Dear Emuna,

Our daughter is in 6th grade and is in the process of applying to middle school. We have the option of an all-girls school or a co-ed one, both with excellent reputations. We have visited both schools and we were impressed with each of them, as was our daughter. We are having a very tough time deciding between them. Any advice?

Agonizing Parents

Dear Agonizing Parents,

Where to send our children to school is definitely one of those issues that keep concerned parents up at night. The stakes seem so high – and in some respects they are. And our children spend so much time there.

If, as you say, both schools are indeed of equal caliber, I think the best choice for your daughter would definitely be the all-girls school. Did you ever read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher? In the book, she describes clearly how the presence of boys in the classroom dramatically changes the behavior of adolescent girls – and not for the better. They consciously “dumb themselves down” so as not to outshine the boys (Yes, even in our day and age!) and often spend more time worrying about their physical appearance than their grades.

One parent told me how relieved her daughter is that she can spend just a few minutes getting dressed in the morning as opposed to her friends at coed schools who spend much more time. It’s much better for your daughter if those distractions and pressures are completely removed from the picture.

There will be plenty of time in the future for boys – when she is more mature and confident. Her grades and her self-esteem will benefit from the lack of pressure and presence of boys in her academic environment. Best of luck with your decision.

Chore Rotation Breakdown

Dear Emuna,

We have a rotation of chores in our house – different days for different people, parents and children included. This seemed to be a pretty good system but it can hit some major snags. The problem arises when one child isn’t present for her daily duty, i.e. he has band practice when it’s his night to set the table or she happens to have soccer when it’s her turn to clean up.

Then all heck breaks loose. No one will do a job when it isn’t their night. “It’s not my turn!” they scream, pout or sneer. My husband and I are left to pick up the pieces, literally and figuratively, and then we feel resentful and exhausted. This is compounded by our sense of failure as parents. Haven’t we taught our children better than that?!

I’ve Had It

Dear At Wit’s End,

I’m sure you’ve taught your children better than that. I’m sure you’ve modeled chipping in and helping out and all sorts of other kind and positive behaviors. I’m sure you’ve preached kindness and caring. And a sense of respect for you as parents. But kids (read: people) are inherently selfish. It takes years of training for them to learn to care about others. It takes a conscious effort to decide to do more than your share. It requires a sincere desire to help out and an ability to rise above the pull of the body that just wants rest and comfort.

Most children don’t have the experience, maturity and wisdom to rise to that occasion (many adults don’t either!) and to stay there. It requires a constant effort of will and an intellectual understanding of what’s right and appropriate. It’s not easy.

But don’t be discouraged. I have two words of comfort:

1) It’s the same in every house. That identical dinnertime scenario is being played out in homes across the country. All children everywhere are trying to get away with the bare minimum. It’s not a reflection on your parenting or on your children. It’s just the reality.

2) This too shall pass. Most annoying childhood and adolescent behaviors don’t last into adulthood. Children are a work in progress (aren’t we all?) There are some negative stops along the way which hopefully serve as opportunities for growth. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They will become lovely, considerate, helpful adults. If you can just be really, really patient…

Out of the Nest

Dear Emuna,

My daughter is a senior in high school. Next year she is leaving home, either to go to college or to study in Israel. I really want this year to be special because who knows what will happen down the road? I’ve tried to arrange all sorts of mother-daughter bonding activities but she has absolutely no interest. In fact, she’s often rude and unpleasant to me, expressing her desire to be as far away from me as possible. This isn’t how I imagined this year would be. Help!

Wounded Mom

Dear Wounded,

I wish I could help. I have a theory that the Almighty makes the behavior of our children in that last year of high school so awful that, instead of being sad when they leave home, we actually can’t wait!

Yes, it can be a rough year. That too is very normal. It’s often the hardest of all because the fears and anxieties of our adolescent are heightened. That separation from their parents which teenagers have simultaneously dreaded and eagerly anticipated is now upon them. They are leaving home and, as much as they want to, they are absolutely and utterly terrified (but they can’t show it!). They’re afraid of being on their own, of being responsible, of a measure of independence.

This understanding may not make the year more pleasant but it does make it more bearable. It lifts the burden of parental guilt and anxiety. It may even permit you, on rare occasion, to be amused by the absurdity of you child’s antics and attitudes.

It’s hard to send them out of the nest, especially when the last year at home has been fraught with struggles. But, as I told the previous writer, here too there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just a few months away from home (and mom’s cooking!) often leads to a dramatic change in behavior – a renewed sense of gratitude, a new closeness, a deeper and more mature relationship. As long as you can just hang in there for the ride…