Handling Children’s Criticism

Q: My 19-year-old son has recently returned from learning in yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael and his general attitude is getting a little difficult to bear. My husband and I both feel that he is condescending towards us, and it feels as if he is judging his family members with a magnifying glass! I think his behavior borders on being a little obsessive, and his great attention to details makes me feel like I’m constantly “missing the mark.” I pity his future wife if such behavior continues. How should I approach him about this topic? He will just say that it is my fault because I’m just not frum or ruchniyusdig enough, I’m sure.

A: There is much that all human beings can learn from each other — even from our children! However, the way this information is conveyed makes the difference in our ability to absorb its contents.

Your letter is not clear about the extent and severity of your son’s comments (or judgmental glances). You also do not indicate what is totally intolerable to you and what is “merely” insensitive. Certain statements may be acceptable to some people and not to others. In our contemporary society, people don’t like to be criticized in any way, and comments such as “Doesn’t the Shulchan Aruch say…” would be considered a direct insult by many (though this was not necessarily the case in the not-so-distant past).

Clearly, if your son is causing family members to feel uncomfortable and annoyed, this is not in the realm of darchei shalom, as it says, “Deracheha darchei noam, v’chol nesivoseha shalom — The ways of Torah are of pleasantness and peace.”

If you are truly concerned that your son’s behavior is becoming too obsessive, you should speak to one of his rebbeim in yeshivah and see if he observed what you are seeing. Speaking to daas Torah can help discern what behavior is in the realm of normal for a bachur who returns from certain yeshivos in Israel, and how to proceed if the behavior is too extreme. This person can speak to your son, as well, and help him arrive at the middle road (as the Rambam explains it), and help him modify his behavior towards family members, as well. Professional help may be necessary if guilt begins to be your son’s main reaction to many of his daily life challenges.

One’s avodas Hashem needs to be done with simchah. If someone’s religious observance is continually being judged by another (or by oneself, as I’m sure your son indulges in self-criticism), it is difficult to open one’s heart towards Hashem and His Torah.

Hatzlachah rabbah in redirecting this challenge b’darchei shalom!