Friday, September 18, 2009

Conditional Love And Orthodox Judaism: A Little Mussar From A Jewish Atheist

There were a lot of conditions for love and affection and continued membership, And they were serious, and they were ludicrous. It was, "You don't wear a yarmulke you can get out. You intermarry, we sit shiva for you. You eat non-kosher and our children are not allowed to hang out with you." --Shalom Auslander

When a Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do as I Say’
The studies found that both positive and negative conditional parenting were harmful, but in slightly different ways. The positive kind sometimes succeeded in getting children to work harder on academic tasks, but at the cost of unhealthy feelings of “internal compulsion.” Negative conditional parenting didn’t even work in the short run; it just increased the teenagers’ negative feelings about their parents.

What these and other studies tell us, if we’re able to hear the news, is that praising children for doing something right isn’t a meaningful alternative to pulling back or punishing when they do something wrong. Both are examples of conditional parenting, and both are counterproductive.

The child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, who readily acknowledged that the version of negative conditional parenting known as time-out can cause “deep feelings of anxiety,” nevertheless endorsed it for that very reason. “When our words are not enough,” he said, “the threat of the withdrawal of our love and affection is the only sound method to impress on him that he had better conform to our request.”

But the data suggest that love withdrawal isn’t particularly effective at getting compliance, much less at promoting moral development. Even if we did succeed in making children obey us, though — say, by using positive reinforcement — is obedience worth the possible long-term psychological harm? Should parental love be used as a tool for controlling children?

Deeper issues also underlie a different sort of criticism. Albert Bandura, the father of the branch of psychology known as social learning theory, declared that unconditional love “would make children directionless and quite unlovable” — an assertion entirely unsupported by empirical studies. The idea that children accepted for who they are would lack direction or appeal is most informative for what it tells us about the dark view of human nature held by those who issue such warnings.

In practice, according to an impressive collection of data by Dr. Deci and others, unconditional acceptance by parents as well as teachers should be accompanied by “autonomy support”: explaining reasons for requests, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, being encouraging without manipulating, and actively imagining how things look from the child’s point of view.

The last of these features is important with respect to unconditional parenting itself. Most of us would protest that of course we love our children without any strings attached. But what counts is how things look from the perspective of the children — whether they feel just as loved when they mess up or fall short.

Rogers didn’t say so, but I’ll bet he would have been glad to see less demand for skillful therapists if that meant more people were growing into adulthood having already felt unconditionally accepted.


That article sent a pang through my heart, because I recognized so much of my parents' disciplinary style in the "what not to do" sections.

Just last week, I kind of casually mentioned to my mother-in-law that I'm something of a disappointment to my father (in that I'm not Orthodox.) She was, of course, horrified and insisted that it must not be true. And maybe it isn't, but this article sure explains why I would feel that way. My parents probably have always loved me unconditionally, but it felt to me that their love and affection were contingent on my behaving in certain ways... and I either could not or would not always behave in those ways.

I think that that kind of parenting goes hand-in-hand with fundamentalist religion (although it appears everywhere.) The Orthodox community itself is the same way. They are so warm and accepting as long as you Do As They Say. Be (or appear to be) a mainstream Orthodox person and you can have dozens of friends two weeks after moving into a community. But if you don't fit the mold, you don't fit the community, and they get rid of you, if only by not making you feel welcome.

Yes, Modern Orthodox communities will tolerate a blue shirt, some mixed dancing, and even eating non-kosher dairy out, but the entire community is built around the set of behaviors that is Orthodox Judaism. If a kid becomes an atheist or is openly gay or even just becomes a Reform Jew, he (generally speaking) no longer has a place in that community.

It's important to note that no harm is intended by Orthodox communities, just as no harm is intended by parents trying to teach their children to behave themselves. But harm is caused. Gay kids, atheist kids, apatheist kids, weird kids, outspoken kids, freethinking kids, boys who don't like gemara, kids who don't want to go to Israel -- they get the message that they aren't loved and don't belong. In more right-wing communities, kids who like secular books and movies, girls who don't want to be housewives or even mothers, girls who want to go to college, boys who wear blue shirts -- they get that message too.

