My husband and I found Reese’s Peanut Butter wrappers in my son’s coat pocket (he’s eleven). We are Makpid on Cholov Yisrael, and are shocked and dismayed. The question is, what now? Do we let him get away with it? Should we punish him? I feel that we should ignore this, and it’ll hopefully resolve itself, my husband feels more drastic measures are needed. Please advise us. Rebecca – Brooklyn.
You bring up a wonderful question, one that has stumped parents for hundreds of years. The term for this discussion is called “Choosing your battles”. Obviously, there are many variables that prevent me from giving you a more personalized answer, but let’s discuss the pros and cons.
First of all, you can’t even be 100% sure that he ate it, just because it was in his pocket. Even if he ate it, maybe he forgot, or was unaware, that it was not Cholov Yisroel. Whatever happened to giving people the benefit of the doubt? I would begin by discussing it with him, in a non-threatening manner. Only one parent needs to talk (preferably the mom in this case). Be honest with him. “I was cleaning your pockets and found this wrapper. I’m sure you realize that we’re careful to only eat Cholov Yisroel products.” You’re not asking a question, you’re waiting for him to talk.
Make sure he understands that you’re not upset (at least not yet), although make it clear to him that you need to hear only the truth. Although it can be hard to ascertain if a child is being dishonest, usually parents know. If you’re unsure and he denies it, don’t start threatening. There are other ways to find out, including asking his friends or his Rebbe. Don’t create a situation that spirals out of control. Watch his body language. If he looks uncomfortable or nervous, it could mean he knows he did something wrong. If he looks confused, then it could very well be that he wasn’t aware and made a mistake. If he looks defiant, well, that’s not so good.
Let’s go through all options.
If he says he didn’t eat it, and either doesn’t know how it got there or was holding it for someone else, don’t ask, “Are you sure?” If you have no reason to suspect otherwise, end the conversation by saying, “OK, I trust you. We are makpid to only eat food that is Cholov Yisrael because that’s our Minhag. We are so proud that you understand how important this is.” Give him a smile and end the conversation. Nonetheless, be a bit more vigilant over the next few months.
If he ate it and feels bad, you are allowed to be disappointed. We’re not trying to make him feel like a horrible person, but you can show him that you’re disappointed. You don’t need to be angry, and there certainly shouldn’t be any yelling. You can thank him for being honest but explain that a Minhag is very important. Ask him to be more careful, and tell him that you’re confident it won’t happen again. If it happened to my son, I would take him to the local kosher market, and let him pick out some chocolates that he likes.
The last scenario is one that’s been occurring more frequently, based on the emails that I receive. What if your son is defiant. “Why can’t we eat Hershey’s chocolate? All my friends do!” This is a very troubling response, particularly because it’s usually not about the chocolate. If your son feels unhappy or trapped, you need to tread very carefully.
I can tell you what won’t work. Long discussions. Yelling and begging. Guilt trips. Punishments or consequences. Not only will these not work, they will more than likely backfire. You need to speak to your Rav or someone who can guide you. Turn to your son and say firmly, “I am disappointed now. I love you, but you violated my trust. We will continue this discussion later.” After that, walk away and get some help.
The good news is that many children get defiant about things and turn out just fine. However, by overreacting or getting emotional, you can really cause a serious rift. I would like to share one idea that has worked with many people, although it needs to be used with caution.
You can turn to your son and say, “I see that you don’t understand the Minhagim that we have. However, these are our family Minhagim, going back to your great-grandparents, and we expect you to follow them. Once you are married, you and your wife can make your own decisions, and we will respect them. Until that time, please be more vigilant.”
The advantage to this statement is that:
Have a good Shabbos.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.