“I’m Not the Same Mother with My Youngest Child”| April 25, 2023
To parent a child today, you cannot use the rules and the gedarim of even ten years ago
I’ve been blessed with a large family ranging from young marrieds to elementary school children. The youngest was born after a five-year gap and is very much the “baby.”
Lately I’m noticing that my older children seem to be resentful of the way I deal with her, claiming that I’m spoiling her and not providing the necessary discipline.
It’s true that I am a much more relaxed parent now and that I’m not as strict about bedtimes, treats, and chores. My parenting perspective has shifted over the years, and I don’t think she is suffering from a more relaxed approach. Beyond that, this little girl is growing up in a home filled with teens and adults, and it’s not realistic for her to adhere to the very regimented schedule that was in place when I was a young mother.
Should I explain this to my older kids, or should I avoid any explanations or justifications and instead make it clear it’s not their place to question my parenting?
AS the father of a son who was born an uncle, I can relate to your question on every level. Your older children are observing a number of elements in the way you parent your youngest. You alluded to some in your question, but there are other elements that you did not articulate. Please allow me to speak as “we” — inclusive of “you” — as I’m sure that we both live with this daily reality.
We (you and I) are older and have experienced the humbling effects of watching our children become who they have grown to be in spite of our chinuch. We’ve seen that their natures, personalities, siblings, and peers wield enormous influence on who they are, how they develop, and who they will become.
Take three daughters of the same parents with similar personalities; one born as the oldest daughter, another, the fourth of six girls in a row, and the last, born after four boys. The development of each will be vastly different, just as a result of her place in the family.
As more experienced parents, we begin to acknowledge that not all our wishes for our children are fulfilled, and that other influences can be more powerful than ours.
Our first four or five children were in bed by 7:30 or 8:00 almost every night. When the oldest turned ten and his bedtime was adjusted to a later hour, it was very difficult for the second to go to sleep earlier than his brother. Before we knew it, there were five teens with very young siblings who had severe FOMO. There was no way the precocious five-year-old was going to bed when the house was on wheels.
One daughter woke up in the middle of the night and found her older siblings eating a rare midnight pizza. From that day on, she was sure that they were enjoying a pizza party every night after she was safely in bed. As you can imagine, today this daughter is the last to go to sleep — even as a married woman in her own home.
Our youngest is growing up with siblings who are coming home late, dating, getting married, raising children. He or she has an opinion about all of the above and cannot be treated like a clueless little child with limited exposure to the adult world. If his older brothers go out with friends every Thursday night and talk about the Thursday night cholent they enjoyed, the youngest child will have a very difficult time if he’s overlooked.
But there is a bigger issue at play. Not only have the structure and rules of your home changed over the years, the structure of society itself has changed. My oldest children who are raising children the same age as my youngest have very clear opinions regarding some of my long-held parenting perspectives. They are reading this new generation with clarity that we older parents can sometimes miss, in our attempts to remain faithful to the way we raised them.
My Rebbe Rav Shlomo Wolbe ztz”l told me that during the years when he served as mashgiach in Yeshivas Be’er Yaakov, he made many adjustments as the generations moved on, constantly recalibrating his approach to the students’ nuances and needs.
Another giant who was kind enough to speak to me about many issues of chinuch and our generation, Rav Moshe Shapira ztz”l, once told me that educators today face a new generation every three months. And if we do not decode the new language, codes, and challenges of each successive group of students, we will not be relevant to many of them.
Imagine a principal of a school today trying to understand a child born before the Churban in Europe.
Or, perhaps even more challenging: Imagine a cheder rebbi from a Hungarian shtetl trying to understand a boy in a Seattle day school.
You are in the unique and challenging position of raising different generations of children within one family. As your oldest children build families of their own, they’re realizing that they have to understand their children’s identities and challenges. That will lead them to better understand you. Once that happens, it’s very possible that they will begin to share their thoughts on your efforts to parent their very young sibling. And their thoughts are very likely to have real merit.
A young rosh yeshivah was speaking with the parents of one of his talmidim. The father was bemoaning a certain bein hazmanim activity that his son indulged in at the home of a friend.
“When I was in eighth grade,” the rosh yeshivah said, “if we wanted to watch a movie, we needed to find a boy who was willing to go to a movie rental. He had to make sure that no one would see him, and he had to have the money. Then we needed to find someone who had the right device that could play the movie. We then had to find a house where the parents would not be home so we could watch it. Getting all of these together made it almost impossible for us to make it happen.
“Your son and his friends,” continued the rosh yeshivah, “have a flash drive that is smaller than the tip of your finger. It can be filled with 20 full-length movies for free and can be seen on any one of many devices that any number of friends have in their homes or under their pillows.”
To parent a child today, you cannot use the rules and the gedarim of even ten years ago. You need to be current and present in your younger children’s lives on one hand, and you need to make sure that they are occupied with a good peer group during their free time on the other. You need to be somewhat more permissive — understanding that she is not small, even though she is the youngest — but as the parent, you must also still set the necessary boundaries.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 958.
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