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Love #5: When Control Is Confused With Love

"If you love me you will do as I say."

That is the message many people send each other. Parents to children, children to parents, spouses to each other etc. etc.


You can make your own individual choices which conflict with the wishes of your beloved and still continue to love them. Example [this one hits close to home as I deal with it yearly in the Yeshiva]: A father wants his child to attend a certain university while the child does not wish to attend. In such a case there is no halachic or moral obligation to listen to the father. A child is not owned by his parents!! What absolutely infuriates me is that a parent will FORCE a child to spend four years in a place that he does not want to be, studying material that does not interest him, because the PARENT'S dream is that the child should attend this university. What I often detect is that the parent loves ..... himself. There is no real concern for the child's well being or acceptance of the child's right to make his own life choices. Of course I am not talking about asking a six year old if he feels like going to school today. I am talking about a mature nineteen year old [or older] who can make his own decisions. Of course a parent should add his input, but the final decision must be the child's. I often see parents using various tactics to coerce the child into compliance. Threatening, screaming, exerting relentless pressure, excessive guilt etc. etc. I find such behavior detestable.

If I were the child, I would say: "Mom and Dad, I love you dearly and I know that you love me, but this is the decision I have made after consulting with various adults and seriously considering your position." If the parent cannot accept the child's decision, all too often it is the parent's issue. "MY dream is that MY child should do X." Sorry, love means allowing the subject of our love to grow in his own unique way. Love does not mean insuring that the beloved fulfill our expectations. That would better be defined as CONTROL. I have observed SO MANY controlling people. Control is toxic for love.

The same applies to husband and wife. "My dear husband, I love you with all my heart, but I am unable to fulfill your request that I work full-time while at the same time having children and keeping house. If you want children and that I keep the home orderly - the job is going to have to go. Children and home are a fulltime job. If you want me to work - you are going to have to hire full-time help for the house. I love you. Nothing personal. I just can't." That is perfectly legitimate. The husband can continue to love his wife even though she is unable to fulfill his will.

Of course we should try as much as we can to fulfill the wishes of those who we love. But as they say in hebrew "yesh gvul" - there are limits.

My father does that to me, trying to make me do what he wants because he missed out. I try my best with my schooling and jobs, but the limits. You put a new light on the subject and gave me an idea to tell my father how I feel without hurting him.

every decision i have made in the last year has involved some loved one not only jumping down my throat, but trying to show how i am the selfish one and they are the "victims" hurt by my selfishness. my parents did it when i decided not to go to cornell. my grandparents did it with shana bet. most of my extended family did it when i got engaged last month. my dad and his side of the family did when we requested an elul wedding, instead making it kislev, saying i was selfish and not understanding of my "poor, nebach" stepmother's "condition" (which happens to be pregnancy. did i hear a word about my poor, nebach stepfather's condition, which is terminal cancer???)now the issue is aliyah, and again, my chosson and i are being berated as selfish kids who are running off to israel and leaving behind broken hearts in america. as if i feel no pain at leaving my ENTIRE family behind to fulfill an important mitzvah. and as if as a mature, turning-20 bride cannot make decisions herself about the environment in which she and her groom want to raise their future children (they say we will be depriving them of great material benefits because of our "selfish" spiritual desires. i don't even bother saying that i want my family to have a better spiritual life). i'm sorry for ranting. i'm just frustrated and fed up with people trying to guilt me and make me feel rotten when i'm trying to do the right thing. doing what's right really stings sometimes.

I was writing a long post on this topic and the power in my apartment went out and everything was lost. So I decided to keep this post short. Rebbe has personally helped me so much with this and many many other issues and I feel eternally indebted to him. In terms of control, my personal experience has been that MONEY is a major factor in child/Parent relationship and in leverage. I would love to elaborate and hopefully I will at some point in the future but right now Is a stressfull point in my life so I cant think totally straight. Will comment later.

It's all too familiar- parents living vicariously through their children. It's a big shame, because ultimately the cause is the parents not being satisfied with themselves. This is assumedly why parents always seem to make a fuss about:

-Little League
-Social Status

...when it comes to their kids. They say "I only want the best for my son" or "It's unacceptable for my daughter to have anything less than...", but it's not that. It's about making up for what they wanted for themselves, not for their kids.

Can you imagine a father loving his son so much that he kills another man for not wanting to be a referee for his son's pickup game? Sounds more like someone who desparately needed to fulfill his own desires through his son- and when his pride and goals were impeded, he literally went mad.

Would a family really do everything in their power to keep a כלה in America against her wishes because they want her to be happy, or is it more because they want her to be more like them?

Families torn apart- simply because a confidence issue!

It happens to be that my Dad really wanted me to make a certain life decision. It was something that I fought (civilly) with him for years. His motives were also, "what was best for my son", but with a big difference- In the end, he completely withdrew when I made it clear that he could no longer convince me, and started helping me all that he could in order to reach my goal.

So, indeed it can be that a parent wants something for their child for the child's sake- but they need to ask themselves a simple question:

Would this help my child become what he wants to be?
(assuming, of course that the child's life goals are compatible with the Torah)

Without this, a parent should (לענית דעתי) tread very carefully and gently when discussing the subject with their child, and they should not push very hard. (And why is it that a parent can't ask a גדול when discussing their kid's life choices?)

If indeed the parent is trying for the sake of the child, and they can pass this test, (and they're not deluding themselves) they can then begin a proper dialouge.

I hope it works out for you.

I am sorry about your stepfather and will continue to daven.
Thank you for your openness. Parents are just people and it is exteremly difficult for them to disregard their own wishes in favor of their child's.
I hope that you have the strength to continue making the right decisions while at the same time maintainig a good relationship with your parents.


You are RIGHT. Money gives parents leverage. It is better for a child to earn his own keep if at all possible. In such a case parents are often more agreeable to what the child wants. I hope you get your POWER back [get it?].


You are 1000 percent right.

Thanks for the links. I can't believe that the rotzeach onlly got six to ten? A miscarriage of justice. They should put him away for as long as he put away his victim.

You also made an important point. If the child shows that he is firm in his decision, eventually the parents come around. [I have seen it many times]

It is important to add that the child should try to make his or her parents part of the decision making process as much as possible.

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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