Opinion: Are We Failing As Parents? | Avi Gutfreund

As a parent, I often try to take stock of how I am doing. Are my children happy, content, and well-balanced? What am I doing wrong, or what must I improve on to better the life of my children? I hope these are questions most parents ask of themselves from time to time. 

Recently, I’ve become concerned that we, the community as a whole, is failing to impart in our children the values we should like them to have. I can’t do anything about this problem by myself, either; this is a communal issue, in my opinion.

My cause for concern is the undeniable increase in materialism in our community. I think the past week or so has shined a glaring light on that fact. How many people have gone off to Florida for vacation from Lakewood? Not just a handful, that I can tell you. I brought my youngest son to his babysitter this morning and there was just one other child there today. Why? Because everyone else was in Florida, Cancun, or the Caribbean. How many people are, by taking these types of vacations, teaching their children that materialism should be a high priority in their lives?

Don’t get me wrong, I go on vacation as well. But when I was a bit younger, midwinter vacation for myself and almost every other Lakewood family I knew meant going to the Catskills. The really lucky ones went to Virginia or something. Who went to Florida? Who went to exotic islands? Nobody. Not because we couldn’t afford it, but because the message being imparted to our children is a negative one and one that imbues them with ideas that can be extremely harmful to them as adults.

I am not even talking about the Jewish concept of living simply. I’ll let your rav tell you the virtues of simplicity from a Jewish perspective. I’m talking about the parenting perspective. Children model after their parents; they see how their parents behave and copy them. And I worry about what we’re teaching them.

Even more concerning is the fact that these concepts are taught to children even if they do not learn it at home. My family went on vacation over midwinter break as well. My children finally got to see their grandparents in another state for the first time in nearly a year and we went on wonderful family activities that everyone enjoyed. But when my children returned to school, they found out that a large number of their friends had gone on some exotic getaway. And it wasn’t just the rich kids, it was the kids whose parents can’t afford to pay full tuition too. And so my children were upset that they didn’t get to go on some trip like that too.

This is what makes me worry. I fear that we are teaching our children to pursue happiness rather than be content with the amazing things they already have. As we should all know, the pursuit of happiness doesn’t lead to happiness, it leads to depression and discontent. And so, I wonder, are we failing our children? Are we failing as parents?


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  1. “…midwinter vacation for myself and almost every other Lakewood family I knew meant going to the Catskills…”
    Really? what about those that don’t have a house in the Catskills?? that premise itself is wrong. Who said you must leave town altogether for the so called “weekend”??
    Perhaps someone who stayed put should write this letter.

    • That’s precisely the point. Whatever I do is the standard. More than that is overdone, less than that is too little.
      כל דרכי איש ישר בעיניו
      I am sure the family that went to Florida will be nodding their head at this article about those that went to Cancun.

      The main thing people need in this world is someone else to look down at.

  2. Unfortunately, there is nobody willing to take a stance about materialism in our community. Wen had a chance with covid back in April to scale things back and we didn’t. Be it out of control Simchas, fancy houses, gourmet shopping, luxury vacations. It is out of control and we can’t do anything. We were so focused on getting on with our lives we didn’t even try to change anything. Woe onto us that we lost more Yiddish neshomos in a 2 month period than any since the holocaust and on a communal level and we did nothing. (no I am not equating it with the holocaust. I am just saying that in America this has been the biggest shake up since then) What message do we need to wake up!!??

  3. I used to think like you too…
    But the past few years we went to Florida for less than a house in the Catskills. Airfare was $49 a person – hotel was $91, and we spent $0 on entertainment. You can’t compare the warm sunny weather to anything… it’s not about exotic at all!!! Maybe teach your kids not to always look over their shoulder – because they are obviously learning it from you!! Everybody, worry about yourselves!!!

  4. and by the way – I wish we had grandparents to go to!!!
    My kids grandparents won’t let them through the front door!!
    Corona not withstanding , they are too old and overwhelmed to host their grandchildren. So please – let’s focus on being happy and grateful with our lot!!! If you worry about materialism – just look at this town and all the extravagant clothing stores and restaurants !!

  5. You start the letter with how you periodically take stock on how you are doing raising your children. Are they happy, well balanced, etc. Then you bring up the issue of materialism outside your own home.
    Shouldn’t you be teaching your children what YOU value and not to be influenced by what goes on outside your home? It might be hard but that’s what taking stock should mean. If you raise them to be happy, they will be happy. If you raise them to look at materialism with awe (or jealousy), then that’s what they will do.

  6. Does everyone have to get so defensive about this letter?! Picking apart every line is perhaps a sign that the readers are personally irritated by the content – why? The overall sentiment of the letter is of truth – our recent generations in America, and lately very much in Lakewood have become super materialistic. The homes and shopping centers tell all you need to know. Unfortunately Lakewood has become the pisom and ramseis of the frum Torah world. Materialism is a sign of spiritual void and sickness, it is very much a symptom, not the root cause. It also creates a ton of social challenges, jealousy and unnecessary pressure on others.

    With regard to how you respond to your child’s question of why we don’t live the same way – this is your job as a parent. You teach by your action what is important to you and your family, just as you do with the more obvious and blatant spiritual harms that your children may want in the house. If you create a solid atmosphere at home, your children will be able to accept NO as an answer too.

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