Sunday, June 12, 2016

Fledgling Help

Among the values that we absorb from our parents and surroundings, one of the most subtle involves preconceptions of how to raise children. I say preconceptions because most people revise these norms in some way once they themselves become parents. The effect of these assumptions is most obvious in people that immigrated to other countries, i.e. their values are in contrast with those around them.

Israel is filled with people that complain that were raised to be too polite or too open, too loud or too quiet, too punctual or too lax, to name just a few. In other words, their parents’ values made it hard for them to function in the general society. Israel is not unique in that way.

That being said, parents and children sometimes only discover the source of this dissonance on a certain matter very late. One issue of parental assumption is the transition to adulthood. Children reach an age, generally after 18, when they leave the house and go study or work. In other words, even if they are still not financially independent, they are on their own otherwise. Parents choose a variety of attitudes to their released offspring, from remote control of every detail to feigned indifference to their fate and everything in between.
In Israel, most 18 year olds go off to the army and come home on weekends. Parents tend to be deeply involved in their children’s lives, with mother’s doing masses of laundry and cooking every Friday and Saturday, fathers taking their kids to train stations and regular phone communication.  More recently, parents even lobby with the army for better conditions for their children. Interestingly enough, the young soldiers fully accept their parents’ involvement despite that the fact that they are technically adults.

I bring this up as I recently had a tense conversation with my daughter, who left the house and started working at the age of 18 at her insistence. In the year that followed, while I made sure that she had a roof over her head and food in her fridge, I patently refused to be her emergency chauffeur or agent, limiting myself to advice if she asked for it but insisting that she had to do everything herself.   She expressed resentment at my lack of parental support from the perspective of what other Israeli parents were doing for their children. Upon later thought, I understood that I had applied my upbringing and personal values, the typical American insistence to be “adult” and stand one’s own feet, albeit shaky ones. I later explained my way of thinking to her, which she accepted. Still, it brought to light how my cultural value had influenced my reaction to her requests for “routine” help.

I do not regret my throwing her in to the deep water as it has made her stronger and more responsible. Yet, I recognize that the chosen way to cut the umbilical cord reflects both general cultural and personal individual values.  In summary, on the subject of fledglings, listen to this song by Arik Einstein, He says it all in my view. 

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