Dear Dr T,
Last Purim, I felt really bad for my fourteen year old daughter, and I would like to help her this year. Somehow, she got very caught up with the mishloach manos. She was frantic about making the right thing for her friends – an original theme, fancy stuff – you get the picture. Then, she was disappointed and out-of-joint all day because she felt that she didn’t get as many baskets as her friends or siblings.
It didn’t seem to me that that she got fewer baskets, yet she saw the situation as a mark of her social standing. How can I help her relax and feel better about herself this year?
What you are describing is not all that unusual for a young teen, and I will go on the assumption that your daughter is not suffering from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or social issues.
Teens are often self-conscious and unsure of themselves, and this may manifest itself in the desire to please and a negative view of the events in their lives. It is to your credit that you are willing to go with your daughter’s perceptions rather than your own. So much of life is about our attitude and perception, and each of us has a radically different view. It doesn’t really matter if your spouse feels that sailing is the greatest sport – if you hate it, it feels awful to you. This does not mean that our perceptions are right – or even that we should act on them – but we do need to respect them and accept them as real.
So, you don’t see the big deal with mishloach manos – but she does. You very wisely refrain from discounting or minimizing what in the scheme of things is a small blip, and you want to help her deal with this situation and her feelings about it.
Let’s break this up into two parts.
The first part is the pressure she feels to prepare the perfect offering. Though many parents’ experience predates the theme misloach manos, and they may have trouble relating to it, the truth is that elaborate, theme-driven baskets are the order of the day in some communities. It seems like your daughter has caught the bug. Decide not to “sweat the small stuff” and just go with it and show your daughter that you are on her side. Can you empower her to create her own baskets? Can she call some friends, relatives, or neighbors and get some ideas? Are you comfortable with giving her a bit more money to buy what’s needed? Or, alternatively, can you suggest that she use some of her own money as well?
The point here is to teach your daughter that she is not helpless, but rather has the ability to comply with society’s standards, or at least her perception of them. This is a fix for her short-term issue and a lesson for the future – to actively address an issue when possible.
Of course, the more difficult piece is the second one, because you have no control over how many baskets she does or does not get. You cannot possibly see the dynamics as she does – you are not her – nor in this short time frame is she likely to alter her perceptions.
So what do we do when we cannot change the reality? Sometimes life is tough, and hopefully out of the challenge we grow stronger. In the here and now, it’s hard to see that. But, here are some ideas that may prove useful.
- Tamp down the mishloach manos hype in your family. Talk less before, during, and after Purim. Avoid comparisons, excessive comments, or any comments at all. If it’s not such a big deal in your family, it becomes less of a big deal.
- Distract your daughter if possible. What can she do that day that would be fun for her – deliver baskets, check out neighborhood costumes, prepare something she would enjoy making for the seudah? The less focus directly on her mishloach manos, the less pain.
- You know this one already, but I will throw it in just to be sure: Avoid bringing up the topic, because public humiliation is so much worse than private. If your daughter does not bring it up, you can avoid it as well.
- Of course, if you daughter wants to talk about her distress, be open to listening without judgment, criticism, comment, or advice. You want to show your empathy and caring.
- But, it is so important here that you monitor your own feelings. Yes, this situation is distressing and it is hard to see your child in pain. However, much as we would like to empathize, we want to be careful not to actually feel that pain. When we are consumed with our child’s pain, we convey our feelings to our child. We model that the pain is terrible, awful – rather than that it is unpleasant and unfortunate. This reinforces your child’s view that the pain is crushing – Look, even Mommy is beside herself! – rather than the healthier attitude that while this may be hard, it will pass and hopefully get better.
Though it is always hard to watch our children struggle, our mature realization that struggles are part of life and that with HKBH’s help we will learn to overcome them is a great gift to bestow upon our children.
The Book Nook: What Great Parents Do by Erica Reischer, Ph.D. contains 75 simple strategies for parenting children who thrive. The title speaks for itself.
Sara Teichman, Psy D. is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles and Clinical Director of ETTA, L.A.’s largest Jewish agency for adults with special needs. To submit a question or comment, email DrT@jewishhomela.com.