Dear Dr. Respler,
I am writing to you about my best friend who is 15 and the oldest of ten children. She has the most difficult life. Her mother expects her to work all the time in the house and is never satisfied with anything my friend does. My friend is truly a tzadekes. While she never answers her mother back, she sometimes cries to me. She is bright, but her marks are falling. Her parents don’t care about school and will make her stay home to help out with the house and children. Sometimes I think that she is “Cinderella.”
She is not allowed to participate in most school activities, since her parents feel that her “tafkid” is to help out them raise the family. She doesn’t have time for friends and some girls don’t bother with her, but I love her so much that I try to always be there for her. How can I help my friend?
A Teenage Fan
Dear Teenage Fan,
Your letter demonstrates what a special person you are. Thank you for taking the time to write about your friend.
It does sound like she is in a difficult situation. Unfortunately, in our community many large families overburden their older children – especially their girls – expecting them to do too much. This is extremely challenging for the child, but it becomes almost impossible when the child’s efforts receive no gratitude. If she worked hard and was greatly appreciated and complimented, her chores would seem easier.
It appears that her parents are insensitive to her need for social activity or academic achievement. This is something that you can bring up with a faculty member, maybe a Mechaneches. The school should be asked to intervene on her behalf.
Readers, one of the reasons I share this letter with you is because I often see this issue in my sessions. The child is now a grown woman and married, suffering from depression and dealing with marital issues as a result of her childhood. Many of them were so busy raising their siblings that they feel burnt out and can’t manage their own children. It’s too late to change her childhood and I must instead help her navigate her life.
However, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and I am hoping that mothers, fathers and other people who may be doing the same thing to their children will read this column and make some changes.
Dear Teenage Fan, I applaud you for taking the time to write this important letter which may have more impact on our community than you can imagine. While some parents don’t give their children enough jobs, which is also a mistake, others overwhelm their children with too much responsibility.
Let me clarify, I think it is essential that children grow up with a fair amount of responsibility and “jobs” at home. And that when they perform these tasks they should be complimented and appreciated. This will build the child’s self-esteem and sense of responsibility. However, the key is the word “fair” and that the jobs bolster the child’s self-worth. For instance, when the child completes his/her task he/she should be thanked. If it was an exceptionally difficult task then it would be nice to mention how special the child is (preferably in front of your spouse or another close relative) for completing it. This will inevitably cause the child to want to help out more in the future. As I often mention, healthy expectations of children with adequate appreciation builds self-esteem. Unhealthy expectations of children with no appreciation makes children feel less valuable. We all crave attention and acknowledgement and it is a need that persists throughout our lives. In marital therapy the same issue seems to emerge: people crave recognition, compliments and appreciation from their spouses.
Again, please reach out to someone at school about your friend. I wish you hatzlocha in dealing with this overwhelming problem.