Dear Dr T,
I am writing this letter in confidence because many of your readers would easily recognize my name. I would like an outside opinion on the issue I am facing.
Our family is almost like a dynasty: it has held together over many generations. Part of the ‘glue’ is our very strong mesorah. We all do things in a very special way and are very proud of our heritage and minhagim.
Until very recently, we have lived in a small out of town community and our family was recognizably different from those around us. Our particular practices were just part of the many ways we differed from our neighbors.
However, we have had the good fortune to relocate to a very large charedi community on the east coast. While most of my children have welcomed the change, two in particular [a daughter aged ten and a son aged fourteen] find the adjustment hard. One of their many complaints is that other children who are just as frum as they are don’t have to do some of the things our family does. Some of the sticking points are wearing a hat and jacket for bentching, not carrying in local eruv, or having to speak Yiddish exclusively at home. They resent having to be different from their friends and the limitations placed on them.
I am really in a quandary. Am I supposed to give up the traditions that are so basic to me and my extended family? Or do I stick to my guns and hope that my children will come around as adults and take pride in their family and its traditions? Need I add that I face the disapproval of my parents and siblings should I take the easy way out.
Whether to insist on your way – which is valuable and time honored- or bend to accommodate your children is a frequently asked question. Should we sacrifice our values to avoid our children’s resentment, or do we stick to our guns, hoping and praying that our child will come around?
Certainly you want to consult your rav about any one specific practice. However, the general issue of when to hold your ground and when to give in is worth looking at here.
Recently, the Yated in its ‘Chinuch Roundtable’ posed a very similar question to its panel of experts – mechanchim and rabbonim all. The question was from a father who had adopted a very specific chumrah from his rebbe and wondered whether he should require his son to emulate him. Interestingly, every single one of the nine rabbonim who were consulted advised against it. Among the things they said were things like ‘Don’t look to be different.’ And, ‘many of our children find it difficult to carry the whole load and will fail if one item is added to their pile.’ And finally ‘It is not recommended to make your child feel awkward, nerdy, or different.’
Parents can insist on anything they choose – and often they do. However, the wise parent, before he digs in his heels asks ‘What is the price?’ Is it worth a power struggle with your child? Are you prepared to win in the short run by forcing the issue, only to lose in the long run when your child grows up and decides to do things his way? Are you ok with your child feeling shame or humiliation for what you perceive as a greater good?
However, the alternative - the parent caving in every time he is faced with opposition- is not always the best choice either. Children do need consistency and structure and the idea that everything is negotiable and changeable can sometimes feel unnerving – even to them.
In addition, though you are the adult in this equation, you are still your parents’ child –desirous of their approval and loyal to their training.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. Every family, every child, every situation is vastly different and deserves individual consideration. But, when considering this issue, it is important to consider the pull of the peer group. The social context is very important to our children – they desperately seek acceptance from their friends. In particular, your children - the ‘new kids on the block’- may be terrified of being labeled as different and thus may go to great lengths to be just like their group. An unusual family practice, as special as it may be, may be more than they can deal with at this particular time.
If letting go is just not in the cards for you at this time, at the very least make every effort to keep your strong connection to your child so that he feels aligned to you. Let him know that you ‘hear’ his request. Though you probably won’t get his buy-in at this time, at the very least you want to do your best to make sure that he understands that you are on his side. And, if possible, leave the door open should you need to renegotiate in the future.
Being caught in the crossfire of conflicting family loyalties- your family of origin vs. your children- is never fun. Hatzlocho in reaching some compromise that your family – both you and your child- can live with.