By Moshe Norman, LSW. Dos Yiddishe Mamme. Typified. Personified. She’s warm, caring and protective. Unconditionally loving and accepting. She is always there to save her child through thick and thin, through his good choices and his mistakes. And never misses an opportunity to protect her child from even the slightest discomfort.
How fortunate we are, to be part of a heritage of Rachmonim, Bayshonim and Gomlei Chasodim. Look at our behavior on Purim, “B’koso.” We encourage and support each other, and we finance the poor without a second glance. What beautiful traits.
But is acting on one’s Rachmonus always the correct thing? Is giving money to a compulsive gambler because we feel bad that he has no money left constructive Rachmonus? What are the pros and cons when dealing with our children?
Let’s think about it. A child needs to undergo a surgery to protect him from a life-threatening situation. How would we perceive his parents, if they were to cancel the surgery because they “couldn’t tolerate to see him in pain?” Would we deem them Rachmonim? Clearly, sometimes we put aside our emotions to do what is best.
As parents, we very often have the opportunity to witness our children experiencing some degree of discomfort. And yes, these are opportunities. Opportunities to help them grow.
“Zalmen got more Shabbos cereal than I!” protests Yossi.
“My Rebbe blamed it on me and I didn’t even do it!” “He made me stay in for 5 minutes of recess and the kid who did it wasn’t even punished!”
One of my favorites working in a school setting was when the boys complained to the principal, “Gavriel never gets in trouble ‘cuz his father is the richest in the school!”
Most of these complaints are pretty valid. Yet as parents, how do we respond to them?
Typically, when our children complain, we either dismiss it or pacify it.
“So, what’s the big deal if he got a few more pieces of Shabbos Cereal? Last week you got more than he!” Dismissed.
“Oy, you are right. I will call Rebbe and tell him that you shouldn’t have lost your recess.” Pacified.
“OK, I’ll give you a few more Fruity Pebbles.” Pacified.
“If your Rebbe punished you, you probably did something wrong!” Dismissed.
So which is the right way? Neither. Now, before we get carried away, let’s just note that research indicates that children are resilient to a degree of parenting mishaps. Children are able to identify occasional yelling, dismissing, pacifying as resulting from various stressors, and to get past them with little or no emotional harm done. What I am discussing is the potential developmental disadvantages of a specific practical parenting attitude.
By constantly dismissing a child’s pain the child learns that he has no right to experience a negative emotion. Since that emotion is not something that is in his control to prevent, he will effectively develop a sense of shame for having that feeling. So if we say (or give the impression of) “Don’t be jealous, you are not allowed to be jealous!” the child walks away feeling jealous (since telling him not to be jealous does not stop the jealousy,) and he feels ashamed for experiencing this emotion that he is not allowed to feel. These kinds of children often develop a deep-rooted negative sense of self, harbor anger, resentment and feel alienated and self-conscious by the adults who dismissed their feelings.
But what can be wrong with pacifying? After all, if it isn’t fair shouldn’t we always balance the score? If Sruli went to the bank with Tatty and got a lollipop (or a pen if you use TD), shouldn’t Shimmy get one too?
Pacifying prevents a child from learning to tolerate disappointment. Perhaps more accurately, pacifying trains a child to be intolerant to disappointment. When something goes wrong, it must be changed. If I don’t get my way, I will carry-on, insist or forcefully get what I want. Parents who constantly pacify their children actually raise children who have a hard time facing the reality of disappointment. And life is full of ‘em.
So, you ask, what IS the best response?
In the next article we will Iy”H address an alternative response.
Moshe Norman is a Licensed Social Worker in Lakewood, NJ, and specializes in parent-child relationships by helping parents identify and develop their child’s lagging skills. He can be reached at [email protected]