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Friday, May 22, 2009

Entitlement on Steriods: Thanks Mom and Dad!


I've written plenty about attitudes of entitlement and where such entitlement comes from. After reading the continuation of a letter to Rebbitzen Jungreis in the Jewish Press there is no question that the chicken came first. Or would that be the egg? Oh well.

The letter writer talks about a friend and mother of six whose home was turned into a hotel by her four married children and grandchildren who never offered a hand, after the mother kashered her kitchen and cooked up a storm starting a month before Pesach.

The letter writer asks: "How is it that it doesn't occur to them that Mom may need a rest and they should take over? How is it that they never think of cleaning up or picking up after their kids or taking over the kitchen duties so Mom can sit at the table?"


I think the answer is SIMPLE. The mother has never asked (make that demanded) help and so no help is offered. It turns out that this motherhotel operator has a warped hashkafah.


The mother says: I was afraid - I don't want to lose them. A long time ago, I learned that if you want to have a good relationship with your children, you have to zip your mouth and open your purse.


The hashkafah is a particularly warped one. Our goal as parents isn't to have a "good relationship" with our children, which seems to imply an absence of conflict, rather than an actual good relationship which would be defined by respect and caring. Rather our goal is to raise our young children and make the fully functional adults. While this mother's philosophy that she is simply an ATM who should do whatever is asked of her at the touch of a button, there are plenty of parents who try to make life such so pleasant and easy for their children that they eventually cripple them.

Those of us with kids in the younger set I'm certain have run into more than one younger child who can't put on their own shoes or clothing, won't walk a reasonable distance, can't use a table knife to spread peanut butter (this one got me riled up when we recently have a neighborhood kid over, 8 years old, parents don't let him use a kitchen knife. My 5 year old had to spread the peanut butter on his cracker). There are parents who have yet to let their nine year old cut with a regular knife. There are parents who call the schools every time their child has an unpleasant situation.

Once the kids get older and are more brand aware, which isn't all that old come to think of it. . . some of these kids who aren't spreading their own peanut butter yet are asking their parents for $100 outfits. The kids asking for such things often have parents who buy into another facet of this philosophy, i.e. our kids can't be left out so we much do everything that other parents are doing. Doesn't help that the "Goldberg's kids" are setting some ridiculous trends. I sat in shock as a in-law of an in-law talked incessantly about how she was so happy to find some sort of Juicy Couture knock off for one-third the cost for her 8 year old. The mother has yet to put two and two together, but complains that her kids are really picky about what they wear, imperfections with their clothing, etc. Hello!

As it has been said, bigger kids, bigger problems. Things get really dicey with older children. I know a mother who wonders how her son can spend so much money when he takes his wife and kids on a trip to the US. This money is in addition to the monthly check they send, as the parents have been supporting their son and daughter-in-law for many years now. His mother wants him to get a job because she feels drained by all of the support. It bothers her that the son isn't making any move towards work, although she has addressed her hope that he will start to make the shift from the beit midrash to some type of parnasah. But, she won't pull the plug. In her words: "What can I do? I can't let them starve." A simple survey of economics or human behavior will show that when others pull weight for someone, that the same someone is less inclined to pull their own weight. I doubt they will starve.

I think the bottom line in child rearing (an old fashioned term I know) is that you don't do for your child what they can do for themselves.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oy. There is so much to comment on here, but since you mention the chicken and the egg, I'd like to know where the Rooster is in all this and what responsibility he has. I wouldn't lay this all on the chicken.

ProfK said...

What is worrisome is that it is not only the parent/child relationship that is out of skew. The grandchildren are learning from what they see. They ask their parents for something and those parents turn around and ask THEIR parents to provide it. Pretty soon the grandkids are turning straight to the grandparents.

Speaking as one who is in the upper age level in this pyramid scheme, there is real trouble coming down the road, and fairly soon. Even grandparents can rebel and say "Enough!" And then what?

My kids learned young because we taught it to them that age brings responsibility. If you "want," you provide. Yes, I can point with pride to three independent adult children. They didn't get that way by accident. And yes, my kids can breathe a sigh of relief that we aren't going to become a burden to them when we get older because we've put away the money to take care of ourselves. How? By not extending our children's childhoods into their adult years.

SephardiLady said...

ProfK-"And then what?"

Once the enabling stops the works can begin. Those falling into the support trap should draw a deadline when "support" ends and independence begins.

