Compromising on our standards to preserve our relationship with our children can be challenging, even painful
My older teenage daughter asserts that she loves our family and respects our lifestyle, but she’s also made it very clear she intends to chart a different path for her own life. While her dream lifestyle would go over very well in any number of beautiful Torahdig communities around the world, it’s very different from what she’s seen at home.
Of course, things may change as she gets older and settles down, but right now, she seems deeply entrenched in this vision of hers. She’s recently begun demanding that we allow her to do or buy things that aren’t in line with the spirit of our home, (though they might be perfectly acceptable in the future community of her dreams).
Over the years, we’ve made a number of concessions to give her the space she wants to grow and explore, but her more recent demands are centered on issues that we feel very strongly about. While none of this is a matter of strict halachah, we think these things are absolutely wrong, and we’re in the unenviable position of needing to choose between our principles and making her happy.
The conflict is generating a fair amount of stress in our home, and often it seems it would just be easier to give in to her demands than to stand our ground. But I’m naturally reluctant to, and I often wonder if it’s worth the collective stress when none of this is a matter of halachos/mitzvos/aveiros. On the other hand, am I really obligated to purchase or allow something I believe is downright wrong in my own home?
If I do choose to lower my standards to accommodate my daughter, would I be doing something wrong?
You raise a controversial, challenging, and painful question. Unfortunately, this issue has become increasingly prevalent, as families attempt to maintain the delicate balance between upholding their standards and not alienating children who may not be holding there. This is a sensitive topic, and I beseech HaKadosh Baruch Hu to help me say that which needs to be said without causing a stumbling block to the diverse readers of this column.
Let me preface with an important preliminary statement. This article is not being written as hadrachah to young men and women who are struggling with the standards their parents have raised them with.
“Kabeid es avicha v’es imecha” is not an easy mitzvah, but it’s incumbent upon us, and it includes respecting your parents’ standards as long as you are living in their home. If your parents are functional, responsible, albeit imperfect people, then thinking about all they have done for you may help you find the strength to recognize that as long as you are living in their home, you should respect those standards.
If you are struggling with childhood baggage and blame your parents, and feel your behavior is simply a reaction to theirs, I encourage you to be proactive and seek help in overcoming your challenges. I am not judging you, nor will I judge your parents; we all need to do our best in every situation.
We can always move forward. If you were living in a toxic or dangerous situation, if you were abused or hurt by someone in your past, make sure you get the help you need so you will not be a victim your whole life.
This is what I wish to say to young adults who relate to the question above. Now, I will attempt to share some thoughts with the parents who asked this question.
When we bring children into the world, we then have the responsibility and opportunity to bring them into Hashem’s world by introducing them to Torah and mitzvos, middos tovos, yiras Shamayim, and ahavas Hashem. No small chore!
Of course, we want to do everything possible to guide our children to follow the ideals we believe in and the values that we cherish most. And it can be very painful to see our child choosing to do things that we do not condone and often even condemn.
But we need to keep in mind that as flawed human beings, we can only do our best to be mechanech our children, without taking responsibility for the results. Our children, certainly adult children, still have bechirah of their own.
Consequently, when choosing how to react to children who are veering from the path we’ve set out, the most central question we must ask ourselves is: Which response on our part will have the best chance of keeping them close to and respectful of our values?
There are those who believe that taking the hard line when it comes to upholding the rules and standards of their home is the correct way. While I cannot say that no one has been successful with that approach, I can share that every one of the gedolei Yisrael with whom I’ve discussed this subject believe that ahavah and kirvah are the tools of our generation.
Over the past 30 years that I’ve been involved in chinuch, it’s become increasingly clear to me that the chances of a child happily embracing his parents’ derech against a background of angst and frustration are miniscule.
On the other hand, while there are no guarantees, when a child knows that he or she is loved unconditionally and accepted as is, the sense of belonging and attachment allows for an easier “reentry.”
We could elaborate on this idea as seen in halachic sources — the Rambam in hilchos mamrim states unequivocally that it’s forbidden to act too harshly with our children, who will then react disrespectfully, and the Pele Yoetz and others underscore the need to retain respectful dialogue with our children so as not to tempt them to react in a forbidden manner — but this forum doesn’t allow the space to delve into these sources.
If you want to know if you’re doing the right thing by sticking to your principles even while antagonizing your daughter, consider whether the way you are responding is strengthening your bond or chas v’shalom causing stress and distance.
Do you have the “right” to set the standards in your home and demand that all children of all ages respect them? Of course. You also have the right of way when approaching an intersection in your Toyota Corolla, and an 18-wheeler is disregarding the stop sign and hurtling toward you at 90 miles an hour.
But it would be a fatal decision to stand up for your rights and not slam on the brakes.
Compromising on our standards to preserve our relationship with our children can be challenging, even painful. But doing the right thing is still right.
This axiom would hold true even when our children are doing things that are absolutely aveiros; how much more so when the subject of dissension is codes and preferences.
We know that lifestyle choices can significantly affect our children’s long-term chinuch, but showing your daughter unequivocal acceptance and love still gives you your best chance at having her re-embrace you and your values.
You speak about the values and “spirit of your home”; make sure those values include simchah, respect, love, and acceptance.
I’ve often asked parents who are “fighting” their children to consider what the chances are of a child wanting to be like those who make him feel bad and worthless. You are her connection to Torah, mitzvos and Hashem; make sure that that kesher is strong, positive, and unbreakable.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 963)
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