How did this generation of parents get to the point of being intimidated by their children? How did we get to where many of our children feel they are entitled to our financial and physical support from cradle through school, marriage and adulthood?
It is not uncommon to see grandparents taking on a third job in order to support their married children. It is not uncommon for a woman in her early 60s to have children who never made a Yom Tov, but always came home instead; and choose to see the Yom Tov week as their vacation from children and any home chores.
It is not uncommon to see a woman with several children who takes her family and goes to stay with her mother for the delivery of each new baby – leaving the aging mother to care for her, the new baby and the older siblings.
Not only is this our children’s expectation, but it is ours as well. Guilt feelings overcome many parents who feel they can’t give their children the support their neighbors give their offspring, whether financial or physical. How did we get here?
As I said last week, to my way of thinking, we created this situation. We planted the “seed of taking without limit or end,” nurtured it and supported its growth. And, now that we find ourselves getting too old or tired or too poor to continue, our children’s expectations remain where we set them, as we don’t stop trying to meet their needs even though they are adults.
Ann was a bright and financially comfortable person. She was the dean at a local university. Every Sunday morning for the last 15 years, Ann left her chronically ill husband with an orderly and set off with her son to meet her mother for brunch. Last week, Ann told me, that when she called her mother to ask what time to pick her up, her mother replied that she could not go this week because she had forgotten to cash her Social Security check and didn’t have money to pay the bill for brunch.
Ann told me that she was devastated, when it dawned on her for the first time, that she had been allowing her mother to pick up the tab for all these years. “It just was something that we always did. I never gave it thought. If I had, I would never have allowed my mother to pay. I guess it just became a thoughtless habit. I wish my mother had said something.”
From the time they are born, our children are dependent on us. It is our job as parents to slowly, as is age appropriate, make them more independent and less dependent on us. How can we do that, if we don’t allow them to work at small jobs when they are young, and teach them to value earning?
If we support them throughout high school, insist that they cannot work in the summer (not even at mowing laws or babysitting) but must attend summer camp instead and then continue this support years into marriage, whether through kollel and/or college degrees. Aren’t we teaching them to take? They clearly get the message we are giving. We will support you. We will be there to help in every way for whatever you decide to do. Working, even part-time, to be partly self-sufficient isn’t an expectation. Aren’t we doing exactly what Ann’s mother did and never letting them see that an end of support is appropriate and that we, as older adults, have needs too.
If we behave in this manner, why are we surprised at our children’s expectations and even threats, implied or verbal. They are only doing what we have taught them.
If we decide to give our children this support when they marry, perhaps it would be a better lesson if we made it a loan instead of a gift.
It could be a loan that is for a specific number of years. Once the years agreed upon are up, the expectation could be for them to help support the next sibling in the same manner that they were supported.
Or the debt could be returned with a bit of help to each future sibling, spread out over time. This would not only ease the parent’s burden, but it would give a cut-off date to the support and a responsibility toward repayment in a way that should be very understandable. The couple would then have the expectation of being self-sufficient in the long run.
It is not the purpose of this article to give an opinion for or against kollel or college. These are very complicated issues that involve community needs, along with support. Its intent is to look at the possibility of how we taught our children to have such high expectations of us, and to reexamine where we are and “how we got here.”
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org