Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.
My stepdaughter has been in and out of trouble for 13 years. Of the 18 years I've known her, she's deceived everyone she comes in contact with. She gave up all three of her children to their father 13 years ago.
She's bounced from one man to another and is now on her second marriage to a man who's been in trouble half his life. She'll turn 45 this December and is now in jail for the second time (that we know of). When she wasn't happy in New York, she fled with someone to Virginia.
She seems to need us only when she's low on money. Now she thinks we should send her $300 monthly because nobody else will while she is in jail. (Shortly after her arrest, her husband was also arrested.) She's even asked us to send her the money we usually give her for her birthday and Christmas now, claiming she'll never bother us again. My husband isn't happy about all of this, but he usually gives in and sends money.
I have two daughters, both in their 30s, who have everything going for them and are never in trouble.
What advice would you have for us? -- L., via cyberspace
I'm sure you realize that your real question is not about whether or not to send your stepdaughter more money. Her problems are more psychological and spiritual than financial. Something has blocked and twisted her life into an orgy of self-destruction. One obvious culprit would be drugs. The obvious first step -- which you could make a condition of sending her money -- is for your stepdaughter to get a full psychiatric and medical work up and seek treatment at a good rehabilitation center.
Sending her money with no conditions makes you and your husband enablers, not parents, even if your intentions are born of love. But changing the direction of her life when she's been off track for so long won't be easy. Ultimately, your stepdaughter must choose the life she wants to live, and the choices she makes are, for the most part, beyond your control. If some day she expresses a desire to enter a rehab center near you, go pick her up that day.
I want to move outward and inward from your very personal family problem to what it might teach all of us about the choices we make. To do this, I'd like to introduce all of my readers to the best question I've ever heard in my life -- one we must all ask, whether our lives are going great or we've hit some bumps in the road: How long do you want to live like this? That's it.
This question doesn't ask you to figure out why you're doing things that don't work out. It just points you to a different path. We always think we must understand why we mess up before we can change, but the truth is just the opposite. We can start doing things differently, then live our way into the answers of why we went astray.
All you and your stepdaughter have to do is say in a powerful and sincere voice: "No. I don't want to live this way one more minute!" The question is also good because it works for happy people, too. If you want to live the way you're living forever, then do it. Continue to make the same choices about work, friends and family that you're making now.
Everything is about choosing, and the biblical wisdom from Deuteronomy 30:19 is powerful and clear: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."
Waiting is not choosing. Hand-wringing is not choosing. Choosing is turning around and walking in a different direction, which, by the way, is the exact meaning of the Hebrew word for repentance (teshuva).
I pray that both you and your stepdaughter will choose a new way of life. I pray for all of us to choose, turn and live.
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