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The Frustrated Parent
Mom with a View

The Frustrated Parent

"I give so much and this is what I get back?!"


Raise your hand if any of these scenarios sound familiar:

You spent all day schlepping your son around. First he went to boy scouts, then to the mall, then, as a special treat, for ice cream. At the end of the day he asks you to take him to his friend's house but you are just too tired. "You never do anything for me!" he screams.

You got up early to hit the grocery store before it got too crowded. You actually had to go to two stores because the first one was out of your daughter's favorite cereal. You devoted the day to cooking and baking for your family. Your daughter walks in from school, opens the refrigerator door, and then slams it shut in disgust. "I'm starving; there's never anything to eat in this house."

You help your 14-year-old son with his homework. You make a deal -- a new computer game for three months of A's. You sit and talk to him about school and his friends over hot chocolate with marshmallows. Later that evening he asks your permission to go to an unsupervised sleepover and you refuse. You overhear him on the phone complaining about how strict, mean and uncaring you are.

I thought so. The list goes on and on, these scenarios being enacted in all their multiple variations in home after home after home.

These are not bad kids. This is just the reality of parenting.

The Torah says that the one true kindness, the kindness where there is no external motivation or expectation, is escorting the dead. The dead have nothing to give back.

I think that parenting is a similar type of kindness -- don't expect anything in return. And if we accept that fact, we will actually be better -- and probably happier -- parents.

In all of the aforementioned scenarios what is particularly grating to us as parents is that we feel "I gave so much and this is what I get back?!" But what if we took the "I" out of the picture? What if we disconnected the giving from the getting?

Our job is to give. Their job is to grow up (albeit gradually). We wound ourselves needlessly when we try to impose a causal relationship on our previous actions and their ensuing responses.

Yes, we need to teach our children gratitude -- not because we need to be thanked, but because it's crucial to their character.

And they can be grateful and frustrated at the same time (can't you?). They can say "thank you" repeatedly for the new shoes (and even mean it) and still flare up when a later bedtime is denied.

It's not personal. It's who kids are. Making it personal is what leads to guilt.

There's nothing more crippling than parenting children to satisfy us instead of them.

Sometimes when children get married and leave home (a moment that can't seem to come quickly enough for parents of some teenagers!), parents look around bewildered. "What was that? All that work and now they're gone." (They're never really gone but that's another article!) All that giving and they've left, on to build their own lives. That's good, terrific even. Because that's the goal. To create adults who can now build their own futures. It's only puzzling if we're expecting something back. It's only confusing if it's about our needs, not theirs.

There's nothing more crippling than parenting children to satisfy us instead of them. It's hard to avoid that -- in the little ways and the big ways. It's hard to have no expectations. We give so much. Couldn't they at least pick up their dirty socks?

They can and they will. When it's age appropriate. As they grow. As they need to.

Of course we need to teach our children responsibility. Of course we need to teach them respect for others (i.e. us!) But we need to be realistic. A child who leaves a trail of discarded backpack, shoes and socks as he makes his way to the kitchen after school is NOT making a statement about his relationship to us, about his lack of caring and gratitude, about his cavalier attitude towards our needs. He's just hungry. He's glad to be home (and you want to keep it that way) and he needs to relax. Later, you can gently mention your request for order. (And even if it's not met then, it's still not personal.)

Parenting is about giving -- and giving and giving. If we get at all, it should be the pleasure of seeing our adult children behave with kindness and caring, with maturity and with gratitude, with the Jewish values that we tried so hard to model for them.

It's a long, frequently difficult, journey. It requires almost inhuman patience. It requires almost supernatural selflessness. And always, constantly, prayer. And yet, ultimately, we really wouldn't have it any other way.

December 15, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Yvette, August 4, 2008 5:11 PM

It's just so hard

When I read your story I felt instantly better. It's good not to feel alone. My son, almost 18, is finishing high school but refuses to study. I have tried so hard to congratulate him and encourage him but as his results decline, it's getting harder. He no longer gives me the courtesy of eye-contact when I speak with him. I DO expect something in return for all my efforts and work - I expect his LOVE. Is that too much to ask for? He treats me like an inconvenience but is always very nice when asking for something. He does sometimes help with tings (eg emptying the dishwasher) but I can't help but think, hey, I work 40 hours per week, cook, clean, etc etc, and he only goes to school 4 days per week, can't he help me a bit more???? Am I wrong to expect this? It is a comfort to me that he doesn,t smoke, loiter, take drugs etc, but at times I think that's just a given - I shouldn,t be thankful for that, I should expect that.
Gosh, my feelings are getting very jumbled. I have a lump in my throat. I just wish he would give me a little love back... and now I am starting to resent him, the worst kind of feeling a mother could have.

