Our children have no idea how vulnerable we are as parents. And as our children grow into adulthood, most of us dream about having them around our Yom Tov table, hearing the “Mah Nishtanah” recited by our grandchildren, and listening to their brachos and words that they learned in yeshiva or day school, which makes all that tuition so worthwhile. This is our dream and any threat of losing that dream upsets us. Sometimes this threat only exists in our heads. Sometimes we are totally unaware of it. But it is this threat that often sets the stage and is the “bait” for us to do things for our children that we have promised ourselves we would never do.
I have been a guest in friends’ homes on Yom Tov and found that I am the only one helping the exhausted mother serve and clear, as the younger people sit around the table. The mother is resentful, but says nothing and does not ask for help. They tell me they are afraid to ask. They tell me they don’t want to lose having the children with them for Yom Tov and feel that if they do not give them a “vacation” they will go to the in-laws to be given one. Then their dream of their “family around the table” will be gone.
I have heard people say they will not take part in all the “have to” that happens before a wedding. There is, after all, the absolute must to present the kallah with a human hair sheitel costing from hundreds-to-thousands of dollars. There is the gift at the time of engagement, which I am told must be nice – but not as expensive as the gift presented in the yichud room, the magnificent bouquet for the vort, the pearls, and of course the engagement ring itself. There is the vort itself, the weekday and Shabbos tallis, the gold watch and/or cufflinks for the engagement gift, the gift in the yichud room and a nice Shas.
What about parents who can’t afford this, or parents who feel it’s just too much? Our rabbeim have set guidelines for weddings, but I have yet to hear of guidelines for all the extra expectations. I have also seen many parents that still give in to the pressure to “come across” and fulfill these expectations when the time comes. For many parents, the fear of losing their children “to the other side” that might give them more, compels them to participate.
And what of a family in which there is chronic illness? The parents are so pleased that there is a shidduch, despite the illness, that they are often too intimidated (even if only in their own heads) to raise any objections to the demands – or let’s call them expectations or even wishes – of the couple.
And so, we continue to perpetuate the very behavior we complain about. Can we blame our children for behaving in a manner that we have repeatedly taught them and accepted from them? Our own vulnerability has made us give to our children in ways we may not want to and often can ill afford. Our own vulnerability has kept us from asking for help and participation so that everyone, even the mother of the house, can enjoy the Yom Tov more. And so, we continue to“take the bait” whether in the form of a direct threat or one we have decided exists – even if only in our own minds.
We need to have more faith in our children and their love for us. We also need to realize that in-laws have the same desires as we do and are entitled to equal nachas. Our children will behave as we have taught them. If we continue to expect less participation from our adult children at a Yom Tov meal, than we did from them when they were children – well, that is what they will give us. If we want them to have a vacation at our home, they will feel entitled to one. They will not automatically know how difficult Yom Tov can be or how expensive simchahs are unless we tell them or allow them to experience it on their own.
If we allow ourselves to be disabled by our fears of how they will react to our limits, we are dooming our children to a life as “takers” without them ever realizing they are expecting and taking too much. If we do not teach them to think and respect our needs, they will not know how to teach their children to do the same. And so, the problem will perpetuate – and the fault will be ours.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.