Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing to you about the lack of derech eretz that our married children and their spouses have for us. And when I say us, I don’t just mean my husband and I. Many of my friends feel the same way.
We are all children of survivors and showed our parents the utmost respect, no matter how difficult it was for us. Sadly, most of us no longer have living parents, yet, until the day they died we cared for them. Some of us even had our parents living with us and did everything for them.
Today, our married children use us – to babysit, help them financially, and cook and clean for them. It is as if we are here for their convenience and their friends are the important people.
I’ll give you a recent example: We go to the same summer colony as our married daughter and for shalosh seudos, we do a pot luck with everyone eating together. Our son-in-law had putt together this “amazing watermelon” with vodka, and walked around giving it to his friends. He walked right past our table as if we weren’t sitting there.
This is how it is. If we want to spend time with them, we have to bring the food and are expected to be helpful.
I know that you have Chutzpah is Muktzah for younger children, but what about for our married children? How do we help them understand that respecting your parents is something that you do your whole life? Please respond, as our children love your column.
I have heard this complaint from many people, and I think the core issue is the way in which many in your generation, my generation, have brought up their children.
Children of survivors struggled to please their parents, and, therefore, did the opposite with their own children. They gave them endless financial benefits, wanting their families to have a comfortable life – they didn’t want to burden them with the constraints they had, so they never said no.
Thus emerged the “me generation” which believes that everything revolves around doing what works for me, what feels good for me. What works for someone else is of secondary importance.
Children of survivors were expected to do. They brought up their children with no expectations, inadvertently teaching them that self-gratification is the key their happiness.
Contrary to what the “me generation” thinks, the greatest happiness comes from giving to other people. However, if a child is never asked to do anything at home and everything is handed to him or her on a silver platter, then how can one expect that same child to know how to give to someone else. Children develop self-esteem and a sense of responsibility when they are asked to contribute. When they help out at home and are then thanked and complimented, they feel good about themselves and want to do more.
Over the years, I have given many parenting workshops and kept in touch with a some of the attendees. Baruch Hashem, they have all raised children with great respect for their parents. I recommend that even at a young age children are given appropriate chores and responsibilities – and that they are complimented lavishly for their accomplishments.
It gives me such nachas to see these children as adults today – and I am zoche to see my own children raising my grandchildren the same way. I would always tell my children, “Please, when you agree to do something, say, ‘I will do it with pleasure, I will do it right away.” I also taught my children that when they disagree with me, they need to do so with respect. They can say, “Is it possible Mommy that it was not me who broke the dish” or “Is it possible Abba that I can play for 10 more minutes before I come into get ready for Shabbos?” The use of the words “Is it possible” is the halachically correct way to disagree with a parent. Even if a parent gives the wrong directions to a third party instead of saying, “No Mommy, that is wrong, it is the opposite way,” one should say, “Is it possible Mommy that there is another way to go which is probably easier”?
Unfortunately, for you and your friends, these suggestions are too late. At this point in your children lives, you have this option: sit down with children, individually, tell them each how much you love them, and it hurts to feel that they don’t value you. Explain that you are not as young as you used to be and that you want them to be more cognizant of your needs. Be clear as to what you need/want from them, so that they know your expectations – and be sure to give them a lot of positive feedback when they follow through. Don’t be afraid to lovingly expect from your children, just be sure to spell out exactly what you need. Hopefully, they will see you and your husband as human beings with needs and begin to treat you differently.
There is a story told of an older woman who lived with her daughter and her daughter’s family. Every day, the whole family ate on nice dishes, except for Grandma who was given a wooden bowl. You see, they were afraid that her shaking hands would drop the good dishes and break them. On the day after the grandma died, the woman went to throw the bowl away. “Don’t do that,” her daughter said to her, “I’m going to put it away for when you get old.”
Your children don’t realize that their children are watching how they treat you – and will one day treat them the same way. Children learn more by example than from what we say. If your children want their own children to have respect for them when they are older they have to show you respect as well.
I wish you hatzlocha and please show this article to your children. I hope this will lead to open discussion and change!