Thanks for speaking up ProfK.

SephardiLady said...

Anonymous-I think the Rooster is oblivious to the situation. He is too busy working.

Ezzie said...

When I was a kid we were all taught the story (and I think this was in school no less!) of two men, one who is super nice and gives his kids everything, the other who yells at his kids to do stuff. Later in life, the yeller's kids always came to visit, took care of him, etc.; the other one's kids never came. The "nice" one asks the yeller why his kids visit, while he's home alone fending for himself, when he was so nice to them and gave them whatever they wanted.

The yeller responded that his kids, while perhaps less than thrilled, always knew he cared for what's best for them.

I think this lady and others have completely miss the point of this story and think "hey, I know how he can get his kids to come - bribe them!"

Note: This post is not meant to condone yelling at one's children. I assume that if you get the story, you get that as well. :)

Anonymous said...

SL: If the Rooster is oblivious that's part of the problem. Parents need to be a team and back each other up. My father never would have put up with me or my siblings acting this way toward my mother and vice versa. One also has to wonder if this Mom is buying affection from the kids and grandkids because she is not getting it elsehwere.

Shoshana said...

I guess I had better teach my 9 year old how to use a sharp knife... I'm so embarrassed! :)

Ariella said...

I agree with you 100%, SL. Children who are brought up as takers do not learn to appreciate what they are given but only to take it for granted. One does not do one's family a favor by never refusing them anything. In fact, Chazal attribute David Hamelech's problems with his children to the fact that he did not wish to cause them any unhappiness.

Commenter Abbi said...

shoshana, i think SL meant table knife, not kitchen knife.

I agree with this post 100%. My oldest is starting kita aleph and i'm getting ready for the onslaught of brands/nice clothes, even nicer houses. We live in a rented 3 bedroom apartment but many kids in my daughter's gan and in her future class live in multi-million dollar villas. She already asked this week we she doesn't have her own room (she shares with her siblings) and we explained that it's more fun to share a room than to be all by herself.

When she asked to have Bratz dolls, we said they're not tzanua and that there are much better toys to play with. She was very happy with this answer and when she would report back about a Bratz birthday party or a friend's doll, she would add "And they're not tzanua". I think instead of giving in or banning your child from ever playing with kids who have toys you don't approve of, it's much better, for your child's own development, to discuss why you don't approve of certain clothing/toys/ living arrangements, etc.

SephardiLady said...

I was referring to a table knife, although young children can also be taught to cut with a sharp knife once a child has muscle control and, of course, the inclination to sit and concentrate.

The sharp knife is more a matter of personal preference, so I don't care to comment on such. For those that want their kids to have the ability to help and aren't willing to go the sharp knife route, there is a plastic serrated knife available through Pampered Chef. Montessori retailers have child sized kitchen prep tools including smaller knives with blunt tips.

rachel in israel said...

hmm, an 8 year old who can't spread peanut butter... and my almost 3 year old keeps begging me to use a table knife and I keep saying no. :)

SL, if you think the current generation (20s and 30 years old) are bad just wait for the next one...

I go to houses so my daughter can play with kids her age (moms in their 20s) and it didn't occur to a single one of them to teach their toddlers to say please and thank you. The kids literally yell at the mom when they want something. I always force my daughter say thank you and please but I seem to be alone, and the other ones just don't get the hint. I just went to a parenting lecture for moms of toddlers and the psychologist spent a good amount of time explaining why nobody should let their kids hit them EVER. Sad that it needs to be explained.

Sometimes I feel more comfortable with women 20 years older than me whose kids are approaching the army rather than most women my age and stage. Now I understand why, they belong to a different generation and many of them did raise their children with manners. Oy Vey...

ora said...

I'm surprised at the posts from Israel. I've found that very few kids here have brand name stuff (and those who do tend to be American), let alone multi-million dollar homes.

If anything most American parents I've met seem to think kids here have too much responsibility (they play outside alone at a younger age, walk to school with friends at a younger age, babysit younger siblings at a younger age, etc).

There is definitely a sense here that it's normal and desirable for parents to help their adult children financially, but given the average salary and average family size, "help" doesn't mean providing full support or anything close.

ProfK said...

Just in the interest of fairness, this idea of helping out kids is not a new one and goes back centuries, but back then it was called a dowry, and it was a one-time offering. Those women who didn't have the dowry were going to have trouble getting married, or were going to be married off to someone very poor or somehow less eligible. The difference is that back then you got to "dip into the till" just once; today parents are looked at as an easy access ATM--open 24/7.

