Rabbi Ross. I’m writing this question to you because I’m at wit’s end. I can’t afford to send my kids to camp, so they’re staying home with me. My children are naturally upset and have been complaining nonstop. What worries me is that they are always comparing us to other families. They say, “How come they get more than one snack every day?”, or, “Why can’t I get new sneakers?” I don’t want to tell them that we’re broke, because I’m so scared that they will resent our family. As it is, I hide collection letters from credit card companies or my mortgage servicer, so they shouldn’t feel trapped, but I feel like I’m losing the battle. What can I tell them? Should I be honest? Thanks for all your answers and time you put in every week. Private - No Location
Dear readers. When I started this weekly parenting email/blog a few months ago, I didn’t expect it to become so widely read. Baruch Hashem, we seem to have filled a niche and you are all a part of this wonderful program. Your blog comments, private emails with great advice and constructive criticisms have really enabled us to help thousands of families.
There are a few things that I promised myself a few months ago. I will never sell your email addresses. I will not allow advertisements on the site. I am not even allowing people to “Sponsor” the emails for the first year!
Many emails I receive really affect me, and I worry about the parents and even more so the children. However, the email above really shook me to the core. This mother provided her name. She was not asking for help, she wanted my advice. I will offer the advice, but I’m going to do more than that.
I decided that we’re going to try and raise money for this family. No, there is no one offering to double your donation and you won’t get a special raffle ticket. You will, however, be helping a family that it is in dire straits. I did verify their situation, and involved Rabbi Simcha Lefkowitz, Shlita, as Da’as Torah - as well as some local organizations. We're running the campaign through a 501c3 so every donation is tax deductible.
I understand that many people are going through rough times, and we can’t help everyone, but we can try. You can help in two different ways.
One, donate money.
Two, forward this email and share it with your friends and family.
In the Zechus of your help, Hashem should bless you and your families with Gezunt, Parnassah, and, of course, wonderful children.
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Let’s discuss the actual question now. When children compare their lives to other children or families, it can really make things uncomfortable. Comments like, “My friend’s mom lets him do this”, or, “How come we can’t go to Florida?” How can we respond to our kids?
You should certainly not turn this into a religious issue, (“The Torah says not to be jealous”), because that’s really asking for problems. It’s not the appropriate time for a shmooz about the important things in life. Kids are allowed to be kids, and learning how to deal with specific emotions is a part of the growing process.
The first and most important step is to validate their feelings. Other families definitely have things that you don’t, and it’s frustrating at times for the kids. You can even empathize with your kids. “Sometimes when I’m trying to get my car to start, I wish I also had an Infiniti Q50.” Let them know that their feelings are normal.
After you have validated your child, the next step is to discuss with him how to deal with his emotions. This should not be done immediately, wait until he’s relaxed and calm. By the way, we’re obviously not talking about younger children, because in most cases a five-cent lollipop will solve most of the world’s issues. We’re talking about a 9-year-old and up. These children understand more, and require a bit of help dealing with their feelings. The two main emotions he’s dealing with now are jealousy and frustration. What we want to do, is introduce two positive emotions - happiness and success. Here’s how we do it.
First, you want to explain that having an expensive car or fancier toys does not make people happier. Ask him what his favorite toy was one year ago. He probably doesn’t even think about it. Real happiness comes from doing activities with friends and family. (Remember, this is not a therapy session here – we’re having a light and fun conversation.) Ask him if he remembers the last time he was truly happy – what made him happy? As he recognizes that true happiness is not achieved through material items, his pangs of jealousy will recede.
Secondly, you want to discuss what he can do to be successful. “If you really want to have a nicer car when you’re older, that’s OK! However, you need to work hard if you want that level of success – better work ethic usually equals more money.” You might be thinking now, “That’s not necessarily true”, but it is. Yes, there are people that work really hard and are not successful, and some people that don’t work and make a lot of money. However, following the teaching of Chazal, “If one says he worked hard and succeeded, believe him.” We want to channel the frustration in a positive way, and use it as a stepping stone for success.
Last and certainly not least, I would buy your child a small token of love. Maybe a small Chatchke or a special treat. Let him know that you’re always thinking of him. You can end the conversation by saying, “I’m so proud that you are maturing and understanding yourself better. I’m so confident that you will be a huge success!”
I wish you Hatzlacha and Gezunt and a Great Shabbos!
Remember, you can help a family in need! Please share with your friends!
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.