Rabbi Ross. I’ve been reading with fascination your articles over the past few months. My husband & I truly appreciate your down-to-earth advice, and generally agree with your opinions. Now it’s our turn to ask the question. We both come from non-religious backgrounds, and we are very close with my cousins who are completely non-religious. Recently, we’ve been running into a big problem. As our kids are getting older, we are realizing the dangers of hanging out with them. Their older girls are now teenagers, and are constantly pushing the bar regarding dress codes and Tznius. They also discuss inappropriate things, and being that we have boys that are almost Bar Mitzvah, we are getting nervous. Here’s the question. Since breaking off the relationship is not going to happen (they’re too close), where should these get togethers take place. In our home where we can control it? Or will that bring it into our house? In their house where we can leave easier? That might be worse! In either case, should we discuss our fears with their parents? With our kids? What are your thoughts? – Private
Rabbi Ross. As mid-winter vacation approaches, my husband & I are once again preparing for the onslaught of complaints from our children. We don’t go to Florida, and pretty much survive the week by hiring babysitters so we can continue to work. Why should we go to Florida? It’s warmer? Big deal! We should take off work every time our kids are home? How will we pay the bills? “Everyone else goes on trips or to Florida, why can’t we?”, is one of the many complaints we receive. We were wondering what you think we should respond to our kids. Incidentally, we have a 13-year-old girl, 11 and 8 year old boys and a 4 year old. Thank you for all of your hard work. Rivkie - 5 Towns
One of the problems I’ve always suffered from is that I am not very politically correct. Please forgive me if this answer comes off a bit harsh.
I have close family in Eretz Yisrael and Lakewood, and if I showed them this question, they would be thoroughly confused. “What’s Mid-Winter vacation?” Additionally, there are many local families that live in the surrounding communities that also don’t have this problem. Why not? Because, they and their neighbors don’t go away on vacation.
The point I’m trying to convey is that, in a way, your children are correct. You live in the Five Towns, and they are surrounded by all the trappings and “norms” of this particularly affluent neighborhood. Then you tell them, “It’s not for us!” Imagine if you took a 4-year-old on a sightseeing trip to Oh Nuts! How well would that work out?
It could be that you had no choice when you moved to your neighborhood, or possibly it’s temporary. However, the fact remains that you live there now, and that’s what your kids are exposed to. I’m not saying there’s nothing you can do about your situation, rather I’m just trying to explain why your children might feel left-out, or envious of others.
As a side point, it’s interesting to note that the terms “want” and “need” are often used interchangeably with children. If a child is exposed to a certain environment in which the majority of their friends are going somewhere or getting something, then what we might have perceived as a “want” is in reality something the child might “need.”
Regarding the vacation, we can all agree that the 4-year-old does not require much of an explanation. Set up a playdate or two, and she’ll be fine. The other children require a bit more sensitivity regarding your situation.
When trying to explain, or discuss, something difficult with your children (for example, why you’re one of the only families that doesn’t go to Florida), there are two essential criteria. The first is that you need to listen to your children. The second is that you need to be honest with them. Remember, this holds true for any discussion that you may have with them.
Let’s discuss how to listen. A phrase that I hear from many parents is, “My kids just don’t listen!” Listening, like many other key skills, is a learned behavior. In order to teach our children how to listen, we need to listen to them when they talk! It’s not only when they’re older, we should listen to them all the time! Listening doesn’t mean giving in to them, or even agreeing with them, it means hearing and understanding their point, while giving them your undivided attention.
Here’s how to listen. First of all, make eye contact and stop everything else when they begin to talk. Second of all, don’t listen to respond, listen to understand. When they finish talking, wait a few seconds before responding. Oh, and in case I forgot, maybe put the cell phone away and don’t keep checking it.
The second criterion when having a discussion with your children, is being honest. Blaming the lack of vacations on something that’s untrue, can really hurt you in the long run. Telling your son, “I don’t want to take the family to Florida, since there are inappropriately dressed people”, is understandable. However, if you let your kids watch inappropriate videos, you’re being dishonest to yourself and your family. Alternatively, if you blame the lack of vacations on money, and then you go out and buy yourself the latest model Lexus, to your child it seems dishonest. Telling the truth to your children is one of the best ways to ensure that they will be honest, and even more importantly, that they will trust you.
Now, let’s try out a scenario for the situation you asked about initially. Your 13-year-old daughter might say, “It’s so frustrating! Everyone else on the block goes away, and we have to stay in this dumb house! I hate living here!”
How well were you listening? She made four points.
