The Bad Advice

7 years ago, I was a mess. I had three children under the age of 4, and felt depressed, anxious, and completely overwhelmed.

Around that time, I started seeing a naturopath who helped me a great deal. By then, she was already in her 70s, a former schoolteacher from England who was married to a prominent rabbi, and had turned her hobby of naturopathy into her profession 2 decades before when she moved to Israel.

I liked her clipped, authoritative British accent, and the reading glasses that she wore on a chain around her neck, just like my mom.

Whenever we met, I told her about my life and my problems, and she displayed a great deal of wisdom and insight into my situation. She also gave me some natural herbs that had a nearly miraculous effect on me.

Thanks to this naturopath, I suddenly felt in control and happy for the first time in a long time. Whenever I was having a tough time, I would give her a call, and just speaking with her or taking the herbal concoctions she prescribed made me feel better.

I felt tremendous gratitude to her, and I still do.

But after two years, about five years ago, I had a conversation with her that changed things.

I had miscarried several months before, and I told the naturopath that I was hoping to get pregnant again. She moved her reading glasses to the end of her nose, and shot me a sharp look, “Look, Chana, the reality is that some people weren’t meant to have a large family. Now you are struggling, and believe me, it’s only going to get harder and harder as your family grows. If you have any more children, a few years from now you will be absolutely drowning.”

When I told her how much I loved my children, and how I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet any of my potential offspring, she nodded knowingly. “I also have three children, and I also wasn’t able to have any more for similar reasons. I struggled with this a great deal until my children were married. But I realized later on that it was for the best.”

This woman whom I respected so much said I shouldn’t have any more children, and I came home crushed, not just because of her advice that would mean never realizing my dream of having more children, but because, in that single encounter, this naturopath/rebbetzin had managed to blow away every gram of confidence and self-esteem that I had managed to scrape together throughout those challenging years.

The awful truth is that I was convinced that this woman knew me even better than I knew myself.

A few months later, I spoke with a psychologist friend who was furious about what the naturopath had told me. So unprofessional, so inappropriate, so lacking appreciation for my ultimate spiritual goals as a mother and my deep need to nurture another child. That, together with becoming pregnant again, pushed me to break away from that naturopath.

Looking back with my 20/20 hindsight, it is clear that this naturopath (who sadly passed away last year) had it all wrong. Today, five years after our final meeting, my life as a mother of five is infinitely easier than it was as a mother of three. Because my family has changed, and my situation and level of support has changed, and because I have changed too.

Today, I can also understand the naturopath’s well-intentioned but fatal mistake. She saw me as an overwhelmed, unskilled, insecure mother of three, and she envisioned me as an overwhelmed, unskilled, insecure mother of four and more children, and she rightfully predicted disaster.

What she didn’t take into account was that before the world was created, G-d created teshuva, the potential for self change and personal growth. The potential to become better and stronger and blessedly different than before.

A few weeks back, my teacher Rabbanit Yemima was giving us tips on choosing a rabbi. Steer clear of pessimists and naysayers, she warned us. Instead, she explained, choose the kind of rabbi who always provides you a window of hope. Who at the darkest times in your life and marriage and mothering career can say, “Things are tough, and you will have to change and work on this and this and this, but if you are able to take those difficult steps, then things could be just fine.”

And the same rule applies to any psychologist, or counselor, or mentor from whom you choose to receive guidance. Because any mentor who has no hope, no awareness of the potential for change, is in need of a bit of guidance him or herself.

I was so happy to see this peptalk from the movie The Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith. This would have been the perfect response to that naturopath! Click here to watch…

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