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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Powerless Parents

The powerlessness that parents in the Yeshiva world seem to have never ceases to amaze me. In this letter, a mother sends her teenage daughters off to work in the Catskills as mother's helpers, and now claims she hasn't slept all week because she is worried about what her daughters might be tempted to do.

Her concerns are perfectly justified. Despite some (likely childless) commentators declaring that if the kids were raised right they won't find trouble, the fact remains teenagers + lack of supervision + lack of physically present family and others for which a health attachments exists + a peer dominated mob scene is a good equation for some children to perhaps not exercise the best judgment.

The mother asks: "Do we stop sending our children to the country as mothers helpers? As day camp counselors? Do we shield them from outside influences?"

It is a sad day when a parent goes with the flow first and asks questions second. Reasonable people might come to different conclusions regarding these questions, but it would make sense to think first and act second.

The sense of powerlessness is truly sad.


Margaret said...

Having lived in "the country" my entire life, I am always so amused by the mass exodus of frum Jews to this area.

The whole thing is just so baffling to me!

ProfK said...

Powerlessness? Could we call this what it really is--stupidity/laziness/self-centeredness on the part of the parent, and yes, a lack of caring for her children as well. From the way the letter writer writes, she breathed a sigh of relief that she would have less children at home and welcomed the idea of her daughters being away for the summer. [See her statement "In the past couple of years, this time around was usually my time to breathe a sigh of relief. All the kids were packed and shipped off to sleep away camp and I was having some leisure time in my bungalow."]

Her daughters are teenagers, a range from 13-19. One deduces that they were sent as campers, not counselors, in prior years, so they fall in the younger range of ages. Because camp, as campers, was not affordable this year, her two daughters sought employment as mothers helpers in a bungalow colony.

So, did this mother go with her children to meet the families for which they would be working? Did she ask what their duties would be? Did she ask what supervision would be available for after work hours? Did she ask what the hiring family and the colony had in place to keep improper socialization from occuring? Did she lay out what she expected the hiring family to do? These daughters are underage and are legally the responsibility of their parents. Should anything happen to these girls both the hiring family AND the parents would be held legally culpable. If she knew that there would be no supervision, why did she allow them to go? And if she didn't know that there would be no supervision, why didn't she know that?

Sorry, I have no sympathy for this writer. She's akin to the person who murders her parents and then throws herself on the mercy of the court because she is an orphan.

SephardiLady said...

ProfK-You hit the nail on the head.

Anon426 said...

I would recommend that the parent who wrote the letter, and really every parent, get a copy of Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld. It addresses the pitfalls of this type of "detached" parenting, which is all too much a staple of our society.

SephardiLady said...

Thank you for recommending this book. I have mentioned it twice in these posts ( One post links to Mom In Israel's review.

While I see issues of powerlessness, laziness, self-centerness, and stupidity, I really think that what we are dealing with is a culture that endorses flawed parenting.

Sending children away is considered vital to their upbringing. A parent who chooses to keep a 2 or 3 year old at home fulltime is looked upon strangely. Keeping a 12 year old home for the summer, rather than sending away to camp, is considered practically criminal.

While I'm annoyed with the mother, I also feel sorry for her. Being an active parent is likely something foreign to her. Going with the flow is more reflexive, but now she is having "buyer's remorse" as commonsense rears its head.

That said, anyone who even considers sending a child to be a mother helper should have a firm contract in place that deals with supervision and consequences.

Miami Al said...

I sympathize with the mother's worry, this is the first time that they are in an uncontrolled environment, temptations exist, and her daughters may engage in less than modest behavior. I sympathize with her emotional concerns, not with any of her "action items."

As parents, your primary responsibility is to help them learn how to be adults. That includes making decisions when there are opportunities to choose between right and wrong. Her daughters will now have to make the right decision on their own, and she's worried... being worried is perfectly normal parenting... shielding your children from making choices as they grow up is NOT acceptable parenting, because you aren't helping them grow up.

On the irony front, I'm so amused that in "Judeo-Christian" culture (I say that and not American, because the Western view of the ideal country living and sinful cities dates back to the "Old Testament") see the city as a place rife with temptation and sin, and the country as a place of morality.

Cities offer pubs/bars open until 2 AM, easy availability of drugs, prostitution, etc. Small town America likely has 1-2 bars so you know where your spouse is and a Church that everyone expects to be at on Sunday.

I wish her luck and a good night's sleep. Hopefully her daughters will make few mistakes this summer, and if they do, hopefully they learn from them. It's called growing up, her children are teenagers and on their way to being adults, a semi-supervised summer is a good intermediate step.

OTOH, I reject the marrying off of children who can't make decisions on their own and hoping that they'll have 2-3 children and be "trapped" before they are self sufficient and making decisions... both because I think that it leads to the unhappy people I see around me who did that and the divorced single parents in their early 20s with small children is absolutely devastating.

