misbehaving child

Would I accept my child if he didn’t make choices I approved of?

I haven’t had a working computer all summer so my online access has been spotty.  I’ve missed sharing with you about so many things – our fifth aliyah anniversary (I couldn’t be happier to have moved to Israel and specifically RBS), summer activities, homeschooling plans for the year (we’ll have two high schoolers home this year in addition to the younger four boys) and lots of thoughts on different parenting issues!   But thanks to a lovely blog reader who brought back the new laptop I bought from the US, I’m now back with you!

>>Hi, I’m wondering how you would react if any of your children decided they didn’t want to be charedi anymore? What if one of your daughters decided to be Modern Orthodox- still keep shabbat, kashrut and taharat Mishpacha, but wear short sleeves, pants, not cover her hair after marriage, etc. Would you be able to accept that? What if one of your kids decided he/she was an atheist and left religion altogether? Would they still be accepted as part of your family?<<

I was sitting with dd20 at breakfast and told her about this question.  She looked a little surprised and said – obviously our children would be accepted in our family regardless of their choices!

As a parent, I try very hard to nurture each child for who they are and to let them know that my love and appreciation for them isn’t based on them performing in a given way.  I believe that every child deserves to be loved unconditionally – this is a foundational belief of mine about parenting and is a significant underlying theme in how I parent and what I teach others.

When we expect our children to make the choices that validate our value as parents, it places a heavy and unfair burden on them.  My child wasn’t put in this world to make me feel good about myself.  It’s my job to feel good about myself.

I don’t give rewards or incentives to get my children to do what I want, not when they are young and certainly not as they get older!  My primary tools of influence are the relationship I have with them and the values that I model.  If there’s something that is important to me, I need to model that through my own actions.

My choices are right for me – while my spiritual and religious beliefs and practices are of great meaning to me, each child will need to make his own decisions in order to have a meaningful life.  I  hope my children will experience as much meaning and satisfaction from their lives as I have from mine – I hope they have even more, actually!

But I don’t think they need to do exactly what I’ve done in order to have a meaningful life.  They don’t.  To have a meaningful life, they do need to know themselves and what matters to them, to think for themselves, and then to take actions in line with what is important for them.  I’ve told my children this explicitly.

It’s a mistake for a parent to think he can control the choices his child makes.  While I do provide lots of active guidance, I don’t try to control what my children think or what choices they make.  I only have control over my own choices and actions.  There are choices that would be harder for me to accept than others and if my ego got in the way, I’d need to do some work on myself to be sure I wasn’t reflecting my own fears and insecurities instead of providing loving guidance to my child.

I hope that my children will always feel they are loved and accepted by me for who they are, whatever life choices they make.  Isn’t that what being part of a family should be about?


7 thoughts on “Would I accept my child if he didn’t make choices I approved of?

  1. Very powerful words: “When we expect our children to make the choices that validate our value as parents, it places a heavy and unfair burden on them. My child wasn’t put in this world to make me feel good about myself. It’s my job to feel good about myself.”

    As someone raised by parents who really needed us children to validate their value as parents, I can attest to how difficult a burden that is. And it wasn’t even around religion, per se. And often it was (and sometimes still is) such a guessing game “will this for some odd reason make them feel insecure as parents?” that resulted in a lot of stress.

    I have done many things wrong with my own children, too many to count, and I’m nowhere near as consistent and supportive as you and your husband, Avivah, but my children have NO compulsion to validate my value. In fact, sometimes I find it annoyng! But then I remember how healthy this is and how this was my goal as a parent and I rejoice. What remains for me now, besides trying to be emotionally present for my children, is to continue that sometimes hard work of learning what it takes for me to feel good about myself. Regardless of what people think of that…

    1. Judy, you always have such well thought-out comments!

      How wonderful that you’ve been able to change your history and do something different with your own children than how you were raised! That’s quite a feat. Now, drop that self-flagellating tone of saying you’re not as consistent or as supportive as anyone else! :) You are just wonderful as you are right now!

      You’re right, it is sometimes hard to learn to feel good about ourselves and make choices accordingly. So many of us have learned to look to the responses of others to give us a sense of our value – it’s a journey to learn to look to ourselves for our value. It’s worth it, though – it’s so freeing to let go of the fears and insecurities of worrying about everyone else. I’m not there yet but I’ve made a lot of progress in this area.

      It’s been quite wonderful to learn to more fully love myself as I am, and the journey continues!

  2. Avivah,

    This is such a wonderful post. I am forwarding this to people I know who will benefit from such sage advice. are, if parents can follow this path, their own children will be likely to want to come home to visit and want to maintain a relationship. We all want to be loved unconditionally. I believe it is a parent’s job. However, it is easier said than done, as the saying goes. It is easy to say this hypothetically–until we are actually tested. So, yes, this is a good goal to work toward but our emotions and egos may get the best of us.

    1. Hi, Evelyn! As with many things in parenting (and life!), it’s easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. Parenting is so much about dealing with our own emotions so we don’t reflect our negativity or fear on to our children and interact with them in a reactive way. I’m not speaking from the ivory tower; once you’re parenting for long enough there are plenty of opportunities to practice this (as you well know)!

  3. I was raised in an extremely judgmental, critical environment, and love was always condition on behavior and toeing the party line. It took me YEARS of therapy to recover, and even more years before I could forgive my parents.

    I have promised my daughter that I will love her even if she “becomes a tattooed lesbian stripper in a biker bar.” Even if she robbed a bank, I would love her. I would not approve or condone her choices, but my love will always be the same, no matter what.

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