Commenter Abbi said...

Ora, it really depends on where you live. We lived in Jm for 6 years and the wealth factor really wasn't a concern. We now live in Ranaana, and while it's a very nice community, wealth is much more of a concern.

I do like the earlier handing over of responsibility. I've let my six and four year old play downstairs on our building's lawn a few times, where i can keep an eye on them from our 3rd floor apt. I don't think that would ever happen in the states.

aml said...

Rachael: there's nothing like sweeping generalizations! I am of the generation you so disrespectfully refer to and my kids say pleases and thank yous. I find older first time mothers tend to be really inflexible and judgemental... Not all, but a lot.

aml said...

Oh, and we taught our five-year-old to spread Nutella with the back of a spoon.

rachel in israel said...

aml, please move to my community!!! I am always looking for parents who actively teach manners as opposed to just wait for them to happen naturally. Yes, I make generalizations, because sadly there is a strong truth to it.
I also belong to the same generation, so I guess I also insulted myself :). And, as hard as I and my husband try to teach manners, I've noticed that it is still a lot less than how our parents raised us. This is just a fact of life. What we considered nowadays to be respectfull an normal was chutzpah only 20 years ago. Just as an example, when I was a kid I remember thinking really hard whether I should open the door to my parents room at night. I knoew they would be really upset if I did. Now, it is viewed sometimes as a given that the kids will migrate in the middle of the night. I'm sure you can keep going back to standing up everytime an adult entered the room (we had to in school), or kising hands, etc. Yeridat Hadorot

Ateres said...

For some reason I never had to teach my kids independence, my oldest has it innately (he served himself salads from serving bowl with the serving spoon at the age of 1.5) and his brother copies him. It is a bit young to tell with my 10-month-old, but she seems to have it to.

I definitely agree with you in principle. I was one of these kids who, due to a number of difficulties I had growing up, was never expected to help around the house and have difficulty doing housework until today. I was, however, given financial responsibility (I had my own checkbook at the age of ten) and therefore was able to handle all of my finances when I married at 18.

mother in israel said...

I don't get this fear of a table knife. Why is it more dangerous than a fork? When was the last time you heard of an emergency room visit from a table knife?

ProfK said...

MII,
Two weeks ago Shabbos, at 12:32, Hatzoloh was called out to someone in our neighborhood whose serrated table knife had a greasy handle, the knife slipped and cut the finger tip almost down to the bone. "Child" in this case was 31. Accidents happen, even if you're careful. Same Shabbos that Hatzoloh also got called out to a toddler with real tooth strength who managed to chew off the rubber tip of a pacifier, which she ingested and which began to choke her. A child proof house? In what world?

SephardiLady said...

Ateres-I believe that natural state of a child is a desire for independence. That independence can be crippled too, so we walk a fine line.

ProfK-I'm laughing because the only person cut in this house since any child started using a knife, sharp or blunt is ME!

I'm also laughing at the your comment about a child proof home. In our house we call it "adult proof." After the first kid, we dutifully put in child gates and plug covers. Not even 1.5 years old and my little one was clawing away at the plug covers until they popped out. Soon the gates were dismantled. Meanwhile, adults came over and couldn't figure out the darn gates.

Fed up said...

I agree with everything that you said regarding the first part of the letter. I want to comment on the second part, the complaint of married children not taking care of their parents when the parents come to visit. The letter writer complained that the children put their parents in the basement or shmooze with their friends after shul. Well, guess what, maybe your kids do not want you to come to their house for yom tov. Having one's parents visit for Shabbos or yom tov is not always a joy. Kibud av v'em does not mean that a parent can come whenever they want and have their children take care of their every need. I'm sorry, but that sense of parental entitlement is wrong. Raising children is hard work. We need to make certain that the children are fed, clothed, and cared for. We have a routine. Having our parents (the children's grandparents) come to visit adds another level of effort. If grandparents want to visit their grandchildren, they should be flexible and not treat their children's home as a hotel.

Anonymous said...

Fed up: I'm sorry you have such a lousy relationship with your parents. Just remember that how you treat your parents is providing a lesson on how you expect your children to treat you when you are old. I did not get the sense from the letter that the parents were expecting to be catered to -- just common courtesy you would extend to other house guests.

miriamp said...

