WWYD – non-Shomer Shabbat child at home

Remember this WWYD (child stealing) from last year? The same lady wrote to me to update me and to ask another question. Please give her the benefit of your wisdom.

Dear HSM,

Many months ago I wrote to you for advice about one of my children who had been taking food from her sibling’s private store and then denying everything. Your readers very kindly offered advice which more or less said the same thing – take her for therapy and to go myself.

I took the advice. We went to family therapy and she also had a few meetings alone with a different therapist. The diagnosis was depression but not enough to necessitate a visit to a psychiatrist. To cut things short, some weeks later we did take her to a psychiatrist who put her on Prozac, and a few days later she tried to commit suicide.

Seven months have passed. She is now 16. She has spent this time in a psychiatric hospital (wonderful place with dedicated staff), and will be leaving in a few weeks time.  She is very definite about not returning to her old school, and is planning on staying in a therapeutic youth village with every other weekend at home. At the moment she comes homes every Shabbat and here lies the problem. She is no longer shomer Shabbat but we came to a compromise in that she can do what she wants in her bedroom as long as she doesn’t do anything that affects the rest of the house. However, now that the days are long, she says she needs to be able to recharge her ipod on Shabbat afternoon in order to get through the day, and has been changing the Shabbat clock (time switch) in order to do so.

The psychologist treating her has turned to us to find a solution for her while at home on Shabbat. The matter isn’t critical – if she doesn’t use the ipod/internet she won’t try and commit suicide again, but it is a crutch she depends on. The options I have thought of are leaving the electricity on in the house all day, or letting her recharge her ipod in the kitchen where there is always electricity. Or helping her find other occupations (not what she wants). I would be interested in hearing your opinions.

And finally a word of advice. Don’t respect your child’s privacy too much like we did – read their diaries. If we had done that a year or two ago life would have been very different.

18 responses to “WWYD – non-Shomer Shabbat child at home

  1. lady lock and load

    Leave the electric on in her room and she can recharge the i-pod in her bedroom.

  2. As a teenager who was very depressed and at times suicidal, I can understand your child’s need to use her ipod all the time. I think that you should let your child recharge her ipod in the kitchen. It will be very helpful to her mental health. Your other children are all at an age where they can understand and not be very confused or disturbed by this. If they have questions, you can explain to them the situation in a respectful and empathetic manner.

  3. Unfortunately only electric points available all Shabbat are in the kitchen. In response to Frayda, I am often at a loss to know how much her behaviour is typical teenage rebellion and how much to do with mental illness. If she responded well enough to treatment to be discharged she is definitely no longer suicidal. How long did it take you to recover?

    • lady lock and load

      there are no outlets in her room? would be better if she could do it in her room, especially if you have other kids involved.

      • The only outlets not connected to the Shabbat clock are in the kitchen.
        Another question that has just come to mind is the difference between “need” and “want”, and how to tell (if possible) when one becomes the other. The last thing we want is for her to think we care only about ourselves and not her. It’s just very hard to find the balance between her and the family.

        • When recovering from a mental illness, want and need are often the same thing. Especially when she’s still learning how to control her emotions, what seems like a want is often actually a need. It takes time to learn to moderate emotions and psychological feelings, and the first sense of control often comes from external rather than internal forces – I still utilize music or tv sometimes to keep me calm and I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. Just be honest with her about how you’re making the effort to help her recover and be stable. She’ll appreciate it and it will help her.

        • Why can’t you disconnect the outlets in her room from the Shabbat clock? If you could hook them up, surely you can disconnect them, no? I’m at a loss to understand why the technical aspect of this is difficult. And even if she truly can only use the kitchen outlet, as someone who comes from a mixed family, I have to say that seeing an iPod is really not going to mess up your Shabbos. It’s an iPod. It’s really not that big of a deal.

          In response to the situation in general, I think you need to support your daughter as much as possible as she adjusts to being in the “real world” again. It may seem like she just “wants” something, rather than “needs” it, but think of what an adjustment it is to go from being suicidal, to in a mental health facility, to being back with one’s family. That transition in and of itself is a trauma. If her iPod/being mechallel Shabbos will help her, then you need to let her use it. As for the family as a whole, perhaps this is a good opportunity to teach your other kids about compassion for people in difficult situations. I really hope your daughter continues to get better and that your family can find a way to deal with this situation that works for everyone.

    • Not being suicidal does not mean she is cured. Her discharge does not mean that everything if back to normal. Mental illness is a chronic illness, like diabetes.

  4. Ruby you are absolutely right.

    WWYD – as someone who has suffered with mental illness similar to your daughter for a long time, I can say that unfortunately it is not always a matter of being “cured”. Sometimes these things occur as a single episode, are treated and never reappear, but in my case it’s something I’ve been dealing with since I was her age. I know you don’t know me and I don’t know you, but I have been through what she is going through and I would like to offer you any advice you’d like (in a more private setting). I had to learn how to deal with things and with my parents and I would be willing to share my experience with you if you like. You can contact me through my website if youd like.


  5. lady lock and load

    So you can change your shabbos clock so she can charge her ipod in her room. or get her another ipod so when one runs out she can use the other one? good luck! and refuah shelayma!

    • There are also companies that make battery packs that you can hook up to your iPod to power it, so she could run it on batteries when it runs out.

  6. Thank you everyone for your advice. I think we haven’t yet learned to make the sufficient adjustments to living with someone with mental illness but hopefully we’ll get there. All the comments have been helpful in putting the matter into perspective. My mistake was to think that being discharged = healthy, and that the periods of healthy behavious are just that – periods – and nothing more. With time I hope that these periods will get longer and longer, and that we’ll be able to provide her with a home base she’ll want to come back to, including Shabbat. Thanks again.

  7. This is really scary for me, Hadassah. I love your blog, and the WWYD series, but this woman is asking opinions of you and your readers for something very serious. How does she know we will point her in the right direction? I think questions like these should be left to the professionals who really know her family’s situation inside and out. I’m all about giving my opinions, but this situation–I don’t know it just makes me feel very uncomfortable.

    (WWYD, I don’t mean to offend you. I do wish your daughter a refuah shelaimah–a complete and speedy recovery).

    • Baila – maybe I didn’t make myself clear. I’m was only asking for ideas of how to solve the Shabbat problem since the therapist, not being Jewish, doesn’t understand how important Shabbat is to us. We are in touch with the therapist nearly every day so don’t worry, on major issued we get advice. She also knows I’m asking advice on a blog for a specific question.

  8. Get her to buy herself a second Ipod and have both charged before Shabbat. That way she can have a back up. I would also try and make arrangements so that there is always activity happening that she can be involved in and therefore, perhaps, she won’t miss not having the ipod!

  9. I agree that having two Ipods is the easiest and simplest way to accomodate the house rules as they currently stand yet still give your daughter the ability to have access to her coping mechanism. Way easier than rewiring outlets and less disruptive to the family than having the ipod charge in the kitchen.
    I have to add that moms are some of the best people to turn to when you need creative solutions for problems in a household or with raising kids. She has professionals already to discuss things like medication and coping skills, but with the details like this it can be so helpful to brainstorm ideas that professionals have no clue about.

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