Advice From YidParenting

By Rabbi Yitzie Ross

Q.  There is something that’s been grating on my nerves for a while, and I’m wondering what you think about it. I get the feeling that parents have become friends with their children instead of being, well, parents. Shouldn’t parents be respected authority figures instead of companions to their kids? Or am I old-school?

Chana
Brooklyn

A.  The answer to both your questions is yes. You are definitely old-school, but that’s a good thing. Children are supposed to have respect for their parents. Not only that, but according to the Torah, they’re supposed to fear their parents as well.

What’s gone wrong? As you pointed out so eloquently, parents are becoming friends with their children. On the surface, this seems to be wonderful. What a beautiful sight–parents and children hanging out like best friends.

However, the problems engendered by such a relationship can be quite serious. Let’s state at the outset that children need a lot from their parents, but we can narrow it down to two main elements.

The first ingredient is love. This includes, but is not limited to, hugging, kissing, complimenting (most beneficial when done sincerely and specifically), and constant smiles. Love helps children develop into healthy, confident adults with strong self-esteem.

The second ingredient we’ll call nurture. This includes, but is not limited to, guidance, discipline, physical assistance (e.g., changing diapers when they’re babies, helping organize their bedroom when they’re older), and more.

These two main ingredients require a delicate balance. Too much love, and your child will be a self-centered and lazy person. Too much nurture, and your child can become moody and depressed with many psychological issues. Additionally, children won’t learn to become independent if there’s too much nurture, otherwise referred to as helicopter parenting.

As they develop and grow older, they still need both components, but the applications change slightly. By the time they’re teenagers, the love aspect becomes less physical and more of a supportive attitude. Meanwhile, the nurturing aspect becomes less of a discipline and more of guidance.

I know this sounds funny, but for many people the easiest ages to raise children, from a love-vs.-nurture standpoint, are newborns and older teenagers because the parent’s job is more clearly delineated. Newborns need lots of love (and some diaper changes). Older teenagers are, well, teenagers. They are much harder to discipline, and don’t necessarily respond well to loving gestures. “Why do I have to text you when I get there?” is all the proof you need.

The most difficult ages for most parents regarding this topic are ages 3—13. During these years, it can be extremely difficult to find the right balance. When your 3-year-old colors on the wall, do you discipline or laugh it off? There are many different parenting styles, and it’s most important for parents to work together with whatever approach they agree upon.

In most cases, as children mature, the parent’s role frequently becomes more of a disciplinarian (nurturing aspect). This is mainly because more discipline and guidance/advice is needed as children get older. As a result, it can become difficult for parents who want to be their child’s “friend” (the “love” aspect). As parents, they may feel these conflicting emotions inside, but they must understand what their child needs.

He doesn’t need you to be his friend. He needs you to guide him, whether it means giving a consequence, disciplining him, or even having a serious conversation. Here’s an example. If your son disrespects you in front of the other kids, you don’t want to say, “He must be having a bad day; we’re still ‘cool.’” You must switch into the nurture mode and deal with it appropriately.

Another mistake that parents are often guilty of is treating a child as a confidant. Your child is not mature enough, emotionally or intellectually, to play that role. When you make your child your confidant, you are saying that you and the child are co-decision-makers. However, you and your child are not co-decision-makers in any realistic way.

This doesn’t mean your kids can’t share their opinion when appropriate. They can tell you what they like and dislike. But certainly decisions, especially important ones, and sometimes even certain minor ones, must be made by you, the parent. Children thrive with this type of structure, and it gives them the skills they require to become good parents later on.

Here are a few tidbits to think about.

  • A good measure of your relationship with your child is the word no. If you never tell that to your children, something is wrong.
  • Parents who are too friendly with their children end up feeling resentful when their children move on in life. They feel a remarkable sense of loss, and might compensate for it by blaming the child.
  • If you are overly friendly with your child, it is possible to change, but it needs to be done gradually.
  • Although we discussed this in previous articles, it bears repeating: Children in divorced families will often, albeit unintentionally, become the parents’ confidants. The child gets stuck painfully in the middle, which is not fair to him or her.
  • It’s hard to discipline your children if you put yourself on an equal footing with them.
  • Most importantly, keep in mind that your children don’t need your friendship. They need to know that there is someone who will always love them unconditionally and be in control, guiding and assisting them.

Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, you can visit www.yidparenting.com.

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