Avi said...

I lean towards Miami Al; parenting teens is about letting the kids grow up, and I think over-sheltering kids is counterproductive. However, in this case ProfK and SL have the better point: if she didn't think they could handle it, she shouldn't have sent them.

Thinking said...

The key sentence is this one:
"Since sending her off I have heard about the potential dangers taking place in the country for teenagers."

Really? Up until now you had no idea? Where have you been? And you still sent them off with out knowing all the info you now know?

I am definitely concerned for this woman's daughters. I am also concerned for all the other conversations she probably should have had with them to this point and has not yet had.

jb said...

What really disturbs me here is the paralyzing fear that the kids might do something wrong. Now, there is definitely what to fear in terms of meeting the wrong people, and getting involved in some serious wrongdoing- and this mother absolutely should not have sent her teens off without any notion of how they were going to be supervised and shielded from that. But at the same time, even with decent supervision, they may slip up in something a little less major. And if they do, that's a mistake you have to let them make. Teens need to fall on their behinds from time to time in order to learn.

Lion of Zion said...

eh. worried about a girl spending 2 months away from home? what about all 14-year-old boys who get shipped off to live in yeshivah dorms for 4 years under dubious supervision?

Ariella said...

But for some reason, LOZ, it is considered more yeshivish for a boy to dorm, and some dorm even if their homes are only a couple of miles away. Girls, on the other hand, are usually kept home with the exception of sleepaway camp. But it is obvious to me that mothers with many children underfoot are happy to ease the congestion and the noise of the home by sending away children in the socially acceptable form of dorm of country. That it is socially acceptable within those circles, though, does not mean that it is the best thing for them.

Ahuva said...

I found the commenting about "lax goyishe parenting" to be absolutely hilarious. My secular parents would have NEVER allowed me to go away and work for an entire summer. I never heard of such a thing for kids that weren't college age until I started exploring the Orthodox world. Children in the secular world are gradually given more freedom and responsibility. They are NOT practically dumped out on the streets and told to go be a mother's helper far away from home.

Ahavah Gayle said...

I have to wonder if the reason this mother is so worried is because she doesn't know her children well enough to feel confident about them. They were likely dumped in daycare from practically their first day and have likely been raised by strangers ever since - daycare, schools, camps, yeshiva... When did she ever *really* get to know her kids in the last several years? This whole "detached parenting" thing someone else mentioned is likely part of that - parents sublet their kid's lives and then feel they have no real authority to enforce anything. Kids are like boarders who eat and sleep at home but live their lives elsewhere. How can anyone expect to have confidence in a teen they hardly know?

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what this woman thinks happen in the city...but I am pretty sure it is the same in the country. If a teen wants to do something, believe me, they will. I lived in Jerusalem for a year, and I can tell you, I saw yeshiva boys place their black hats underneath the table while they drank all night. If anything, perhaps seeing the real world might strengthen the girls in their Judaism.

megapixel said...

First of all, whatever evil things happen in the country also happen in the city, but of course in the country there are no parents around and the kids are on vacation mode also, so the kids let loose, apparently to pretty devastating effects.

While it's true that teens need to make mistakes (the best lessons learned come from actual mistakes made) the problem with teens (I have been doing alot of thinking on this topic since I have two young teens) is that the trouble they can get into is the kind of trouble that is not so easy to get out of. It goes without saying that they are not getting into trouble for chewing gum in public. It is life altering trouble like addictions and drunk driving/accidents and teen pregnancy that we are worried about here.

Another O-o-P said...

Many good and relevant points in the comments here...I would add that while concern about a teen getting in "serious trouble" may be well-placed, it is in some ways overdone in the RW communities.

A teenage girl having some innocent conversation or even flirtation with some boys her age ought not to rank as devstating a situation as teen pregnancy...and I would argue that it's more healthy for a girl's future dating and marriage than the idealized complete isolation between boys and girls.

Anon819 said...

I totally agree, if this person is this frantic about these things, she should have said no to her daughters. (They could have worked at the neighborhood camps that she is sending the younger hildren to.)

But I also think this person is extremely naive. Just because kids are at camp with supervision, doesn't mean that they won't ever encounter any "bad influences." I bet her kids don't have even the basic life skills to deal with a situation in which there actually was a dangerous peer situation (drugs being offered, for example.) As Megapixel said, there are some life-altering situations that a teenager needs to know how to avoid, and if they have never been spoken to about the existence of drugs, sex, etc. then they are really vulnerable to these situations.

megapixel said...

another oop, although a "mild flirtation" may seem harmless, in truth I believe that a frum sheltered girl involved in a mild flirtation changes somehow. Her attitudes may be different in subtle and not so subtle ways. She may not be the same innocent girl she was.