My daughter and her husband lived across the country for their first few years of marriage. Now they are back, living close to me, with their two adorable children in tow. I’m thrilled to have them near by but it’s not all good. Now I see my daughter’s character flaws “close-up and personal” and its’ quite disturbing. I guess I didn’t parent her as well as I thought but I think that perhaps this is my chance for a do-over. Now I can correct my parenting mistakes. What do you think?
Second Chance Mom
Dear There are No Second Chances,
I don’t think you’re going to like my advice!
First, I want to address the underlying assumption that, as parents, we bear the sole and exclusive responsibility for our children’s behavior. This is absolutely not true (whatever Freud may have said)! As with everything in life, we make the effort and the outcome is in the Almighty’s hands.
But even more than that, our children are not blank slates. They come with ingrained physical qualities and character traits. They have particular inclinations and challenges. We can try to fine-tune their character. We can help channel their desires into productive paths. We can direct them to make appropriate choices. We can (try to) model desirable behavior. And we can pray. That is our job.
But children are also influenced by their schools, their peers, and their community – just for starters. They are shaped by their innate personalities. And, most of all, they have free will. They make their own choices. And, like all human beings, they don’t always choose well. This is not our fault (we aren’t that powerful!). This is the nature of being human.
You are more likely to destroy your relationship with your daughter than to reshape her behavior.
As far as getting a second chance to shape your daughter’s character, reread the above paragraph. Your ability to mold her was always very limited. But, more importantly here, if you try now you are more likely to destroy your relationship with your daughter than to reshape her behavior. She will most likely not take kindly to your unsolicited advice. She may be hurt and offended. And she will turn to her husband for comfort and solace. He will, in turn, be hurt on her behalf and you will have created tension with him as well.
Once our children are married, it’s a delicate dance. We have to be only warm and loving. I can’t emphasize that strongly enough.
And yet a word of caution: Just like with our young children, our “correct” behavior vis-à-vis our married child and their spouse may not (will not) always produce the desired results. They still have free will. Their partners have free will – and their own set of personality traits and inclinations. There are no guarantees.
Once again, the outcome is in the Almighty’s hands and, after making your best effort to bite your tongue -- unless it is love and support you are expressing, opening your heart and mouth in prayer is your best solution.
Age of Entitlement
My married children had to move out of their apartment due to Hurricane Sandy. Luckily I have room to take them in and they lived with us for three weeks, most of which was a pleasure. Thank God their home was not destroyed and they were able to move back. As they packed up their belongings and left, alone with some care packages for their freezer (brisket, vegetable soup, lasagna etc), they breezily waved good-bye and loaded up the car. Not a word of thanks. I was stunned and disheartened. Where did I go wrong?
Dear Despairing Mom,
This seems to be my week for frustrated and discouraged parents. First, read my response to the previous writer.
Second, while I can’t provide an excuse for the behavior, I think I can offer an explanation. I think their behavior is reflective of their generation. It is an age of entitlement. I know I’m echoing many articles on the subject but there is a reason for all those essays! Our children expect to be taken care of, to be supported in all respects. They see it as their due.
Not all children behave this way and we certainly need to model gratitude. But again, even if we do, there is no guarantee our children will model it in return, especially if society around them is teaching the opposite lesson. There are so many complicated factors shaping our children’s actions and their expectations and those of their peers to be taken care of is a prime example of the power of outside influence. The type of change needed to reverse this trend may start at home but it is societal and systemic and needs a broader effort. Teachers, politicians, well-meaning relatives – everyone has to participate in a process to reduce expectation and to encourage gratitude.
But we, as parents, also need to change our attitude. Like all giving, taking care of our children should be done without any expectations of reward or return, including thank you, and only because there is a need and we want to meet it. We want to be givers. And, as I’ve said many times, I believe parenting (like burying the dead) is a chesed shel emet, a true kindness where the goal is solely for the benefit of the recipient. We really can’t change anyone else (note to writer of letter one) but we can change ourselves and our attitude which will actually make all the difference.
My son likes to ride his bike to school. I encourage him to do so – both for the exercise and for the convenience to me. However, he thinks it’s uncool to wear his helmet and I’m concerned for his safety. What do you recommend?
Dear Appropriately Protective Parent,
I am so on your side. I know of too many dangerous bicycle accidents to have any tolerance for biking without a helmet. We have a good friend who suffered serious brain damage when biking with his daughter without a helmet. And many more friends who almost did. While being uncool is always an adolescent concern that we want to try to be sensitive to and not just mock, safety trumps all. Either your son wears his helmet or he loses his biking privileges and you may have to bite the bullet and drive him to school.
It goes without saying that his safety trumps your inconvenience. Hopefully it won’t reach that point and you will be able to convince him to ride safely. Like with cars (which are the next level up) I try to impress upon my children two things: 1. I only have one of you so I’m not willing to take any chances and 2. I trust you but there are a lot of crazy drivers out there who I don’t trust. This will allow your son to “save face” by blaming the helmet on his (over!) protective parents and other drivers. Hang tough.