(7) Miryam, December 21, 2007 12:24 AM

To: Wendy Z, when giving involves Judaism and the result is out right rejection.

Hello,Wendy. I was touched by your story.
I am going through something similar with my family. I use that word "family" very lightly" I have a 12 yr. old daughter and I share all my love for Judaism and my people with her; among other things we both shared with each other; however, for about 3 yrs ago. My
ex-husband, my mother, and 10 other people here and there convinced her that
Judaism wasn't for her and that the life
of Jewish law was going to cause her to
miss out they put it, "on the good things in life. After drilling the child for about 3 yrs. The child has not only been convinced that the lawless
life is the way to go, but that to stay living with me would hinder her progress to be her own individual self...(as they put it)On the first Sabbath before Hanukkah, My family made a terrible child neglect report to ACS about me and I have lost temporary custody to my non-Jew/ lack of human decency/Jew bashing/womanizing ex-husband of mine.
Courtesy of my mother, her favorite children and get most precious
gift of all; my daughter. My Rabbi, all the guy's from my congregation including my boss whom is a Jew himself is giving me all the support that I need to fight this evil test that has been brought before me as to test my utter love and faith for the LORD OF ISRAEL. I nearly buckled before the pressure and was about to give up. All the Jews in my neighborhood whom know me, have done nothing but help in so many ways. They tell me to trust in "THE BIG GUY" (as I call him) that he will never let me down. I believe this with all my heart. Mine and my daughter's fate will be determined on July 31, 2007. My friend, I understand how you feel about your children's attitudes about our beautiful faith and our beloved people;however, hang in there babe, THE BIG GUY is much more powerful than what we think. He's just testing our love for him. This (GREAT POWER) brought us out from Egypt while at the same time he destroyed our enemies at the shore; mind you, it wasn't 5 of us and 10 of them he did his will with, IT WAS A GREAT NATION! He is the one and only! Your children or my daughter are just one; don't worry babe, he is guiding them around another road leading back home to him. We are his children; He protects us like the pupil of his eye. No evil will touch them now nor ever. TRUST IN THE BIG GUY, HIS THERE FOR US... signing off from the home front.

(6) sharon, December 20, 2007 2:33 PM

Whose fault is it their spoiled?

I agree with anonymous' comment about overgiving. An extra trip to the store because your daughter can't live without her favorite cereal? I shop once a week and if the store is out of something my family can do without or go to the store themselves. No wonder the kids are spoiled brats.

(5) Anonymous, December 19, 2007 7:08 AM

over giving

I think the parents' frustration is especially high when they bend over backwards and "over give". Then, when the child doesn't express even a modicum of gratitude or worse, complains about them, the parent feels very hurt. This arises when the parent is really giving beyond their limits and feels subconsciously that they will get their child's approval. It doesn't work. Nurture and give what they need but beyond that, give only what you can because if you exceed your limits, you will only feel resentful.

(4) wendy z, December 18, 2007 2:12 PM

when giving involves Judaism, and the result is outright rejection

One reason I had children was to fulfill my goal of furthering the Jewish people. After leaving a husband for whom Judaism wasn't important, I sacrificed to send my kids to Hebrew School and Jewish Day School. We celebrated the holidays when they were kids in a warm and haimish way, never forced or imposed but rather from the heart. I involved their grandparents in as many holiday rituals to bring them closer to that generation and to give them a sense of family participation. When the kids reached their middle school teenage years, they began to hate Judaism, Jews, and everything Jewish. In fact, several years later, they've now let me know they don't consider themselves Jewish at all. My Jewish identity is deeply a part of me, a central pin of my existence. My sons say they love me, but not the Judaism part. They're still great people, good values, sensitive, caring etc., but want no part of this people or its history. When I tell them they are Jewish anyway and will always be, they are furious with me. I express my views and hopes, but still I am patient with them, hoping that one day they will wake up to realize all the good there is in the Jewish people and heritage. But by then I will probably have grandchildren who will have very little, if anything, in common with me. Though I am proud of many of their attributes and values, their rejection of Judaism makes me very sad and tests my powers of acceptance and resignation.

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