Different Chinuch Wave Lengths

Q: We are the parents of five children, the oldest of whom is a 15-year-old girl, and I’m coming across a major difference in the way that my husband and I are responding to her. I feel that we generally have been similar in our parenting styles, but when it comes to our oldest daughter, I see that we are on two different wave lengths.

Until now, I would say that our “parenting policies” toward all our children have been somewhat different but not clashing. Our children, bli ayin hara, are quite well-balanced.

It seems to me that when fathers come home they don’t want to be the strict one (especially when it comes to daughters), and that’s the way my husband has basically been with all our children. He doesn’t mind if our children eat around the house, or stay up past their bedtimes — especially because he often works late and wants to spend time with them.

I have compassion on him for his crazy work schedule (he’s not self-employed), and I have learned to be the strict one myself — someone has to do the job!

In recent months, however, my husband has drastically changed his attitude towards our daughter. He is concerned that she is not taking her schoolwork seriously enough, and that she is too lazy when we make requests of her in the house.

He tends to take everything she says very personally, instead of just looking at her as a teenager (which is truly a new creation).

Due to her father’s continual criticism, she is becoming more and more distant from and uncomfortable with him.

He understands — in theory — what I am saying when I tell him to change his attitude and behavior. But when push comes to shove, his knee-jerk reaction to her is often annoyed looks or sarcastic comments. Any suggestions?

A: As you mention that you and your husband have had positive parenting experiences in bringing up your children, you can utilize them as you focus on the present situation. Giving examples of when your husband had a great amount of patience (as when he agreed to clean up the popcorn in your son’s bedroom), and stating how it helped to create the warm relationship that he has with your son, can be helpful. Times when the children waited up to tell him good news reflects another example of your husband’s flexibility being a great plus in your family’s development.

We all prefer to hear of our successes in our correct attitudes and behavior, rather than being reminded of our mistakes. As he remembers that being flexible and tolerant has only been an asset, this can help your husband to re-focus on his potential to behave in such a fashion.

Few teenagers who “slack off” —whether it be in schoolwork or housework — are inspired to change on a long-term basis due to pressure alone. Emphasizing their useful and necessary contributions to society, and to your home in particular, can help improve their self-discipline (this applies to adults as well).

You can tell your husband how you prepare yourself in advance on how to respond to your daughter, as the very same issues that bother him also get on your nerves.

“Laziness” in a teenager can be viewed in a variety of ways. One teenager might daydream more than others do. Some might be more analytical as they attempt to better understand the adult world that they are beginning to face. They are in the process of choosing how they want to be — and don’t want to be — and sometimes rebel against adult figures in their life. This is part and parcel of adolescent development, which hopefully they will go through in a constructive manner.

Having open-ended and exploratory conversations with your child helps to avoid any escalating power struggle (which often only has diminishing returns).

Sometimes how a parent discusses a topic with or makes a request of a teenager makes a difference in how it is received. If communicated in an open-ended fashion — more exploratory, in order to better understand — the results will be more constructive. The ability to problem-solve the issues that you mention then becomes more of a joint project — with an understanding parent.

Hatzlachah rabbah!