The next step would be to tell her, “I really understand you. I truly wish we were able to go away or do something special during winter vacation. Let me discuss this with Daddy, and see what we can do.” You shouldn’t be using this as a stalling tactic – I’m being serious. This is a chance for you to prove that you are a great mom/dad.
Her last two points, about the dumb house and the fact she hates living in it, don’t really require a response. There’s no need to start telling her the house is not dumb. It’s also a bad idea to bring up all the fun things she’s done in the house. She was just venting.
What should your final answer be? I have absolutely no clue. Maybe let her go away for a few days with grandparents? Possibly, you should actually go on a 2-day family trip? Check if she has any classmates or friends home and allow them to plan a fun day out. You can also offer her a special summer trip, if she is willing to be upbeat despite not going away? I’m sure you understand I can’t give you the perfect way to respond to her disappointment.
Wishing everyone that’s travelling a safe trip.
Rabbi Ross. Like many others, I’ve been enjoying your weekly emails. I am not the type of mother to write or call in ever, but there is something that’s really been grating on my nerves for a while, and I’m wondering what you think about it. I get the feeling that parents have become friends with their children instead of being, well, parents. Shouldn’t parents be respected authority figures instead of companions to their kids? Or, am I old-school? Chana – Brooklyn.
The answer to both your questions, is yes. You are definitely old-school, but that’s a good thing. Children are supposed to have respect for their parents. Not only that, but according to the Torah, they’re supposed to fear their parents as well.
What’s gone wrong? As you pointed out so eloquently, parents are becoming friends with their children. On the surface, this seems to be wonderful. What a beautiful sight - parents and children hanging out like best friends.
However, the problems engendered with such a relationship can be quite serious. Let’s state at the outset that children need a lot from their parents, but we can narrow it down to two main elements.
The first ingredient is, of course, love. This includes, (but is not limited to) hugging, kissing, complimenting (most beneficial when done sincerely and specifically), and constant smiles. Love helps children develop into healthy, confident adults with a strong self-esteem.
The second ingredient, we’ll call nurture. This includes, (but is not limited to) guidance, discipline, physical assistance (e.g., changing diapers when they’re babies, helping organize their bedroom when they’re older), and more.
These two main ingredients require a delicate balance. Too much love, and your child will be a self-centered and lazy person. Too much nurture, and your child can become moody and depressed with many psychological issues. Additionally, children won’t learn to become independent if there’s too much nurture – otherwise referred to as helicopter parenting. As they develop and grow older, they still need both components, but the applications change slightly. By the time they’re teenagers, the love aspect becomes less physical and more of a supportive attitude. Meanwhile, the nurturing aspect becomes less of a discipline, and more of guidance.
I know this sounds funny, but for many people, the easiest ages to raise children from a love vs. nurture standpoint, is newborns and older teenagers. The reason is, because your job is more clearly delineated. Newborns need lots of love (and some diaper changes obviously). Older teenagers are, well, teenagers. They are much harder to discipline, and don’t necessarily respond well to loving gestures. “Why do I have to text you when I get there?!”, is all the proof you need.
The most difficult ages for most parents regarding this topic though, is from ages 3-13. During these ages, it can be extremely difficult to find the right balance. When your three-year-old colors on the wall, do you discipline or laugh it off? There are many different parenting styles, and it’s most important for parents to work together whichever approach they agree upon.
However, in most cases, as children mature, the parent’s role frequently becomes more of a disciplinarian (nurturing aspect). This is mainly because more discipline and guidance/advice is needed as children get older. As a result, it can become difficult for parents who want to be their child’s “friend” (the “love” aspect). As parents, they may feel these conflicting emotions inside, but they must understand what their child really needs.
He doesn’t need you to be his friend. He needs you to guide him, whether it means giving a consequence, disciplining him, or even having a serious conversation. Here’s an example. If your son disrespects you in front of the other kids, you don’t want to say, “He must be having a bad day, we’re still ‘cool’. You must switch into the nurture mode, and deal with it appropriately.
Another mistake that parents are often guilty of, is treating a child as their confidante. Your child is not mature enough, emotionally or intellectually, to play that role. When you make your child your confidante, you are in fact saying that you and the child are co-decision makers. However, you and your child are not co-decision makers in any realistic way.
This doesn’t mean your kids can’t share their opinion when appropriate. Of course they can tell you what they like and dislike. But certainly decisions, especially important ones, and sometimes even certain minor ones, must be made by you, the parent. Believe it or not, children thrive with this type of structure, and it gives them the skills they require to become good parents later on!
Here are a few fun tidbits to think about.
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.