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October 26, 2014 / 2 Heshvan, 5775
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Should Children Voluntarily Help Their Parents?

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Dear Dr. Yael:

I loved your answer to Longtime Reader, (Dear Dr. Yael, 7-19) and am anxious to hear your opinion on my situation.

My husband and I raised our two children in a similar way as that of Longtime Reader. But my expectations of them were different, for in my heart I wanted them to help more than they did; I wanted them to offer their assistance and not wait to be asked. I wished for them to anticipate our needs and then make the appropriate offer to help. While I didn’t expect them to act this way when they were little, I hoped this would be the case when they turned bar and bat mitzvah age. At those ages my son and daughter should have developed the sensitivity to be aware when we needed help in a particular situation. However, at ages 20 and 22, this rarely happens.

I am confused because I always heard that children copy what they see. Baruch Hashem, my husband and I have a marriage in which we constantly anticipate each other’s needs and usually try to help the other even before being asked. We, of course, did the same for our children.

When I asked my daughter why she doesn’t usually offer to help us, her answer surprised me. She said that the anticipatory behavior toward our kids and each other was not sufficient to teach her to behave in the way I expected. Even though she witnessed the husband-wife and parent-child relationships, she unfortunately did not get to observe a relationship between an adult child and a parent nor one between her parents and their parents. (One set of grandparents is deceased, while the other grandparents live very far away and we rarely see them.) I was shocked and surprised – how could my behavior not have been a sufficient role model for my daughter?

My daughter continued by saying that she was taught in yeshiva that it is a bigger mitzvah to do something when a parent asks for help than by initially offering it. I countered by stating that I understand the kibud av v’eim concept behind listening to a parent, but what if that’s not what the parent wants? I feel that it is a bigger mitzvah to realize that help is needed – and to offer it before being asked. This is especially relevant in my case since I don’t like asking my kids for help – and usually don’t. But if help were offered, I would gladly accept it. Am I being unrealistic to ever expect this? If my kids don’t offer to help now, what will happen when my husband and I are seniors?

The question of which type of help is the bigger mitzvah is an interesting one that is not often brought up. Please share your expert opinions on both my expectations and my daughter’s answers. I welcome feedback from your readers as well. Thank you very much.

Sincerely,
A Confused Mom

Dear Confused Mom:

While you may feel better when your children anticipate your needs, it is a little unrealistic to expect them to do so. It would certainly be nice if they were very thoughtful and sometimes ask if you need help in certain situations, however, most teenagers and young adults are self-involved and thus may not always anticipate what help you and your husband might need or want. If you feel that your children do not help you enough, it is imperative that you begin to ask them for assistance. Once you get them accustomed to what you need and want, you may not have to ask them as often as it will be easier for them to anticipate your needs.

One of the reasons why it is a bigger mitzvah for children to do something for their parents after the parents requested assistance is because the children are in essence fulfilling the parents’ wish. So by changing your perception about asking your children for help, it may be easier for you to expect them to take the initiative. In that scenario, you are not “bothering” your children but instead giving them an opportunity to do a mitzvah. And even if your daughter did not see you and your husband serve your parents, you can still teach her about the importance of taking care of you and your husband. But remember this: you must ask for what you need! You cannot expect your children to be mind readers.

You are fortunate to have a special marriage in which you and your husband are able to anticipate each other’s needs. This is beautiful and rare. What you may not realize, though, is that at some point in your relationship you probably asked each other for things. If you give your children the opportunity to learn how to better assist both of you, you will be giving them a great gift since people grow and learn by giving of themselves. Additionally, you will be permitting them to earn credit for responding to your “commands” – which, as your daughter pointed out, is a bigger mitzvah than simply serving you on their own. Hatzlachah!

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