Whose Fight Is This?: My Parenting Challenge
“It is the policy of the University to respect its members' religious beliefs. In compliance with New York State law, each student who is absent from school because of his or her religious beliefs will be given an equivalent opportunity to register for classes or make up any examination, study, or work requirements that he or she may have missed because of such absence on any particular day or days. No student will be penalized for absence due to religious beliefs, and alternative means will be sought for satisfying the academic requirements involved.”
– School of Nursing Handbook
As my children will attest, I can be “bossy.” Now that they’re in their early 20s, I try to step back and let them live their lives as independent, confident adults, but it’s hard.
Last year, when my daughter was pursuing a master’s degree in nursing, she couldn’t commit to attend the seder because her clinical rotation assignments were made week-to-week. Nonetheless, I nagged her and shortly before the seder, she hastily rearranged her schedule with the on-site preceptor, and simultaneously emailed the change to the liaison at the university.
During the seder, I watched her stunned expression as she read an email from an associate nursing professor who questioned the way the schedule change had been made. Even today, as I chronicle the events that unfolded after Becca received that email, I can feel my blood pressure rise.
When she returned to her clinical site the next day, two different assistant professors arrived unannounced and informed her of the proper protocol for taking time off without repercussions, telling her she should have contacted their office as soon as possible if she wanted to change her schedule to be able to attend a seder.
Later that week, Becca was informed that her grade for the clinical rotation would be reduced a full letter grade as a penalty for taking time off and not following established protocols for doing so.
At that point, steam was coming out of my ears.
My son, upset by the school’s punishment and my frustration and anger over it, was quick to implicate me because I’d encouraged his sister to attend the seder. The entire scenario, he told me, would have been avoided had I not done that.
Although I knew this wasn’t my fight to fight, I sought out advice from many people, including top leaders and rabbis in the Reform Movement. Following the advice of one rabbi-colleague with whom I work, I reached out to the university’s Hillel rabbi, who as our liaison, was understanding, but realistic about the likelihood that the academic penalty would be reversed.
Indeed, when Becca received her grades for the semester, the clinical rotation grade was a full letter grade below what she had earned. Despite her desire that I let the incident go, I was more determined than ever to see justice done. My fortitude bred her resentment, and we became locked in a vicious cycle. She sent polite emails and I nudged her to follow-up with a request for a face-to-face meeting with the dean of the university’s school of nursing.
A face-to-face meeting was arranged for a Friday afternoon shortly before graduation. That morning, the liaison from Hillel called to tell us that his conversation with the dean – initiated at my request, to smooth the way before my daughter’s meeting – hadn’t gone well. The dean, he said, didn’t quite see our side, and the Hillel rabbi was dubious about whether she could be swayed. Hearing that, my daughter said she wouldn’t meet with the dean.
I insisted she go.
As I drove home from dropping her at the train, I silently acknowledged that around this issue, I, a hands-off parent, had somehow morphed into a tiger mother. And, although we don’t know the reason, shortly after her in-person meeting with the dean, the academic penalty lodged against Becca was reversed.
Looking back, I still wonder if my hands-on approach was right. Was it worth the prolonged stress, aggravation, conflict in our family, and the sour taste it left as we attended graduation? Did I adequately model for my daughter – and my son – that there are times when one must pursue what’s right – even when it’s uncomfortable and others tell you to let it go?