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Frankenstein Redux
Mom with a View

Frankenstein Redux

Parents shouldn't be surprised that they have created a monster.


One hot Shabbos day I was at a Bar Mitzvah lunch, desperately searching for a cool place for my husband and me to sit. Approaching a seemingly empty table I was surprised when someone's housekeeper said, "You can't sit there, it's for the babies."

In the end we were able to squish in some chairs and make room but that is of course not much of a story.

As the meal progressed the children grew wilder and wilder and their frantic mother grew more and more frazzled. They screamed, they kicked, they pulled at their mother's clothing, they demanded – and they made a huge mess. Where was that oh so helpful nanny now, I wondered?

Finally the mother turned to me in despair. "How do you have any patience?" she asked. "I read all the books but when it comes to putting it into practice, forget it."

"Well," I began, "for one thing, I left my kids at home."

For this mother of four small children (with the aforementioned household help!), the wiser course would have definitely been to attend without her children. They were clearly getting no benefit from the experience (certainly not a parent-child bonding moment) while simultaneously destroying any chance of her enjoying it.

But there was a deeper lesson at stake here, one I didn't have the nerve to deliver (perhaps if I knew her better).

If we teach our children from a young age that the world revolves around them, this is the result. As soon as I was told that chairs for a two year old and three year old took precedence over chairs for the Rabbi and Rebbetzin, for any adults, I knew they were in trouble.

I don't know why she was so shocked. They were behaving exactly as she had taught them to.

If children don't learn early to show respect for adults, they probably never will. And the first place this attitude will be demonstrated is towards their mothers.

I don't know why she was so shocked. They were behaving exactly as she had taught them to. If she interrupts every adult conversation to talk to her children (Can I just express a pet peeve about how frustrating it is to have someone engage in a lengthy conversation with their children while I am on the other end of the phone line?! Can't they be told to wait a few minutes?), if she (or her nanny) jumps up to bring them whatever piece of food they point at, if they eat it in complete disregard of the mess they are making, if their sitting comfortably takes precedence over the needs of anyone else, then this is the end result. Like Dr. Frankenstein, we shouldn't be surprised that we have created a monster – or two.

How does this happen?

It may be that because we love our children so much our instinctive response is to give to them – without asking ourselves whether this giving is actually good for their character.

It may be that initially saying yes seems easier than saying no, than waging constant battles. Until we see where lack of discipline leads and realize that a few small "nos" early on would have saved us some big ones later.

It may be that we are too busy being our children's friend to be their parent. It may be that we have no good role models, that we are spoiled and overindulged ourselves, that in thinking the world revolves around us, it is the next logical step to think it revolves around our children.

All of the above? Some combination? See how childhood experiences shape us! (Even multiple choice tests forever haunt us!)

Whatever the cause, the result is disaster. The sense of entitlement can pervade and distort their whole lives. There is a frequent mention in job-related newspaper stories that the generation raised with this attitude is really struggling in the workplace. They come in to prospective employers with expectations and demands instead of supplications and requests. They don't even realize that they have something to learn, that their boss has something to teach.

Although we have moved beyond the Freudian concept of blaming everything on the mother, this problem can be laid at the parent's door. They (we) taught their children to take instead of give, to expect instead of appreciate, to overvalue themselves and undervalue their parents and teachers.

And it's not just the workplace. All relationships will be negatively impacted by this "me first" attitude, if they exist at all. It may seem trivial but it starts with the assumption that the right of a three year old to a seat takes precedence over that of a 50 year old…

June 28, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 22

(22) Anonymous, July 5, 2008 10:14 AM

standing or sitting

While commenting on the selfishness of the kids taking the seats, you also criticize their messy eating. Most little kids absolutely need a table to be able to eat something (a nice way to keep them quiet for a bit) because they don't have the coodination to balance a paper plate on their lap on the floor or in a standing position. Common sense dictates they physically need a table, especially if there were several and the mom had to hold the baby and help the others eat. I hear your point, though.

(21) Anonymous, July 4, 2008 8:19 AM


This article is excellent. It is common thinking from yesteryear! I am shocked by the negative responses. I understand that all families are different and are all at different levels of learning parenting, however, the author of this article is highly qualified to judge and teach. This is exactly the way I have raised my five children. You have to start when they are very small, as soon as they learn to walk, they are taught their manners. They are taught to be gentle and respectful and quiet when company is there or when they are in public gatherings. They are taught to play and have fun and be loud when they are at playgrounds or outdoors or in their playroom. If they are taught these respectful things when they are very little, no matter what their disability or trouble, they will be respectful. Even a toddler will have good manners. Now of course we know that a toddler gets tired and needs a nap. So Mother could just hold the child and cuddle and the child will sleep. Also, when a child is talking during adult converstation, they must learn to wait. This is very important. Then later, the mother should give that child all her attention to find out what the child needs. These are common courtesies. You cannot raise a child to be self-centered and then all of a sudden, when they are a teenager, wonder why they are so selfish.
Thank you for this wonderful article.

(20) Maxine, July 4, 2008 5:53 AM

spoilt children

a child need to know their boundaries -and there must be disipline - the difference between what is right and wrong, & acceptable behaviour - how do they grow up to have values and ethics and respect for their parents, each other, and others, if they are able to run riot and do what they like as children? I have a mentally handicapped child, and treated him exactly the same as all the others - he is 23,& knows the difference between right ^ wrong - I would never judge anyone else - we all receive a curved ball at some stage of our lives as parents - but I do believe that it is how you handle the curved ball that makes the difference for the children and the people around them.I have raised my own in a specific way - it works for me - each circumstance is different, but each child should know how to conduct themselves, from an early age. It is best for them, in the long run.

(19) grose, July 3, 2008 10:26 AM

never ignore a child

a woman is freed from the obligation of prayer that is k'vuah in a time because of the needs of her children. And here, this author thinks that unlike G-d, she can't wait for her conversation because of a child. I work with troubled teens and see lack of communication between parents and children. Then I observe many parents of young children making the mistake of ignoring their children to indulge in adult conversation. I watch the children wilt as they wait for Mommy to finally acknowledge them. Ignorining your child's conversation attempt is the worst thing a parent can do. Adults having conversations with a mother must realize that G-d says the mother's first priority is the child -- and no one is better than G-d, they too must pause for a child to communicate with its parent.

(18) Anonymous, July 2, 2008 1:30 PM

Remember there may be special needs kids

I think the article was very well put. That being said, the author should note that there are some exceptions to every generalization. I am a mom who has a child who has AD/HD (as well as another child.) I will tell you that we try mightily to do the right thing all of the time, as far as behavior goes, but sometimes things just can't be managed as easily, compared to a family whose child is typically developing. (And no, AD/HD is not a made-up disorder to excuse undisciplined children, just ask a physician.) Children who have typical needs (I have them) are VERY easy to discipline. It's not a level playing field out there - be careful before judging other parents at shul!

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