's exactly what the social worker did to me.
And while I remember this incident only occasionally, it burns me up every time.
She's a frum lady and I know I must give her the benefit of the doubt, but honestly? I profoundly despise her to this day.
Because I struggled so much to do right by this child and continually failed without knowing why.
(Eventually, learning the Enneagram & figuring out the mind of an Eight with a Seven-wing helped me tons.)
Everyone else's kids went to school (or so it seemed). Everyone else managed this task. Why couldn't I?
So when I finally decided to get professional help and call a social worker (though I dreaded taking this step for the reason described above), it was for the benefit of the child.
And I followed the rules. She's a social worker. Her job is to assist families with no resources who, despite their best efforts, find themselves in desperate straits.
She's paid to do this.
I called her during normal hours and spoke to her nicely and asked for some kind of help with exactly the kind of problem she is supposed to deal with.
And not only did I receive utter uselessness in return, but she couldn't even offer an encouraging word.
And guess what? She probably meant to help! She probably entered this profession with the intention of genuinely helping others. She probably believed her sympathetic attitude made up for her utter lack of competence.
(In retrospect, I find it puzzling why she did even recommend a child psychologist or chinuch expert to give me advice. Not that it would've helped, but it would at least show some effort on her part, rather than giving me the completely unrealistic & useless command she gave.)
Instead, I came away from the interaction not only with no solution, but also feeling like I'm this really bad, lazy, uncaring mother.
And (with some really fantastic exceptions) I ran into this kind of thing repeatedly, especially in the area of chinuch.
A lot of these people want you to feel bad while making themselves feel good.
That's their method.
Very self-indulgent...and mostly useless.
Note: It must be stated that some frum social workers, therapists, chinuch advisors, etc, are truly caring & intelligent people who are absolute diamonds in their field. The bad ones do not cancel out the diamonds. Social workers have literally saved lives! This one was deplorable at her job. But some are definitely lifesavers & should be acknowledged.
A Brief Postscript on That Kid
Later, in a yeshivah katanah (high school years) geared for these types of boys, my son still ran off to find adventure despite really liking the place, really liking and feeling liked by the staff, and finding popularity among his peers.
For example, he illegally entered a nature preserve, discovered some wild boar babies near a tree (whom he found extremely cute), and decided to play with them...not taking into consideration that their sharp-tusked protective mother must be nearby.
He quickly found out.
The mother boar charged my son, who just missed getting gored as he leapt out of the way and climbed a tree to safety.
Unfortunately, the baby boars all lay at the base of that tree and the mother boar kept charging at the tree, grunting and growling at my son up there, ripping at the tree, refusing to leave because she considered him a threat & wanted him out of the way.
He didn't mind, though. He found all her aggressive behavior entertaining. (And the babies were still cute to watch.)
Finally, he managed to get out of the tree and out of the nature preserve without getting caught.
When a couple of friends later asked him why he didn't try to maim or kill the wild boaress in self-defense, he said, "Nah...she was right to attack me. She just wanted to protect her babies."
Also, to be fair, I want to say he is a great person.
He's an adult now and he's hard-working, extremely responsible & reliable, funny, a loyal friend who will give you the shirt off his back if you need it, and a heart of gold under a gruff exterior.
He doesn't live at home right now (because while he loves Hashem doesn't reject Him, he doesn't want to be in the charedi world), but we still see him often enough. And he's very loveable.
I don't want to leave people with a false impression of our son, who is a wonderful person.
The False-Fronts of "Help"
(Please see this post, which explains the difference between actually trying & feeling like you're trying: www.myrtlerising.com/blog/what-it-mean-to-try-why-people-confuse-suffering-with-hishtadlut-and-what-to-do-about-it)
But some people try very hard, even going totally against their nature, twisting themselves into a hopeless pretzel...only to crash & burn in the process.
And then when that mangled struggler cries out for assistance, a self-appointed assistant goes up to the crushed and burned person — and kicks that crushed person in the face with a steel-pointed boot.
(And just for knowing, this scenario occurs even WORSE—with some exceptions—in the secular/non-Jewish world. I personally witnessed or heard directly from the source dozens of terrible examples. The secular/non-Jewish world remains in complete denial about this, but I cannot forget what I saw and heard myself.)
And well-meaning people encourage all the time: "Ask for help if you need it! Don't be afraid to ask for help!"
And I'm like, "Ask for help? It'd me more effective & less painful to ram my head against a brick wall."
People like the above social worker conditioned me: NEVER ask for help.
I likely won't get it.
Or it'll come in a very ugly harmful way, which helps but also causes unnecessary pain too for no reason other than the ego-pleasures of the so-called "helper."
Or not only won't help be received, but the person promoted as "the helper" will stick in a knife and twist it.
At this point, I only ask a rav about halachah. I need to know the law, of course.
But advice? No way.
NOT always! Definitely not always. There are many wonderful people in all venues.
There can definitely exist the right shaliach for you (which might not be the right shaliach for someone else and vice-versa).
But I see it's increasingly harder to find them.
Steel-Toed Kick in the Face: Is It Necessary? Occasionally. It Depends.
Occasionally, that's what's best, despite how much it hurts.
But usually, the painful truth does not help the person at all.
For example, a charedi-from-birth man, who only got married in his 30s, once confided how people told him he wasn't getting married because he was afraid of commitment.
In hindsight, he admits that was partly true.
But at the time, he simply did not know what to do with that information.
Informing him of his fear of committment did not help him at all; it only made him feel defective.
(P.S. He ended up very happily married to a wonderful woman and they raised an exceptionally good family.)
A lot of people, for example, married to an abusive spouse, suffering through a toxic relationship, dealing with an addict, etc., cannot hear the truth about their situation.
If you tell them (especially if you tell them angrily or condescendingly), it doesn't help at all. Sometimes, it even makes things worse.
But sometimes, it IS the right thing to do.
(BTW, you do have the right to protect your own nefesh. If it makes you feel ill, despondent, or crazy to constantly hear about how wonderful & fabulous their toxic spouse/friend/parent/child/mentor is & how much they looooove the insufferable jerk, you have a right to put some space between the two of you. If it's hurting you and not helping them, then why bother?)
Encouragement & Tikkun
Not that I always say the right thing. I don't.
But I really, really try.
Even when a person is to blame for a lot of their mess, it's usually not helpful to blame them.
Encourage them instead.
As discussed previously (www.myrtlerising.com/blog/what-it-mean-to-try-why-people-confuse-suffering-with-hishtadlut-and-what-to-do-about-it & Some Thoughts on Codependency, What Judaism Says about Dealing with Difficult People, and Some Recommended Torah Methods), some problems don't have solutions.
Or they don't have immediate solutions.
But most of the time, there's something you can do within yourself as your tikkun, whether it improves the situation or not.
And also don't be too afraid or discouraged to progress in baby-steps.
It's true there's a lot of pressure toward grand gestures and overwhelming acts of whatever, but whenever you cannot manage the grand gestures, baby-steps are a wonderful option.