In 9th grade, I would look up advice on google for weird problems I thought were normal but no one would talk about. I vividly remember looking up a solution to a problem I was dealing with at the time (and continue to navigate): the conflicting forces of my social life and my religious obligations. Whether you have the same Shabbat issue as I am about to explain, a similar weekly conflict, or a routine family obligation, this post will offer some relatable reassurance and advice on how to handle these situations.
Ok my story: Each Friday night for as long as I can remember, my family has celebrated the jewish observance of shabbat by enjoying a family dinner together. As I grew up, seldom did this obligatory family dinner interfere with a birthday party, sleepover, or school function. In 8th grade, I remember begging my parents to let me skip Shabbat to attend a school dance that took place on a Friday night. A few weeks later, I asked to skip Shabbat dinner again to go to the Ariana Grande concert. I always felt so guilty and it was apparent that my parents were disappointed when I even asked to skip. It was always like pulling teeth convincing them to let me attend these other events instead.
This all got 10000x worse in freshman year when I wanted to attend the Friday night football games at my local high school. They started at 7pm and I would be jittery the entire meal, hoping the family Shabbat dinner would end early. Guests at our Shabbat table could sense my nervous energy as I tried to hustle along the meal and rush over to the game before it was too late. I knew I had a commitment to my family but like any normal teen girl, my social life just seemed so much more important to me.
Here’s what worked for me and some advice:
If you really want to get your way (at least half the time), the best thing you can do is open up to your parents and be honest about why this dilemma is so complicated for you. Meaning: get real and share your true motives (for me, I wanted to meet more girls in the new neighborhood we had just moved to and also find guy friends because I had just started high school at my all girls school). For the most part, my parents understood this and were more willing to compromise with me. Ask your parents if they can see the issue from your angle and how you might be able to meet in the middle. Voice that you really value family time and that you want to carry on these meaningful traditions. You also don’t want to resent these gatherings and would really appreciate discussing a way where you could meet eye to eye and honor their goals and yours too. What this compromise might actually be is very dependent on your family… maybe having one or two free passes a month or choosing a time at which your parents are comfortable with you leaving.
Show, Not Tell:
Besides telling your parents that you care about family dinner or whatever your commitment may be, go out of your way to be more present and engaged when you're at this particular gathering or event. No matter what your family decides to compromise with, focus on enjoying the company of your family and guests instead of fretting about what I was missing.
It gets easier
If it’s any consolation to the middle schooler out there reading this, as you get older, functions begin later. When you can drive and arrive somewhere at 9:30 and be right on time, skipping family commitments won’t be an issue anymore. Your stresses about Shabbat, Sunday dinner, etc are temporary and this will all become easier, I promise!
We got this,