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Words of Encouragement and Advice to Single Parents

One spring evening in 1963, my beautiful life was shattered with the sudden and tragic death of my 41-year-old husband, Shloime Horowitz ob’m. In one short moment, I was transformed from a happily married wife and homemaker to a shell-shocked and terrified single mother of three children, all under the age of five.

More than fifty years have passed since that awful night, and with God’s kindness, and the love and support of my second husband, family and friends, I was somehow able to rebuild my life, and provide my children with a stable and nurturing home.

In the summer of 1965, I remarried, to Shlomo Nutovic. He had a son from a previous marriage, and we were subsequently blessed with a daughter together. Over the next 46 years, until his passing in 2011, Shlomo and I raised three sets of children as one family – so much so that all five of them joined me in sitting shiva for him.

Permit me to share some of the lessons life has taught me over the past half-century, in the hope that these lines will provide comfort and optimism to single parents who find themselves today where I was a lifetime ago, and sensitize those who are fortunate not to have walked in my shoes.

To Friends and Family Members of Single Parents:

Do your very best to be supportive in word and deed…

I was fortunate to have an incredible support system of friends and family members to whom I am forever grateful for their generosity of spirit during the most challenging of times.

Our family members opened their homes and hearts to us in countless ways, small and large. A 12-year old daughter of my cousin, for example, slept in our home every night until I remarried so I shouldn’t be alone with my three children overnight. A dear friend rang my doorbell every morning on her way to work to ensure that our night went well. I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through those difficult years without them, and I strongly encourage you to do whatever you can to be of help in situations like ours.

…But always be mindful to respect their “private space.”

I never wanted my children to be public property and did my best to guard our privacy. Unsolicited advice from well-meaning people was often frustrating and occasionally hurtful. I vividly recall the feeling of wanting to just be like any other mother raising her children away from the public eye. Thankfully, my father encouraged me to follow my instincts and to stop caring about what people thought of me. What excellent advice.

At the risk of sounding trite, the best thing you can do for your friends and family members who are single parents is just “be there.” Do what you can to help provide some time off from the 24/7 single parenting job. Lend a listening and caring ear, but offer guidance only when asked – and even then, sparingly.

One Day at a Time

To single parents; I share with you excellent advice given to me by a good friend during those trying years: “Beile, just put one foot in front of the other.”

It was simply overwhelming for me to think about how I would manage to raise three children under the age of five. Yet I was somehow able to muster the strength to do what was necessary in the short term.

Take one day at a time and know that God is there with you always. Our sages tell us that there are three partners in the creation of humans – God and the two parents. Well, if one partner is taken away, the two others just have to work that much harder to pick up the slack. Looking back at those years, as I often do, what keeps coming to mind is that somehow, some way, God was always there to propel us forward when there were steep hills to climb, and to nudge us in the right direction when we were faced with forks in the road.

Along with God’s assistance, please be sure to take advantage of human resources to help you and your children cope with the sorrow. When my first husband passed away, professional therapy overall, and grief counseling in particular, were not as available as they are today. Don’t try to “tough it out” without these support services, as you will, in all likelihood, find them to be invaluable in regaining your footing.

Remarrying

I encourage you strongly to remarry if possible. Second marriages are never simple, but with proper planning and with both partners looking to create a genuine family unit, it is eminently doable.

When you are looking to remarry, always keep in mind that this is very different from when you dated the first time. Now you are looking first and foremost for someone who will be a father or mother to your children. As a wise friend told me when I started to think of remarrying, “Zich nisht a voile ying.” Translated loosely from Yiddish; “don’t look for someone who is [primarily] out for a good time, rather a stable partner to help parent your children.”

As a matter of fact, when I asked my second husband why he was willing to marry someone with such young children, he replied that he thought there would be a better chance for him to have a “real family life” in his second marriage if the kids spent their formative years with him.

We did our very best to raise our five children as equals, and never wanted them to be self-conscious of the fact that our family unit was out of the ordinary. The term “step” was never mentioned in our home, and we tried to conduct things as if it was the first marriage for both of us. To be sure, we had many challenges and hurdles to overcome, and we made lots of mistakes like all parents do, but with a steady hand, we somehow made it.

Several years ago, our family observed my first husband’s 50th yahrzeit (anniversary of his passing). We did our best to keep the focus away from the enormity of his loss and ours, but rather highlighted God’s kindness in sustaining us through those difficult years and thanked our family and friends for their support. A poignant Torah thought from the Klausenberger Rebbe, mentioned by one of my children, captured the essence of the evening. The Rebbe, who lost his entire first family in the Holocaust, asked a question regarding a phrase we recite in our daily prayers: “Baruch gozer u’mekayem.” (loosely translated: “Blessed [be God] Who issues an edict and sees it through to fruition.”)

Since the word “gezeirah” (noun form of gozer) generally denotes decrees that are harsh, why would the fact that God carries out the gezeirah be laudatory? Would it not be more praiseworthy to say that He does not carry out His decree?

The Rebbe explained that the word “mekayem,” which can also be translated as “to sustain,” refers to the person who is negatively affected by the gezeirah. Thus the phrase reads, “Baruch gozer” – blessed be God who issues a decree, “u’mekayem” – and then sustains the person by giving him or her the strength to deal with the after-effects of the challenging decree.

In closing, allow me to offer my sincere blessing that God sustain you through these challenging years and that you have endless joy from your children and grandchildren.

Hazorim b’dimah b’rena Yiktzoru – “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Psalms 126:5)

This post was written by Mrs. Beile Nutovic and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. Mrs. Nutovic is the mother of Times of Israel blogger Rabbi Yakov Horowitz.