Several years ago, when my husband was abroad, I twisted my ankle and fainted on a Manhattan street. When I opened my eyes, two strangers were standing over me asking if I was okay and offering to call an ambulance. They helped me stand up against the side of a building and I told them that I would call my daughter and thanked them profusely.
My daughter dropped everything, including her young twins with a neighbor, and came running. She got me to her house and called my doctor. A few minutes later when my son-in-law arrived home, he bandaged my ankle. By then, my daughter had arranged with her sister to sleep over with me at my house and with her brother to take me to the orthopedist the next morning. She got a cab, took me home, helped me undress for bed and did not leave until her sister arrived. (My younger son was away at college.)
When my husband was hospitalized this year, our children were all eager to do whatever they could to help. I generally do very well on my own, and usually prefer to, so I told them that I appreciated their care and concern but they had to trust that when I needed help, I would ask for it. And I did. As I requested, my son stayed with me during the main part of the surgery, and his siblings came towards the end. My daughter went to buy the PJs my husband needed. My other son bought food and ran to get medical reports from the internist for the attending doctors. My kids have jobs and children; one even had a brand new baby (and I mean brand new–only a week old.) But they were there, at the ready.
When the crisis was over, I told my husband that I was very proud that all four of our kids had their shit together.
I was thinking of this the other day when a woman much older than I am, with children my age, bemoaned her friend’s inability to rely on her son. The friend was old and sick, had to be careful that her money would not run out before she died, and her son was AWOL as far as her care went. I asked the woman why her friend didn’t just tell her son what she needed if he was too dense to see for himself. She said, “He’s a luftmensch (Yiddish, person who is impractical to the point of incompetence).” I replied that his mother had made him into a luftmensch by not having any expectations from him (I knew the backstory.) She created her own monster and was now suffering the consequences.
When we raise our children, we, of course, do all sorts of things for them. That’s part of our job. But we also need to have expectations of them. They need to clean up their toys, then their whole rooms and make the bed. When they get money for Hanukkah or a birthday, they should give tzedakah. They should be expected to perform up to their potential in school. They should be taught to go over and greet their elders at social functions, to make sure to say mazel tov to the parents at a friend’s bar mitzvah or wedding, even if they’ve never met. They should acknowledge a gift promptly in writing. If they use the car, give door-to-door service to whomever they drive. Make sure to leave gas in the car. Offer to pick up what others in the home might need if they are out shopping.
I remember one of my young children once remarked that she didn’t get money for chores the way her friend did. I told her that when I get paid for everything I did in the house, she would see a salary bump. However, that was unlikely given that no one in the family had enough money to pay me what I was worth. Another one of my kids pointed out that a friend got money for good grades in school. I told him that you shouldn’t expect money for what you should be doing anyway. My replies must have been accompanied with such fierce glares that the subjects never came up again.
If we don’t have expectations of our children, if we don’t teach them to be responsible and giving human beings, we shouldn’t expect anything from them when they are indeed able to give to us.
We are letting them down. We are shirking our responsibility to them, to their future spouses and children, to society and to ourselves.
So I hope you don’t raise luftmenschen. I hope all your kids will have their shit together, too.