At the conclusion of a lecture on shalom bayit – how to create peace in one’s home, I asked the audience if they had any comments or questions. A hand shot up in the back. It was the teenaged girl who had come to help set up the room for the program.
“Everything you said tonight is true,” she said. “Especially what you said about the fighting. If only my parents were here to hear your words. I get so upset, sometimes even frightened when there is all this arguing going on in our house. I wish I could tell this to my parents. So all of you sitting here tonight, please take this message home. ”
Here, then, is this young teen’s wish; perhaps her parents may be reading this article. There are too many kids out there who cannot express themselves but hope that perhaps their parents can come to a better place of understanding.
1. Stop Fighting in Front of Us
Our family is in chaos. Behind the social mask we wear we are disconnected. Whenever you fight it makes us feel vulnerable. We know that it is not possible to always get along, but why can’t you disagree with dignity? Why can’t you have your discussions privately and respectfully? Why must you wage your battles in front of us? Whether it is cold war or heated arguments, it doesn’t matter. Both wear us down and make us feel as if our home is not a safe haven. We do not want to live in a battle zone. We will start looking for other places and people to spend our time with. We will seek an escape.
2. Don't Argue about Us
To o often you quarrel about the way the other one parents. You accuse Daddy of not knowing how to do anything right with us. You accuse Mommy of letting us get out of control. You act as if we are a burden. When we see you fighting because of us, we feel responsible for your arguments. We think that we are the ones to blame because you can’t seem to get along. We find ourselves feeling guilty and trying to make the hurt disappear. We struggle to help you find resolution. “Don’t worry," we say, as we try to wipe away Mommy’s tears. “It’s okay, Daddy,” we say bravely, when things don’t turn out perfectly. We just want to live in peace.
3. Don't Use Us as Pawns
Don’t give each other the silent treatment and expect us to carry messages between the two of you. “Tell Daddy I’m going out” when Daddy is standing right in front of you, or “Tell Mommy I’m not hungry now” when she is sitting at the same table as you. This makes our life dark and complicated. How can we ever expect to learn how to communicate with our own spouses if we see such dysfunctional communication between the two of you? We are your children, not chess pieces that are manipulated till you reach a moment of check mate.
4. Don't Undermine Each Other
When we ask Mommy if we can go to a sleepover and she says “no, not on a school night,” and then we run to Daddy, and he says “yes, what’s the big deal?” we smell weakness. We see that you are not in sync and we know that we can manipulate you. It may sound funny but we would rather believe that that two of you stand together and firm as one unit. Even if we don’t like what you say, we feel strength when you agree and say it together. It means that our family is solid. We need you to speak with one voice. It removes the confusion and does not allow us to speak with chutzpah. Because you must know, Mommy and Daddy, that chutzpah and disrespect come when you do not respect each other’s opinions. How can we respect you if you do not respect each other? And a home filled with disrespect has toxins in the air.
While it is not always easy for us to live together as families, we can decide to live by certain rules of dignity, even when we disagree. No matter how stressed or challenged we feel, we must know in our heart of hearts that we have been given precious children to watch over and take care of. They are priceless gifts. Let us resolve to build homes in which they feel secure and loved. Let us wake up each morning and ask ourselves what we can do to raise the next generation successfully. And one day we will have the joy of watching our children build their own havens, knowing that we have shown them the way.