Q I am a mother of three children ages three, seven, and 10. Every Shabbos I get into a battle with my 10-year-old about helping to clean the table after the meals. I know this is something she really dislikes, but I feel it is my responsibility as a mother to teach her good middos. This is also having an impact on my seven-year-old who complains that it’s not fair that he has to help if she won’t. My husband feels that I shouldn’t insist on their help and we should “pick our battles.” I am not sure what the correct approach is and would appreciate your input.
A Thank you for the question, which I am sure many families find relatable. I remember growing up and arguing with my older brother each week about whose turn it was to clean the table, as we rotated that responsibility weekly. I also remember my parents’ frustration as this scene would unfold time and time again. As a result, I have explained to my wife that cleaning the table (or anything else) traumatizes me and she needs to respect that ?.
All kidding aside, I admire your desire to instill good values in your children while being open to hearing other approaches that may differ from yours. I would first be curious to explore the root source of her resistance. Is she normally willing to pitch in when asked, or is this more of a pattern where she refuses to help? What we are trying to figure out is if this is a problem in and of itself or if it’s indicative of an underlying issue. One of a therapist’s primary jobs when meeting a client is to understand why the person is struggling with a particular issue. There are two ways to ask the question of “Why are you doing this?” One is more of an accusation, implying that their behavior makes no sense and is wrong. The second way to ask stems from the desire to understand what motivates the behavior. Until we understand that, it is much more difficult to effect any change.
With our children (and spouses) we would benefit from the same approach. If we can understand what’s behind her resistance, it will indicate to us what intervention might work best. People at times are afraid to look for what’s behind a behavior with the fear that it will somehow justify what is being done and make it ok. Of course, this is not at all true. If we were to look at someone who committed murder and see that they experienced a traumatic childhood with many stressors, it might lend perspective to how they reached that behavior eventhough it by no means justifies the act. Our goal is not to exonerate the behavior as much as it is to understand it.
Another point I would like to address is a common pitfall that affects many of us. It can be summarized as missing the forest for the trees. I commonly encounter couples in treatment situations that become arguing points where neither is willing to budge, convinced that their view is “better” or more correct. As a result, there can be arguing, fighting, and yelling in front of the children over who is right. While you may end up getting your way on one particular issue, the result of the argument might be that your children witness disrespect and anger between parents, imbibing the message that disagreements are terrible and result in fights.
Multiple lessons get sacrificed to preserve the one you are stuck on. So while I am not directly answering your question of whether you or your husband is “right,” hopefully you can answer a larger question that removes the need to address it at all.
Enjoy the rest of your summer!