Dear Dr. Respler:
My parents, who I love dearly, constantly contradict what I say to my children. They constantly interfere with the way my wife and I raise our children. For her part, my wife is very frustrated with this situation. What makes it harder for her, her parents live out of town while my parents live close by and are thus more involved with our children.
My mother is forever criticizing my wife, who is a wonderful mother and very caring and compassionate with our five beautiful children. My mother has a different view of how to raise children, and honestly, that makes we wish I had a mother more like my wife.
I struggle with low self-esteem, which my wife tries to bolster with her enormous love and sensitivity. I believe that my low self-confidence emanates from having critical parents who never complimented me.
My children are, Baruch Hashem, doing well in school. They have derech eretz, clearly showing that my wife’s childrearing techniques are working. My parents, conversely, are nervous people, and believe that children should be seen and not heard. They believe that we are wrong in not hitting our children. They are so critical that it drives us both crazy. I have spoken to them numerous times about not interfering in the way we raise our children and he last things I want to do is keep the children away from them.
We have spoken to our rav who has made it clear that while we do not have to accept their child-raising suggestions, we are obligated to respect them. Please help us with this challenging situation.
It appears that your parents need to control you in some manner and choose to do so through criticizing the way you raise your children. Critical people are often insecure and need to control others in order to bolster their own self-esteem. Is it possible for you to change the subject when your parents begin to criticize you? If their criticism persists, you can respectfully disagree by saying, “Mom, Dad, is it possible that even if you don’t agree with our childrearing techniques, you can respect our methods and not criticize us? We feel hurt when you constantly criticize the way we raise our children. It is also not healthy for the children to see this disagreement.”
In my professional practice, I see grandparents who were very strict with their own children and then undermine them when they are disciplining the grandchildren. This is incredibly in appropriate. It is only in situations where grandparents witness their children damaging their grandchildren in some way or, chas v’shalom, acting abusively or neglectfully toward them do they have the right to intervene. Even then, they should tread lightly to ensure that their interventions are taken the right way.
I support your efforts to respect and love your parents by not severing the important bond between them and their grandchildren. However, you must demonstrate derech eretz toward your parents when discussing with them their inappropriate, meddling behavior and when telling them that you do not want to ever be faced with the possibility of having to sever that very important bond. If your parents realize how serious you are, they will hopefully back off. Continue to be supportive of your wife by working with her in continuing the successful chinuch that you are giving your children.
As for hitting your children, I too do not generally believe in that technique. Sometimes, though, hitting young children gently in order to explain a point may be appropriate. A rav I once spoke to about hitting shared this perspective. The rav felt that American parents who generally hit their children do so in order to pacify their own frustrations, i.e., they hit to rid themselves of their self-anger.
Al pi halacha, we are not allowed to hit children when we are angry. Some tzaddikim were known to hit their children gently when they were not angry in order to teach them. Since we are not on their madreigah and we generally hit our children to alleviate our own frustrations, it is forbidden for us to do so.
Here is a beautiful story that I learned from Project Derech: The eight sons of Rav Shlomo Carlebach, a rav in Germany, all grew up to be rabbanim. Whenever one of his sons was late to minyan, his punishment was to not get jam on his toast. But Rav Carlebach also did not put jam on his own toast, to show the child that he felt his pain and would thus deny himself that eating pleasure as well. This level of childrearing is one that we should aspire to. If we deny ourselves of a small privilege and therefore share the pain with our children, they will be less likely to have punitive feelings toward us and will ultimately have a very deep regard for us, their parents.