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Dear Emuna: Into His Cave

April 4, 2013 | by Emuna Braverman

Help! My husband retreats whenever I express my frustration.

Dear Emuna,

I don’t get frustrated with my husband that often but whenever I do, he just retreats to his office without responding. Even if he doesn’t leave the room, he stays silent. This makes me nuts and I start to yell – but he still doesn’t say anything. I know that screaming isn’t right but when he doesn’t respond I feel like I’m going out of my mind. What should I do?

Going Crazy

Dear Going Crazy,

What you are describing is a typical male-female pattern. When women raise their voices or seem to be going on the attack, it is not uncommon for men to retreat inside their metaphorical caves. And it can be maddening. And of course the whole pattern is completely unproductive as well as frustrating. There is no point in trying to determine who started the cycle. Your goal is to find a way to communicate that will be more satisfying to both of you.

I would recommend two strategies. One is to lower your voice – and keep it that way. When someone yells at me, I also retreat. Yelling suggests (even if it’s not true) that the speaker is beyond rational argument so there is no point in responding. That may be how your husband feels (again, forget about who started it!).

One of my favorite parenting books is “Effective Jewish Parenting” by Miriam Levi. The key point of the book is to always keep your voice soft and calm. This book had a profound impact on me. I’m not saying I always follow her dictum but I certainly try.

The second is not to blame. Whatever the issue, approach your husband in a spirit of conciliation. You want to work together. Start with the positive (this works for everyone!). “I love you and I know you’re so tired at the end of the day. After you’ve had dinner and a cup of tea, would you mind helping me move those books in the study from the floor to the shelves?” or “We’ve both had frustrating days. Let’s have a quiet glass of wine and then perhaps we can discuss our schedule for the rest of the week.” You get the picture…If your husband doesn’t feel attacked, he won’t retreat. If he doesn’t retreat, you won’t yell (although you are going to try not to anyway!). And hopefully a more productive pattern will emerge.

Private or Public School?

Dear Emuna,

All my friends are sending their children to fancy private schools from 6th grade on. These schools have good teachers but there is a lot of pressure to succeed and they are very competitive. Many of the kids come from very affluent families and I know that some of their values are not synonymous with ours. I’m really torn over where to send our son. I want what’s best for him but I’m certainly affected by everyone around me and would almost be embarrassed if he went to a public school or even to the less prestigious private one. What should I do?

Tormented parent

Dear Tormented Parent (aren’t we all?),

Peer pressure is so powerful – and we are never immune, whatever our age and accomplishments. We all want to be accepted. We all want to be admired. We all want to fit in. It’s very hard to be the “individual” in a group. So I understand your dilemma. It isn’t an easy choice and I don’t want to diminish the power of your peers and your social world.

On the other hand, you have one job here – to do what’s best for your son. Is there somewhere else where he would thrive? Will the competition destroy him or motivate him? Is he calm under pressure or anxiety-ridden? Are his college and career goals his own or yours? And will this school give him the preparation he needs for the future? Is there another school with values more like the ones in your home? How will it prepare him for the future? Will it require that something important be sacrificed or just prestige?

I have a friend who just recently made the choice to opt out of the expected path for her daughter because she didn’t think it was best for her. The only problem is that every time she mentions her daughter’s plans, she feels she has to add an explanation about why she is making the unconventional choice. Choose the best school for your son and stop explaining. Be proud of him and yourself. The lesson you teach him in your ability to break free from the pressure and think of his unique needs is invaluable to him and will stick with him throughout his whole life, particularly those peer pressure-dominated teenage years.

“You’re Only as Happy as
Your Least Happy Child”

Dear Emuna,

I have a house full of children, ranging in age from 10 to 21. You know the expression “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.” Well it’s certainly true around here. No sooner do I seem to resolve a painful or complicated or challenging situation for one child, then another child pops up with an issue. I feel like I am constantly on an emotional roller coaster and even if there is a brief moment of peace, I can never enjoy it because I’m always afraid of what may crop up next. This isn’t how I imagined my life or my parenting would be. Can you offer me any advice?

Unhappy Mom

Dear Unhappy Mom,

As I’m sure you recognize, an unhappy mom isn’t good for anyone. Like it or not, whatever pressures you are under, your job is to be strong and happy for your family. I know it’s not easy. I know that sometimes you just want to let go and “lose it” but you need to exercise self-control. Your family is counting on you.

In terms of that expression, while I totally identify with it and with your predicament, I think that philosophy expressed there is a mistake. I think that tying our own happiness to that of our children’s is a form of enslavement. Passover was an opportunity to think about the many ways in which we are psychologically enslaved, to ponder all the obstacles to a full and nourishing relationship with the Almighty. This is one of the biggest road blocks of all. We need to break free – or we will lead a life of torment because there will always be a child, grandchild or child-in-law to worry about. We need to try to focus on the good in our lives and, while we can be empathic and helpful to our children, not let it drag us down. That’s the theory. And yes, it’s certainly (much) easier said than done. If you are successful at this, please let us know. We could all use the inspiration!

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