Parent-Child Dynamics Shift Before Bar/Bat Mitzvah
A family educator offers words of advice to the family.
Parenting Enters a New Phase
As children enter adolescence, parents enter a new phase of parenting. Parents realize that their child is no longer a baby. They remember their own adolescence, the positive and less-than-positive decisions and experiences of that time. The pain and isolation of adolescence is remembered, along with a strong wish to protect their child from similar experiences. There can be an enormous range of emotion as parents realize that a large proportion of their life has already happened. Suddenly their role is that of the parent of the bar/bat mitzvah, a role that when they were young belonged to someone who didn't look or act like they do now. At a time when adolescents believe they are all-powerful and can accomplish anything, parents are confronted with their own limitations and the weight of mortgages, college funds, and bar/bat mitzvahs to pay for.
As children grow, frequently becoming physically larger than their parents, the decision-making process in families needs to change. Both adolescents and parents need power and control. If the adolescent years are not to be a complete battle, families must renegotiate how decisions are made and enforced. Teenagers still strongly need limits--reasonable limits based on their increasing ability to make decisions about themselves. The bar/bat mitzvah process is full of so many decisions that if families have not worked out a decision-making model and are uncomfortable talking and listening to one another, the battles will be endless.
Parents must learn to gently let go. The old refrain from the preschool years of "pick your battles" must be remembered. Parents and children must work to figure out what is important and how each can get their essential needs met without trampling on the other. Parents must understand that as they are organizing a major family reunion, teenagers may be in the throes of wishing to separate from their families. As the teen grows more distant, parents often realize that this child will not be a child forever, that time is passing more quickly than they desire, and that there is no slowing it down.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah Is a Family Rite of Passage
Whose bar/bat mitzvah is it anyway? What an intriguing question. My belief is that a bar/bat mitzvah is a family rite of passage, not only an individual rite. Without encouragement and support from those around us, it is extremely difficult to move to a new stage of development. The bar/bat mitzvah is an event that marks milestones for children, parents, and grandparents. During a bar/bat mitzvah, especially of an oldest child in the family, everyone "moves up" a rung on the ladder of life. For most people, that brings accompanying simultaneous positive and negative feeling. Bar/bat mitzvah parents are in the "squeeze" generation and may feel pulled in various directions. The children have images of the day, the grandparents have ideas, and the parents themselves may have dreams. Their own parents, the grandparents, if they are still alive, are getting older and may not be able to do all that they once could.
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