We have three sons and then three daughters ranging in ages ten years to ten months. Our middle son who is eight wants to choose a costume with a secular theme for Purim. My husband and I feel that contradicts the message of Purim, which is not to assimilate with the non-Jewish culture. This child is a strong-minded, opinionated child and we do not want to necessarily begin a battle over this, but we feel it will be the first of many such clashes and wonder how to address this issue in a way that we can also address future clashes like this. How do we assert ourselves without alienating him from us and from Yiddishkeit? How do we help him celebrate Purim in the spirit of Purim without conflict?
There's this nutty fear among parents today that to simply say no will cause untold damage to a child, will cause a child to go off the derech, and destroy his entire future. I'm not quite sure why. I can assure you that no client I have worked with as a therapist became irreligious as a result of his parents putting down their foot as to which costume he could wear on Purim when he was eight years old!
But your question is really asking something much deeper. How do I parent my child in a way that sets appropriate boundaries, imparts my values to him, and yet takes his feelings and opinions into account?
Now, that's a better question.
Because honestly, if your family does not wear costumes with secular themes (movie/book characters) on Purim, or even simply neutral themes (pirate, Dutch milkmaid) and your children know that only specifically Jewish themes are acceptable, then why can't you enforce that for goodness sake! Have you ever walked into a costume store today? There are over one million costumes, half of which are Jewish themes. Stop apologizing for your values. Especially to your children.
Back to your question. How do you parent a child effectively that despite occasional clashes (which of course is going to happen! You are raising a boy, not a robot), he doesn't end up alienated from his family and frumkeit?
There are four parenting styles, three of which can lead to unfortunate outcomes for children growing up in those environments.
So let me a ask you a deceptively easy question. Your child is nudging for a snack before supper. Let's say you don't think eating nosh before supper is a wise parental choice for your child. Which of the following sounds like you?
“No, because you know the rules about snacks before dinner. If you're hungry, take a fruit.”
“No, because Mommy said so. Here is a fruit.”
“I don't think it's a good idea, but if you really want, you can take what's in the nosh closet.”
The kid doesn't even bother asking because you are barely around anyway. He does as he wants.
Authoritative parenting, authoritarian parenting, permissive parenting, and neglectful parenting.
Which one is you?
Authoritative parenting is when parents have high expectations of their children, but these expectations are embedded in in a structure that respects their child's ability to meet these expectations, need for routine, transparency about rules and consequences, and a willingness to have open communication about a child's feelings, thoughts, and feelings without engendering a fear of harsh judgment or ridicule. Because when a child feels respected and understood, even when the conditions of the situation do not change (no, you cannot put on the light in your room on Shabbos no matter how upset you are that somebody closed it and now you can't read), a child will learn about their world around them—within a base of safety and order—and it will make sense to them eventually.
And this open communication also allows the parent to listen to a child and (gasp!) see when there is room for flexibility or they have made a mistake. Apologies are given when necessary. Relationships are repaired after a rupture.
Every normal person grows up to take to showers regularly, despite the tantrums they threw when they were five years old that “I don't wanna take a bath! I don't need a bath!” An authoritative parent is firm about bath rules, but still commiserates with the child how much fun he is missing by taking a bath, and explains (for the umpteenth time) that baths are necessary for hygiene (pinworms), for health (germs), and for social reasons (her teacher will love her much more if she smells like strawberry than like ketchup). But there is also the flexibility that maybe tonight, when the neighborhood children are all playing in the snow, maybe tonight we can skip the bath and play outside a little longer.
Authoritarian parenting may look similar on the surface, in that rules are clearly articulated but for one fundamental difference. There's a complete misattunement to the child. “Because I said so!” is the common refrain. Rules seem arbitrary, even nonsensical or cruel; insensitive or unfair. There is no room for flexibility, communication, or choices.
Such parents are often reserved in their feelings about their children, despite a deep love for them; they utilize punishment or threats of punishment to bend their child to their will, and rarely give them choices from choosing their own shoes as children, to which camps/schools they may want to attend, even which job may interest them post school.
Children of authoritarian parenting are often prone to low self esteem, shyness, and fearful obedience (they do well in school academically); or the opposite, they grossly misbehave once away from their parents—even as they achieve academically or have feelings of low self esteem.
Permissive parenting is characterized by responsive but undemanding parenting. It would seem then, that permissive parenting may be less damaging than authoritarian, but no, it's not. Permissive parents are lenient because they need to avoid confrontation. So they avoid rules, and whatever rules actually exist are inconsistent. They compromise their values and principles to accommodate their child's moods, and use bribery to achieve cooperation. Roles between child and parent is blurred. Because children need clear parental roles and rules/structure, children growing up with this laissez-faire, indulgent attitude often display insecurity (as a result of lack of clearly defined boundaries), poor social skills such as sharing or group work (resulting from a lack of self-discipline), lack of stick-to-it-itiveness (I just made up that word) or self motivation for academic or work success, and sometimes clashing with authority (creating problems at school or work environments)
Neglectful parenting goes under abuse, in which the parent is simply not there emotionally or physically. The home is not safe, the parent is away for long hours at a time (or in bed), the parent makes excuses why they are not home/available for their child(ren), there's an almost lack of involvement in their child's school life, social life, any activity outside of the home. And of course, there's a complete lack of insight into their child's inner life.
Children experiencing neglectful parenting are mistrustful, have a hard time forming close relationships, and are disconnected from their community socially, and from its value system (academic, spiritual/religious/moral).
Back to your son and his costume.
Once you understand who you are, then you can understand how and when and why to respond to your son's demands of a costume not in line with your values.
Be the authoritative parent. Be reasonable with your expectations. Be clear about your rule concerning the costume. Explain why this is your rule. Listen to your son's concerns. Be flexible if necessary, compromising (in school, where all his friends have pirate costumes, he can too; but on Purim with family, his other costume goes on), and even apologizing if he brings up old hurts of past Purims that you had missed.
Be his parent. Not his partner. Not his policeman.
And definitely be authentic with your values. They need to be real. Not a mask.
NOTE: ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BINAH'S COLUMN "QUESTIONS YOU NEVER DARED TO ASK BUT ASKED ANYWAY."
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