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Dear Emuna: Rescuing My Daughter

December 20, 2012 | by Emuna Braverman

Should I help pay her out of a bind or let her suffer the consequences?

Dear Emuna,

My daughter recently received a traffic ticket for a very large amount of money. She works very hard after school babysitting and tutoring to earn her spending money and now most of it will be eaten up paying the fine. I’m feeling torn between the desire to help her out a little and relieve the financial burden and the idea that she will only learn her lesson if she has to bear the consequences. What do you think I should do?


Dear Conflicted,

Your situation reflects a constant parenting challenge – when to rescue our children from the consequences of their actions and when to shield them. There are no hard fixed rules but I think that, in general, our instinct is to rescue and we need to stop ourselves from that reaction. We need to let them experience the consequences of their actions so they will grow as human beings and acquire the skill set they need to become healthy, functional adults.

If you pay for the ticket, I think it is misplaced compassion, particularly in this area where the consequences of driving negligently could, God forbid, be disastrous. A fine that will cause your daughter to think before driving too fast/gliding through a stop sign/running a red light may be the best (and ultimately cheapest) lesson she could receive.

There may be other situations – a new pair of expensive suede shoes ruined in the rain, for example (now why did that come so immediately to mind?!) – where the potential consequences of irresponsible behavior are less dire and you may be wiling to split the damages – but not necessarily because a lesson in carelessness with respect to our possessions is also important.

It comes down to a judgment call but in general I believe that if we can tough it out (true confessions: I talk a big show but I find it difficult to tough it out – although I think I should!) and let our children experience the consequences on their own, they will emerge stronger, more capable – and more careful – people as a result.

Cousin with Downs Acting Up

Dear Emuna,

It has taken me a while to make the decision to write you, because I feel ashamed for feeling this way. I grew up very close to my cousin. She has Down syndrome. We had a good relationship since we were little. We are like sisters. The problem I’m having is over the last few years I find her to be annoying and disrespectful. She is spoiled and selfish. She treats my father bad, insults him and laughs at him. She is very jealous and an extreme liar. I can’t stand her. She got me involved once in one of her lies and I got in a lot of trouble. She abused my gullibility. She also has a very dirty mind and mouth. I feel I don’t know her anymore… I just don’t want to talk to her. I know my cousin. I know her limitations due to her disability, which is not severe, but she knows between right and wrong. She knows when she hurts others. She has severed relationships with some of our cousins, my father and my sister. I feel so bad feeling this way. I don’t want to talk it over with any of my family members because she has put some of them through a lot and I know it will lead to lashon hara. I need a constructive opinion. How can I get rid of these feelings? I’ve tried to work on them, and I’m fine for a moment, but then she starts texting me and I get these disgusting feelings back. Please help.

So Ashamed

Dear (No Need to Be) So Ashamed,

I am completely unqualified to answer your question and I recommend you consult with those who have greater expertise in this area.

Certainly every human being, Down Syndrome or not, is different, with unique challenges. That makes it impossible to apply pat solutions. You claim to know your cousin’s limitations but perhaps you don’t have a full understanding of them. Have you discussed it with her doctor, or better yet, with her parents? They, no doubt, want what’s best for her and they need to know if she has, wittingly or unwittingly, crossed an unacceptable boundary.

If you are like sisters, then surely her parents know that you have her best interests at heart and only want to make things right. You and her parents are natural allies in the effort to help your cousin.

If, despite your best efforts, nothing changes then you certainly have a responsibility to treat your cousin with kindness and compassion. On the other hand, I imagine that you do not need to expose yourself to her cruelty or vulgarity and you may be forced to draw a line and limit contact until the behavior changes – as you would in any relationship.

It sounds like you are really struggling with this issue so need to feel ashamed. You are trying your best – and that’s all the Almighty asks of any of us.

My Lying Daughter-in-Law

Dear Emuna,

I have a very painful situation. My daughter-in-law, who is from Brazil, constantly lies about me and has someone she contacts who spreads these lies all around to ruin my reputation. It has been going on for quite some time. The worse part about this is I have young grandchildren who eventually are going to be lied to also. When I try to tell all of this to my son, he doesn't believe me and then won't speak to me. She also has said very derogatory things about him. I really don't know what to do. Thanks for listening to me.

Hurt MIL

Dear Hurt MIL,

I wish I had a dollar for every letter I get about mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law – and I don’t even answer every single one of them! Like many letters I receive, the information is sparse. Did you ever have a good relationship? Did you initially try to have a good relationship? Is there any understandable reason why she is spreading these lies? Is there a common theme to these lies? It’s hard to give any meaningful advice without a deeper knowledge of the situation.

It really could be that there’s nothing you can do. You may just have to keep praying and hoping that one day she will change her ways. Or, it could be that there were mistakes you have made in the relationship and that if you make a sincere effort to correct those, she will respond in kind.

Whatever the facts, I recommend that, as hard as it is, you try to be loving and giving. Be thoughtful and considerate. Maybe you will wear her down with your kindness. Maybe not. But at least you will be proud of your behavior and know that you left no stone unturned in trying to repair the relationship.

I hear these variations of these themes all the time. You are certainly not alone in your negative experience. Please God, life is long and the journey isn’t over. Keep praying and keep giving – that’s really advice for everyone’s life – and never give up hope that one day it may all turn around.

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