Q: I prefer not to give the ages and genders of my children because I don’t want to be identified. Let’s just say some of them are old enough to read the Hamodia.
My problem is that they often read your column as well. Many times you write what parents should and should not do. And you are very specific in recommending strategies to deal with common parenting issues. While my husband and I appreciate your advice, we do not appreciate the criticism, snide comments and teasing from our children after they have read your column.
It has reached the point where we have made a point of trying to keep your column out of their hands. This has not worked out very well as they always manage to get hold of it anyway.
As this is a family newspaper, I’m sure other families are faced with the same dilemma. How would you recommend we handle this?
A: You raise an important topic. I have heard your concern from others so I can assure you that you are not alone. I am somewhat baffled, however, as to why you fear being identified. Is there a stigma associated with learning how to be a better parent?
In order to learn the proper conduct, Rabi Akiva once put himself in a situation that most of us today would find too embarrassing. When questioned about it later, Rabi Akiva replied, “This was Torah. And I needed to learn [it]” (Brachos 62a). There should be no stigma, therefore, associated with learning any aspect of Torah. And proper family relations are included.
You may want your children to read the following. There is no place in a Jewish home for disrespect to parents by children. And if your children are making “snide comments” to you, that is totally unacceptable. When you write, however, that they are “teasing” you, it suggests that there may be a more playful quality to their remarks. Without knowing what they actually said, therefore, it is difficult for me to pass judgment.
I would not recommend that you attempt to hide my column from your children because I see two major benefits that can ensue from your children discussing what I have written with you and your husband. The first benefit is that it can provide you with a valuable opportunity to receive feedback from your children. No children should decide how they should be raised. That is and must always be the jurisdiction of parents. Nevertheless, children should be encouraged to express their feelings about the parent-child relationship.
Parents rarely do anything to deliberately hurt their own children. It is more common, however, for parents to inadvertently say or do something which has an unintended deleterious impact on their children. If children are not allowed to express their feelings, the parents may never learn how hurt the children are until it is too late. I never treated a child or worked with a family, for example, who suffered as a result of the child being too open with his or her parents. I have seen many, however, whose problems stemmed from an inability or fear of sharing their true feelings with their parents.
The second benefit you can glean from family discussions of parenting is that it will help prepare your children to be better parents when they grow up. In all areas of life, parents have a responsibility to train their children before they reach the age of maturity. For example, “A child who [is old enough to] know how to shake [it] is obligated in the mitzvah of lulav” (Mishnah Sukkah 3:15). Learning how to become a proper parent in a Torah home is no less important.
When you allow your children to express their feelings about the decisions you make which affect them, therefore, you are teaching them by example how to establish a healthy home. While your children may be many years away from marriage, it is not too soon to begin preparing them for wholesome family life.
A few years ago, I was invited to address a girls’ high school. My topic was hakaras hatov. In my speech, I included a case example of a young man who consulted me regarding shidduchim issues. He was helped, got engaged and returned to thank me. When I asked him if he had also thanked his parents for sponsoring our meetings, he admitted that the thought had not occurred to him.
That school never invited me back. Years later, I learned why. They felt it was inappropriate for me to have mentioned the subject of shidduchim. They make a point, I was told, of avoiding the subject entirely. While I respect their position, I do not agree with it.
The opinions expressed in this article reflect the view of the author. In all matters of halachah and hashkafah, readers should consult their Rav.