Dear Dr. Respler,
I am writing to you about my parents who constantly contradict what I say to my children. I love my parents dearly, however they constantly interfere with the way that we raise our children. My wife is very frustrated with this situation, since her parents live out of town and my parents live close by and are more involved with our children. My mother is forever criticizing my wife who is a wonderful mother. We have six beautiful children and my wife hardly ever screams at them. She is loving and very understanding. My mother has a different view of how to raise children. Personally I wish that I had a mother like my wife. I struggle with a low self-esteem, which my wife tries to bolster with her enormous love and sensitivity. I believe that my low self-confidence emanates from having critical parents who could never compliment me and continuously criticized me.
My children are baruch Hashem doing well in school. They have derech eretz and clearly my wife’s child-rearing techniques are working. My parents are nervous people, Holocaust survivors, and believe that children should be seen and not heard. They believe that we are wrong in not hitting our children. They are so critical that it drives us both crazy! I have spoken to them numerous times about them not interfering in the way we raise our children. I do not want to take the children away from them, since they derive so much joy from our children. I have spoken to our Rav who agrees that we must not listen to our parents in this regard, however we should continue to respect them. Please help us with this challenging situation.
It appears that your parents need to control you in some manner and choose to do it through criticizing the way that you raise your children. Often critical people are insecure people who need to control others in order to bolster their own self-esteem. Is it possible for you to change the subject when your parents begin to criticize you? If they persist you can respectfully disagree by saying “Mommy, Daddy, it is possible that you don’t agree with our child-rearing techniques, but we would appreciate it if as parents you would respect our methods and not criticize us? We feel hurt when you constantly criticize the way that we raise our children.” It is also not healthy for the children to see this disagreement.
In my own practice I also see grandparents who were very strict with their own children but undermine their children when they discipline their grandchildren [who are their children’s children]. Perhaps these grandparents have mellowed, but they are inappropriate to undermine their children’s parenting techniques. Only in situations where grandparents see their children being abusive or neglectful to their grandchildren, do they have the right to intervene.
I support your efforts to be respectful and loving to your parents by not severing the important bond between them and the grandchildren. However, you must share in a tone that demonstrates derech eretz to your parents that their behavior in meddling with raising your children is not helpful and is inappropriate. I think if your parents realize how serious you are about the situation, they will hopefully back off. In any event you must remain supportive to your wife and work with her to continue in the successful chinuch that you are giving your children.
Just a note with respect to hitting. I too do not believe in hitting. Sometimes for young children in an effort to explain danger to them, hitting gently may be appropriate. A rav that we once spoke to about hitting shared this perspective. The rav felt that parents in today’s generation generally hit in order to pacify their own frustration and are therefore hitting to get rid of their own anger. Halachically we are not allowed to hit children when we are angry. The Tzaddikim hit their children gently when they were not angry to teach them chinuch. Since we are not on their madrega and we generally hit our children to alleviate our own frustration, it is therefore assur to hit under those circumstances. Thus parents should not hit their children.
I would like to end with a beautiful story that I learned from Project Derech about Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach, who was a rav in Germany and had eight sons who grew up to be rabbonim. Whenever one of his sons was late to minyan that punishment was that he did not get jam on his toast. However Rav Carlbach also did not eat jam on his own toast to show the child that he felt his pain and denied himself the pleasure as well. This level of child-rearing is one which we should aspire to as well. If we can withdraw a small privilege and share the pain with our child, the child will be less likely to have punitive feelings to us as parents and will ultimately have the deepest regard for us.
I wish you hatzlocha in raising your children!