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…