Katriel Reichman
Katriel Reichman

When your teen leans in or out of religious observance don’t go ballistic

Don't go ballistic when your child makes different lifestyle choices

Our children will make decisions that we don’t agree with. Not all of our children’s choices are as dramatic as Julia Haart’s very public description (in My Unorthodox Life) of her decision to leave her Orthodox Jewish community and take her children with her, but fundamental life choices that clash with your core values and beliefs are more than a difference in opinion.

When a child rejects your belief system, you can feel that your child is rejecting you. You can feel that you’ve failed as a parent. And, you can easily treat your child’s decisions as a “slap in the face”. I had a chance to chat with Dr. Gila Cohen Davidovsky about how to respond when your child chooses a different path.

How did you get interested in this topic?

Photo: Dr. Gila Cohen Davidovsky

Dr. Gila Cohen Davidovsky is familiar with Orthodox Jewish customs and norms, and the tensions in families with different levels of observance. Her husband became observant after their marriage. Together, they experienced many of the struggles and frustrations that many families need to address in order to nurture their family and balance competing life choices.. 

Going ballistic can permanently damage your relationship

The hurt, anger, embarrassment, guilt, and fear that come from feelings of rejection can permanently damage your relationship.

When a child goes “off the derech”, rejecting Shabbat observance, kashrut, and more, the pain can be acute.  


When a child leans into religious observance, parents may feel threatened. Cooking, shabbat, eating out, and family vacations can all become battlegrounds.  A child’s preference to focusing on religious studies in a yeshiva or seminary can be a huge source of conflict.

Dr. Gila emphasizes that how to respond to your child’s choices will affect how close your family is likely to be. Consider reaching out to a professional sensitive to the cultural nuances to help you make calm, considered choices that will build bridges and help keep your family intact. Even when your child sets out on a different path, you remain parents!

Take practical steps to keep your family together

With some work, you can find common ground where you respect your child and stay true to your own principles. 

While acceptance should be our guiding light, it is hard in practice. How often do you find yourselves slipping into open warfare at home? Acceptance is hard, but it is not impossible.

Parents should consider getting help to navigate difficulties with their children, become better listeners, and become more tolerant. As you develop a greater appreciation for your children’s choices, you may find that your child’s cover values are actually quite intact – even if they are now covered by a black hat (or, perhaps, not covered at all).


Hwang, W., Silverstein, M., & Brown, M. T. (2018). Parent–adult child religious discordance: Consequences for intergenerational solidarity across several decades. Journal of Family Issues39(6), 1545-1572.

Rosenkrantz, D. E., Rostosky, S. S., Toland, M. D., & Dueber, D. M. (2020). Cognitive-affective and religious values associated with parental acceptance of an LGBT child. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 7(1), 55–65.

About the Author
CEO of MethodM Ltd. Working hard to match clients and therapists (therapyeverywhere.com, psychologyeverywhere.com), and enthusiastic advocate for trial and error in technology and content management (methodm.com).
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