Sadly, that letter you linked to shows a distinct lack of communication between parents and children. The mother who "shut her mouth and opened her purse" and the elderly parents who are suffering from being hidden away in the basement both.

When my parents come to visit, I used to put them in the basement, because that's my guest space. At some point my mother asked to be on a level with a bathroom, and I started kicking my boys out of their room for my parents. (We have more girls, so the girls room is bunk beds and not suitable for guests, plus more kids to find a place for.) I afford my in-laws the same courtesy, and the boys (and girls) learn the importance of making space for guests.

Communication is really the key here, starting with the little children and continuing all the way up. (And I'm not in my 20s, but my 2 year old knows what "ask nicely" means, and will do so when prompted, or even sometimes on her own.)

SephardiLady said...

Fed Up-No question that having parents come can be hard work, although the example of not getting up from the dinner table wasn't particularly great.

I do think that no one can expect another to read their mind. So if sleeping in the basement is difficult, or the food does not mesh with dietary needs, the best thing is to say something. I know I got into a little trouble once for not helping enough on Pesach. But I kept asking what I could help with and was never given any instructions. When you don't grow up in a home, making yourself at home isn't exactly so easy.

Miami Al said...

The "frum parenting" style is bizarre... because of perpetual fear of what will the neighbors think, the children in my neighborhood often have less freedom in middle school than I had in second grade, and I grew up in a similar Jewish suburb (albeit a secular Jewish suburb) about 15 miles from where I live.

Children desire independence, as parents we need to cultivate that with the responsibility to be careful. Children that don't experience any responsibility as children are developing real basic responsibility as teenagers...

Our socioeconomically similar secular counterparts manage to get children off to college at 18 with far fewer years of summer camp (children allowed to be in the house alone at a MUCH younger age), more responsibility for choosing extracurriculars, and the college bound have WAY more academic responsibility as high schoolers.

When we have the kids in the park on Shabbat, I am AMAZED at how many parents of MUCH older children than mine are chasing the kids around telling them how to play on the jungle gym. 4 and 5 year olds should be able to play tag or go down slides without mommy following them around.

Kids fall down, it's how they learn. Kids that never take chances and experience failures and learn HOW TO LEARN from their actions don't understand how to be adults and take care of themselves.

SephardiLady said...

Miami Al-It does seem at times that "frum parenting" has some odd extremes, both undersupervision and oversupervision. I've seen both.

Shira Salamone said...

This reminds my of a telephone conversation that I overheard a few years ago in which a mother was complaining that her son had called her from college to ask her how to do laundry. Frankly, I was shocked. Our son knew how to do laundry, housecleaning (yes, including scrubbing the toilet), and basic mending by the time he was halfway through high school because we made it our business to teach him. We are of the strong opinion that a parent is responsible for raising adults, not perpetual children. Every child has to leave the nest sooner or later, and they'd jolly well better know how to fly!

Miami Al said...

SL, absolutely, I've seen "Frum families" that seem bordering on neglect, sometimes crossing over the line (crossing over being families that don't feed their children on a semi-regular basis... welfare and food stamps should provide enough to put pasta and spaghetti sauce on the stove, no less healthy than a diet of McD and BK that other poor people eat)...

In fairness, I've seen similar over-protective parenting from some of our secular neighbors, but I attribute some of that to the general neurosis that I've seen from other 35+ year old first time parents... however, in the Orthodox world, I see an overriding trend towards not encouraging children to grow up... it starts with small children, but continues through high school...

Shira, I went to college not knowing how to do laundry... got some help from someone at school, wasn't rocket science, and called mom for pointers...

What I found outrageous is a mother that was complaining about the call... if she always did laundry, and never taught her child, what business does she have complaining.

That's the lack of parenting that stuns me... you forget to teach you 18/19 year old how to do laundry before college... kind of embarrassing, but you walk them through it... you don't get upset that they didn't magically learn.

Had an embarrassing story when I was 14... was on a small trip with a coach for school, and he told me to get out and pump gas. I was dumbfounded, and he mocked me for not knowing how... I pointed out that I wasn't old enough to drive, and he was stunned that my parents never sent me out to pump gas (this was in the early days of the gas trapping filters, so you had to get the angle/force perfect). He told me what to do, I filled the tank, and knew how to pump gas.

The focus on raising adults seems lacking in the late boomer parents I know... they are marrying off children with little concept of how to function as adults, and its downright terrifying.

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