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Dear Emuna: The ATM Parent
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: The ATM Parent

Help! My teenage daughter isn't interested in having a relationship with me.


Dear Emuna,

My teenage daughter seems completely disinterested in having a relationship with me. She is constantly on the phone with her friends and our limited communication seems to revolve around the car keys and the credit card. I’m feeling hurt and frustrated. We used to be so close; now I seem to be seen only as an ATM machine. Is there something I am doing wrong? How can I recapture our old feelings?

-- Abandoned Mom

Dear Abandoned Mom,

I’m afraid there is nothing you can do – at least not now anyway. This is pretty typical adolescent behavior (that should at least provide some comfort!). Their friends take the place of their family for much of their teenage years. It’s their friends’ opinions that matter. It’s spending time with their friends that nourishes them. Don’t get in the way or try to block that; it will backfire.

On the other hand, you are not irrelevant (even though it may feel like that). You need to be the stable, reliable force in the background, someone they can turn to when a friendship goes sour, a relationship falls apart, a teacher doesn’t understand them. And they need to know where to find you – don’t change your values or positions.

Just be patient; this phase will pass and at the end your daughter will return to you, as long as you haven’t pushed her away. Don’t be too demanding. You can be principled but allow for some flexibility if she can make a convincing argument (she needs to feel heard). Don’t be afraid to provide structure and boundaries. She may protest but she secretly wants and desperately needs them.

Limit your expectations (i.e. be realistic). Work on your sense of humor. Be available for those (rare) moments when she actually does want to talk to you – no matter the time.

And whatever you do, do not buy her her own car or give her her own credit card. Then she’ll never speak to you!

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

As the youngest, I have constantly accepted the brunt of emotional negativity from each of my parents, stemming from conflict within themselves and between each other. I always felt like my parents "emotional garbage bag.” My happiest moments were always away from my home- with my friends or siblings. Thank God, I’ve been blessed with many other people who love and show their support for me and I’ve developed into an emotionally healthy, spiritual girl. My year away in Israel was the greatest time in my life; I loved being away from the tension. Now I’m back home and miserable. The constant tension eats away at my happiness and ability to do well in college. Even then, my parents complain that I am distant. I’m at a loss for how to handle this situation to preserve my own emotional stability.

-- Triangulated Daughter

Dear Monkey in the Middle,

I applaud you for recognizing the need to preserve your own emotional stability. And for understanding that your parents are taking out their problems on you – that it’s about them, not you. This is, unfortunately, an all-too-common dynamic in families. Parents frequently use a child as the repository of all their needs that aren’t being fulfilled through the marriage or otherwise and the child becomes the conduit for all emotional communication between the parents. This is an extremely unhealthy situation and you need to do what you can to extricate yourself from it.

I am assuming that finances and social pressure precludes you from living out of your parents’ home; otherwise, such a move would certainly ease the tension and be healthier for you. Since you mention that you have a good support system of friends and siblings, you need to continue your reliance on them. Spend as much time out of the house as possible – and spend that time with people who nurture you and give you strength. When at home, you need to ignore your parents’ complaints and retreat to your room as much as possible. That should be your oasis of security and sanity.

Friends help. Siblings help. Therapists and mentors can help. And when all else fails and you feel most alone, pull out your book of Psalms (no one had more challenges than King David!) – or use your own words – and pour out your to your one truly loving Parent.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

We raised all our children to have a deep love for the land of Israel. We held many charitable functions in our home to raise money and support the state. We visited frequently and pushed our friends to go too. Now our oldest daughter who is married with three children has decided she wants to make aliyah. We are thrilled that our lessons have had such an impact but devastated that she is moving so far away. And taking our grandchildren with her. What should we do?

-- Hypocritical Mom

Dear Hypocritical Mom,

I don’t think you are a hypocrite. You still recognize the importance of the land of Israel. You just couldn’t have anticipated how painful it would be to have your children and grandchildren move across the globe. You are just a normal “Bubby” who loves her family and loves spending time with them.

But I’m not sure I understand your question. What should you do? What could you do? What options do you think you have? This was not and is not your decision. It is your daughter’s decision – presumably made in consultation with her husband. It is a choice they have made for their family and, quite honestly, there is nothing you can do about it.

All you can do is accept it with grace and with a smile. You don’t want your desire for closeness to end up actually damaging the relationship. You should praise their courage and offer to help shop and pack. You should be supportive in every way possible and pray for their success. You can deepen your pride in their conviction and commitment. You can take pleasure in having raised such committed children. Put on a brave face (she needs you to), do not list for them any of the disadvantages of the move, and start looking for cheap tickets to go visit.

-- Emuna

November 26, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 10

(9) miriam, November 30, 2011 4:21 PM

2 answers

firstly, to the post seminary girl at home: there is great book called cutting loose. it describes breaking from your parents emotionally, but in a respectful way that lets you keep a relationship while setting healthy boundaries. also, try to talk to someone who really knows bout this stuff and a rav. sometimes you may have to be "chuzpadik" in order to stay sane in your home and it helps to have a rav you can talk to. secondly, to the grandma- skype is wonderful! with todays techonoloy you can really stay connected. make sure they have an american phoneline, internet and skype and you can talk to and see the grandkids as often as you would like.

(8) Meira Svirsky, November 29, 2011 1:43 PM

To Abandoned Mom

There's a great parenting book out that addresses this very problem. It's called, "Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers" by Gordon Neufeld, PhD. and Gabor Mate, M.D. Read it before giving up on restoring your relationship with your teenage daughter, and offering to take her out to lunch every week doesn't hurt either. Good luck!

(7) Bob Rabinoff, November 28, 2011 7:23 AM

Kids moving to Israel

Take it as an excuse to visit Israel more often yourself! I'm planning on moving to Israel, and when I asked my kids if they'd come visit they all jumped at the idea. Gd bless your daughter and her family and may He keep them safe and happy there.

(6) Anonymous, November 28, 2011 1:53 AM

Think any decision through!!!

When I was single and in college in the year 1982, I was always involved in Jewish youth organizations and interested in making aliyah. My parents tried to discourage me from making aliyah and wanted me to finish my college education. They warned me not to make aliyah and not to marry an Israeli girl but I did not listen and did the opposite of what they said. Residing in Israel and being married to an Israeli for 28 years, I now know that my parents were absloutely right. I regretted and will always regret the decision to drop out of college and move to Israel. My marriage has been extremely difficult since the beginning of the marriage making my life miserable plus the fact that it is not so easy living in Israel aside from the fact that I have a wonderful synagogue and wonderful circle of friends in the city where I reside. Also, it is extremely difficult for parents and grandparents to be separated from their children and grandchildren. Any decision should be thought out and discussed very thoroughly before making the final move.

ben nun, November 11, 2012 7:04 PM

Everyone has their story...

my Israeli friend actually went through the opposite and ended up stuck in America. A beautiful Israeli princess wilting in the Florida heat. The spies had great reasons for scaring people away from Israel. However, the rabbis say that it was their own issues that made them say it. Maybe you should see a therapist about your issues and not blame our beautiful promised land for them. Maybe the therapist will help you stop wallowing in a decision made 28 years ago and help you move on...

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