Reading the Fine Print of Parental Authority

By Wendy Belzberg

Published June 27, 2003, issue of June 27, 2003.
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The sleep-away camp where we send our sons offers optional Friday-night Sabbath services. The camp director has asked me to let him know in advance if I would like my sons to attend. If I say yes, he will remove the word “optional” from my children’s schedule. I am torn about whether I should “force” them to go or allow them to choose their own camp activities.

Oneg or not

It would be nice if your sons chose to attend Sabbath services voluntarily. Give them a chance to do so. If they don’t, there is nothing wrong with exerting your influence from afar if you would like your sons to celebrate the Sabbath. An infusion of Judaism is as important — if not more so — as canoeing and campfires. If you do not celebrate the Sabbath as a family at home, however, your children may resent being told by you that they must celebrate at camp. You are responsible for plenty of difficult parenting decisions. This is a perfect opportunity to let the camp director take the fall.

* * *

I made special plans for my son’s 10th birthday: dinner and theater for the whole family and two of his best friends. My son says he is not going. He is old enough to understand that his behavior is rude and ungrateful. I have invited his friends and purchased the tickets. Do I force him to go?

— Good birthday intentions

Since the tickets have already been purchased, how about working out a smart compromise? Your son goes to the theater — either with the friends he would like to invite or the friends you would like to invite. Put him in charge of planning the rest of his celebration — on another day. With that crisis behind you, remember that your son is on the brink of adolescence and is trying to tell you something. He can start planning next year’s party right now to avoid future collisions. Speaking of which, it only gets worse from here on in. Rest assured, the hormones will soon take over. Pace yourself. You are behaving like a sprinter when every seasoned parent knows he or she is running a marathon.

* * *

I am 21 years old and just graduated from college. I took a job in my hometown and am living with my parents until I find the right apartment and have saved some money. I have been living 3,000 miles away for the past four years, responsible for my own well being and safety and keeping my own hours. Now my parents grill me about where I’m going every time I leave the house and want me to tell them approximately what time I will be home. They are treating me like a child rather than recognizing that I am an adult.

Returnee redux

There is a reason certain sayings become clichés. “If you’re going to live in my house you’ll live by my rules” comes immediately to mind. Your renewed lease is probably no easier on your parents than it is on you. Some parents lock the doors and change the keys after each child goes off to college to dissuade any birds from getting back into their nest.

No one forced you to move back in with your parents — and no one is keeping you there against your will. The three of you are adults and with a little effort — and some conversation — should be able to work out a compromise that all of you can live with. It is, however, your obligation to meet your parents a little more than halfway. You may be fully grown, but you will always be your parents’ baby, and it is asking them to go against human nature not to worry about you. (Which brings to mind another cliché: Just wait until you have children of your own.) If you can’t bear to face that, it’s time to start reading the classifieds.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at

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