February 22, 2001
Advice on life and relationships.
Irked By Homework
My 9-year-old son comes home from school each day and rants about how much he hates school. Often he cries and it has become a 30 minute or so ritual. I try to soothe him and ask what's wrong, but usually it is irrational -- teachers aren't fair, too much homework, not enough playtime. The usual childhood complaints.
After a while he settles down, has a snack and I let him watch one TV show before he starts homework. Usually it's not so bad and he does finish. I try to point out to him that his ideas about "too much homework" might not be accurate because he does manage to finish most days. He seems to get it, but then the whole ritual begins again the next day. I wonder if this negative daily routine is harmful.
By the way, he does well in his academically rigorous Jewish day school and there has never been a complaint from teachers about his behavior or attitude in school. Am I doing something wrong that might somehow cause this daily freak out? Do you have any suggestions?
Dear Flustered Mom,
Has it ever occurred to you that it is more about what you are doing right than wrong that enables your son to discharge his unhappiness via those tremendous daily kvetchathons? He is able to contain his feelings at school because at home he feels safe and free enough in your presence to fully express his frustration. You are providing him some release and soothing, and ultimately helping him by containing all that angst so that out there in the world he can be cool. Bravo.
Now let's consider the existential component of the school issue. Right now he is able to do the work. What if his unhappiness does not abate in the years to come? How many hours of homework does he have? How much is too much? Does he have time to balance play, sports, socializing and the kind of plain old down time that results in all sorts of creativity with all that work?
Parents must attune to the needs of their own children and carefully consider if and when it is time to take action -- from attempting to work with teachers at tailoring the amount of homework to finding a school whose philosophy regarding work vs. play is more aligned with their own.
In the meantime you get an "A" for parenting effort. Here's to the kind of patience, wisdom and moxie the job requires.
Prodigious Religious Impasse
My daughter's husband has become increasingly observant in the four years since they married. When they met, they agreed to observe many of the lovely traditions with which both of them were raised.
Then after their daughter was born two years ago, my son-in-law insisted upon a kosher home and started attending Orthodox shul, observing Shabbos, etc. At first our daughter didn't mind. Kosher was how she was raised and she was comfortable with it. Mostly it was important to her that she and her husband could continue to eat in restaurants and at the homes of family and friends who are not kosher.
As time passed our daughter felt she was being forced into a life she hadn't chosen and she began to complain to us. He forbade her from taking their baby girl in the car on Shabbos, no more non-kosher friends' homes or restaurants, etc. Suddenly our family who is Conservative became off limits on Shabbos and our own kashrus was not good enough.
My husband tried to speak to our son-in-law, but he has changed from the gentle man our daughter married into a mean-spirited, rigid dictator. He says we are not practicing Judaism correctly, and who are we to interfere with "the right way"?
My husband and I fear our daughter is sinking deeper and deeper into hopelessness and despair. We know her and see the signs. How may we help before it is too late?
Desperate For Solution
If you truly want to help your daughter, your must first stop intervening on her behalf, thus nudging her to step up to the plate and grow up in her own marriage. Explain to her once only that the rules of any marriage may not be dictated by one spouse alone unless the other is willing to comply.
Let her know that if she does not stand up for herself now this stalemate will lead to checkmate. And if either she or her husband loses, it is ultimately the marriage -- and family -- that lose.
Whether she consults a counselor, rabbi or other adviser, consult she must. Then back off and let nature (your daughter's that is) take its course.
Easing the Teasing
I'm uncomfortable when a couple tease each other. I'm told that it's a show of affection. I feel that it's veiled hostility. There are so many sweet ways to show affection. I'm often told I have a great sense of humor; however I don't think it's amusing to hear put-downs. Thanks for commenting.
Can Take A Joke
While teasing may sometimes be playful, affectionate or funny, you are on the money. There usually is some measure of hostility lurking around an invisible line that may trip you up when crossed.
Perhaps some couples are comfortable with teasing and it in fact is part of how they choose to communicate. Your discomfort is real enough though, and if you are close to these people you might comment that their teasing makes you uncomfortable.
If you cannot broach the subject or if your appeal topples with a resounding thud, bear in mind that while you may choose to not abide teasing in your own relationships, there is little to be done about others who do but ignore it. If the teasing is that upsetting, ditch the yahoos and find friendlier friends.
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