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.