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Dear Emuna: Chutzpah!

April 4, 2012 | by Emuna Braverman

I can’t believe how my friend is raising her teenage son.

Dear Emuna,

I was out with some friends and their teenage son the other night. My friend (the boy’s mother) made a request of her son and he answered her in such a rude and chutzpahdik fashion. I was appalled. But what shocked me even more was that my friend didn’t respond. She didn’t tell him how inappropriate and out of line his behavior was. I don’t know who I’m more disappointed in – him or her. What should I do? Should I confront her? Or go with her to a parenting class?

-- Disillusioned

Dear Disillusioned,

I felt the same way as you – until I had my own teenagers. Only then was I able to appreciate this mother’s wisdom and self-control. She understood her son far better than you possibly could. She knew it was tough time in his life, a time of confusion and pain. She recognized that his behavior wasn’t personal; he was just emotional and frustrated and lashing out at the closest target. She knew that he was torn between the need to grow up and the desire to remain a child, between the quest for independence and the security of home. And she remembered what a hard and frustrating stage of life that was. She was wise enough not to get into a power struggle with her son - or any other kind of struggle for that matter. And to avoid embarrassing him to public. She should be commended, not condemned. You shouldn’t take her to a parenting class. You should ask her to give you one!

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

My husband is quite literally never home. He travels frequently for business and works long hours when he is home. Whenever I try to discuss it with him, he claims he is doing it to provide for me and the kids. But I’m always saying that I would prefer less money and more time. I feel like I’m living a cliché – and not a very pleasant one. What should I do?

-- Lonely

Dear Lonely,

Although your story is simple, there are so many possibilities below the surface that I’m afraid to wade in. Let’s just address a few of them.

Perhaps your husband’s self-esteem (like that of many men) is dependent on financial success. Unfortunately, if that is the case, nothing will ever be enough. There will always be more to accomplish and acquire. A supportive wife can certainly validate other choices and praise other qualities. But deeply ingrained habits and beliefs are hard to change. I would recommend some individual therapy.

I hate to raise this issue but it is possible that there is something uncomfortable in your marriage or family life that he is avoiding. If that is a real possibility, you should explore discussing the situation with a professional.

It’s also possible that he is choosing work because it’s simpler, with clear-cut rewards and relationships. Life at home is messier – with bills, teenagers (like the one in the previous question!) and leaky faucets. Work can be a soothing and rewarding escape.

Ultimately the two of you have to have a serious conversation about this. A marriage is a relationship in which both parties need to participate. It is not healthy for you, him, or the kids to continue down this path.

You need to act now – just make sure that all your suggestions are voiced with love and concern as opposed frustration and anger. Your goal is to be effective, not to vent.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

My children are grown now and living out of the house. Some are married with children, some are married without children and some are single. But they all have one thing in common. Whenever they come home (like for Passover or some other family occasion) they fight for my attention as if they are two year-olds. They even complain if they believe (incorrectly) that I am favoring one grandchild over another. It’s really starting to wear on me and I’m dreading their next trip. Do you have any tips for me?

Still Frazzled after All These Years

Dear Still Frazzled,

Maybe you’ve heard this joke: “What’s the definition of nachas? When your children and grandchildren come to visit. What’s the definition of pleasure? When they leave.”

The most important piece of advice I can give you is that your experience is completely normal. It is the same story I heard from all of my friends in your situation. It is the universal condition.

Children (no matter how old) want their parents’ attention. Badly. And they are resentful of anyone who takes it away from them. We are fooling ourselves if we think they have changed because they have gotten older.

We can only do our best – being loving and kind to everyone – and, as with the teenager in letter one, remember not to take it too personally.

Focus on enjoying having your children around and try to block out the unpleasantness just as you did when they were younger. When they leave you will be sorry if you were unable to enjoy their trip.

-- Emuna

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