Dear Dr. Weisbord,
My daughter is in her early 20s. She went the normal route of the children of our community, and never had any particular problems. She got good grades, has friends, and generally gets along with others. She finished high school and studied in a seminary after high school. When she returned, she tried to find a job, but nothing came through. Even though there are job opportunities, she always has some excuse for not applying and, if she does apply, does not follow through and has not been successful in finding a job.
I would think that she would be motivated to work, because there are many things I cannot provide for her from my income, but that does not seem to be incentive enough for her to find a job. No job or career preparation that I suggest appeals to her. I think this behavior is very damaging to her confidence and will also be bad for her image when it comes time for shidduchim.
This situation is very painful to me. I feel both worried and angry. I’m trying to figure out how I failed as a parent and what I can do to help the situation. Should I take a more punitive approach with her and withhold my financial support because she should be earning money herself and not relying on the family? Should I be exerting myself to use my connections to get her a job? What is my role in this situation? Or do I not have a role, because she is already an adult?
Dear Worried Mother,
Parenting classes and discussions almost always focus on childhood and the parents’ responsibilities in terms of chinuch and life skills. We don’t seem to pay much attention to the challenges of the next stage of life: parenting the adult child who is living at home. Your dilemma highlights many of the issues that come upon us when we least expect them. While this is our child who has returned from seminary, do we deal with her as an independent adult, as a quasi-child, or some other category? Are we at fault for all of her faults? Do we have the right to express expectations or assign responsibilities to this adult person living with us? Do we still have a role to play in our child’s life?
I believe parents always have a role to play in the lives of their children, although that role shifts as our children become adults and move on to new stages in their lives. We certainly want to be there for them, even if “there” changes as our children continue to develop and mature – and, actually, as we, the parents, continue to grow, too.
There may be a clue in your daughter’s sudden shift from going the “normal route” to her current standstill. Some girls returning from seminary feel overwhelmed by the multitude of choices now available to them and the need to make a decision that will affect their entire future. Until now, their lives and goals had been structured and laid out for them. Suddenly, they are faced with a seemingly infinite array of options and possibilities. While some girls embrace the challenge of making a choice, others feel paralyzed by the enormity of deciding what to do next. What if they start a program and don’t like it? What if they choose something they really like but discover that there are few jobs available?
In the situation you are describing, it sounds to me as if your daughter needs you very much. It doesn’t sound sensible to me to discuss a “punitive approach” while we have no handle on what is going on. Is it a case of decision paralysis, as described above? Is she simply being “lazy,” manipulating you so she can live an easy life? Or could there be something even more serious happening here? Is she currently taking any medication that could be affecting her mood? Did she have a traumatic experience while she was away from home? Is she struggling with depression? We don’t know the answers to these questions, but we do know that the current situation is not healthy for her. We also know that letting it continue like this is simply enabling her to hurt herself in terms of getting a real life and having a fulfilled future.
While you mention making suggestions to her about job possibilities, I don’t hear any genuine discussion taking place. It’s time for you to sit down with your daughter and speak openly about this situation. Let her know how much you care about her and that you see there is something serious going on with her. Ask her, gently, if she knows what’s holding her back from taking the next step in her life, in terms of thinking about what she would like to do and how she wants to go about acquiring the knowledge and skills to accomplish her goals. Let her know that she always has a place in your home in the sense of room and board. At the same time, you recognize that she will be so much happier as she plans for employment and/or working towards a degree or some kind of training.
If the conversation with your daughter doesn’t shed some light on the situation, and it seems difficult for her to add her input, the next step is to let your daughter know you will be consulting with a rav and/or mental health professional. Make it clear that the purpose of this consultation is to find out how you can be helpful. Let her know the results of your meetings and bring her into the process as much as possible, speaking to her as adult to adult.
Emphasize that you understand there are reasons for her reluctance or inability to move forward, and you want to help her with that in any way you can. Being her partner in avoiding life is not helpful, and you will no longer be doing that. It’s very important for her to hear from you, and know in her heart, that your concerns are about her – not about your fear of how things look to others or how much you want her to be someplace she is not. Reiterate for her that, because you care so deeply, you will not stand by as she suffers, that you want this for her sake, to give her an opportunity for a life of happiness and deep satisfaction.
It is natural to blame yourself for your daughter’s situation; mothers are very good at that! Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that many things go on in a child’s life where we have no control and very little say. We all want to shield our children from pain, yet our purpose actually is to help them learn how to face difficult situations and deal with them. Good parenting has nothing to do with perfection; it’s about giving the proverbial “roots and wings” to our children. We can provide the basics and be there for them. The truly hard part is standing back and letting them use their wings. In a perfect world, your daughter would be fully equipped with all the life skills and academic achievement to live an adult life. For some reason – a reason that may have absolutely nothing to do with you – your daughter is not there yet. With your guidance and loving persuasion and support, she will, iy”H, get there and know that you stood by her while she took this journey.