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Declaration of Independence

At what point should they stand on their own two feet? When is parental help welcome — and when does it stunt growth?

“When I had my fourth baby, I was in a double room in Shaare Zedek,” recalls Adina, a mother from Mattersdorf. “A young woman of about 19 was brought in, having just had her first.”

There had been a minor complication, and she was given a strong drug that left her with a debilitating headache. A doctor came to speak with her, but her mother and mother-in-law were there, demanding an explanation. The doctor responded that he’d explained to the couple what their options were, they’d needed to make an immediate decision, and at the doctor’s recommendation, this is what their daughter and her husband had agreed to.

“She’s just a child!” cried her mother. “How could mere children be expected to make such a decision?!”

“The doctor made an impatient sound,” Adina recounts, “and he retorted, ‘This mere child is married and just had a baby, for heaven’s sake. If she’s too much of a child to make decisions for herself, she’s certainly too much of a child to be having children!’”

And yet, it’s tricky balance. We marry off children at a relatively young age, and many of them are fairly dependent on us. It’s a strange phenomenon: Are they adults? Are they kids?

Esty E., a relationship coach and popular address for parenting advice for mothers of all ages, encourages parents to define the word “child.”

“When you say ‘child,’ you might mean in relation to not yet being an adult, or in relation to being the offspring of a parent. Your children, in relation to you, will always be your children. But they do grow up and become adults.”

But when we continue viewing adult children as “children,” we risk stunting their independence, even as we ostensibly ease them into adulthood.

“Marriage is a huge adjustment,” says Kayla, a mom of several marrieds, “so we want to cushion that transition for them. But helping doesn’t mean babying. Even when they’re engaged, I can look for ads for apartments and furniture sales, and I’ll even sit with you when you make those calls… but no, sweetie, I can’t make the calls for you.”

“Practically speaking,” feels Rachel, who has a married daughter, “we’re supporting my daughter and son-in-law financially, so naturally we end up more involved in the nitty-gritty of their lives. Objectively, I know we need to help them be more independent, but at the end of the day — they’re really just kids.”

Adina bristles when she hears this description. “As long as we consider them little kids, that’s what they’ll be. Marriage is too huge of a life change and responsibility to trust children with.”

Encouraging Independence

Mrs. Esther Gendelman, LPC, coauthor of The Missing Peace, is a therapist with a long-time practice in Detroit, and more recently in Toms River, New Jersey. She stresses that any discussion pertaining to our children’s transition into independence has to be within the context of, first and foremost, healthy emotional maturity. The concept of children transitioning to a new home, Mrs. Gendelman points out, is difficult for the children as well as the parents. If we help our children develop emotional maturity early on, long before they stand under the chuppah, things should ideally progress and evolve in a healthy manner afterward.

To varying degrees, it’s become the norm for young couples to be somewhat dependent on their parents. For starters, there’s the issue of support during kollel years, not unlike the support their non-yeshivish counterparts might receive while finishing their degrees.

In addition, many couples rely on their parents’ help in their daily lives, both physically and emotionally. They might pop in to do laundry, drop off the baby, pick up supper, “shop” in Mommy’s pantry, or just to hang out. For some moms, this is a sign of closeness and a great relationship. Ask the mechuteneste, however, and she might see it differently.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

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