I remember when I first told my parents that I didn't believe anymore and wasn't going to remain Orthodox, I asked them if they'd prefer me to be happy or to stay Orthodox. They refused to answer, arguing it was a false dichotomy (and probably it was.) But it gets at an important issue. There is so much focus in Orthodox families and Orthodox communities in making sure that children turn into this one kind of adult that it does a lot of damage. I genuinely did not (and do not) know how my parents would answer that question honestly, assuming they had to pick. A happy son or an Orthodox one?

And don't you liberal Orthodoxers pat yourselves on the back if you allow a little more leeway, say a blue shirt or a secular school. If you make it seem like your love is in any way contingent on your kids (or brothers or sisters or friends) remaining Orthodox or straight or marrying another Jew, you are part of the problem. Love (or the perception of love) should not be used in that way.

This is NOT to say that you can't argue for someone to marry a Jew or remain Orthodox or try to become straight (even though I'd disagree with those arguments.) It's about letting your loved ones believe that your love is contingent on their behaviors and life choices.

There are some Orthodox people who get this right, even when "tested" by gay or OTD or whatever kids. I don't want to make it sound like I think every Orthodox person is guilty of this. There are probably even some Orthodox communities who get it right, probably in very small communities where they don't have enough people who are the same to cast out those who are different.

But this is a problem that's built into the very notion of "Orthodox community." "Orthodox" should refer to an individual's beliefs or behaviors, not to a community. It's fine and natural for Orthodox people to associate with each other and to form communities, but it is not fine (although it is natural) for them to exclude non-Orthodox people from those communities. And it's not enough to welcome non-Orthodox people for meals or events with the intention of bringing them closer to Orthodoxy. If you don't value people as people regardless of their choices, then you do not love them. And I don't think even the Torah commands you to love only your Orthodox neighbors.

Oh, and perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, you might be able to make a serious dent in your OTD "problem" by not using your love as reward and punishment. There are plenty of potential OTDers who probably wouldn't care enough to leave if they weren't made to feel so unwelcome.

(HT: Abandoning Eden)

17 comments:

Holy Hyrax said...

I agree 100% about love being contingent on anything.

But you are also arguing a seperate thing as well. The issue of community. It is pretty obvious that you are not going to be part of the community, if you think everything is silly, brainwashing etc etc etc. It's unfair to the community and its unfair to you.

So while I agree that a community does not have to "bear" you, if it wants to it can of course.(BTW, what does that mean even? How does a community kick you out? Is there some trumpet music playing?) The issue of the personal relationship between the parents and the child should not change.

BTW, all of this is different from the issue of disappointment. Would you be disappointment if your son became an Imam? Of course you would. It may passs over time, but that does not mean you don't love him.

Anonymous said...

We are nearly all wounded by our parents--and nearly everyone's parents were wounded by theirs.
And if you have children, you are likely to wound them, too. Young children have fragile spirits, and their parents are generally far from self-actualized saints; instead, they're usually distracted and burdened people who didn't get sufficient love themselves.

Now that we are adults, love goes two ways: It is not only parents who can choose to love their children unconditionally, but children who can choose to love their parents unconditionally.

May we all find the generosity, the confidence, and the courage, to less often feel less like victims, and to more often reach out to others with love.

AgnosticWriter

Laughing Boy said...

A "time-out" is a threat of withdrawal of love? Really? From the child's perspective, maybe, but not necessarily. Let's remember that children don't have good perspectives; that's something they need to learn.

...what counts is how things look from the perspective of the children — whether they feel just as loved when they mess up or fall short.

Pray tell, what measures must a parent take to insure this happy state? For example, can I be angry with my daughter for not doing her homework if I risk having her think, even for a little while, that I don't love her unless she does? Whatever the measures, hopefully they would allow us also to teach our children not too put too much stock in how they feel at any given moment. Perhaps the teen suicide rate would be lower if, rather than needing to feel loved at all times, they could endure not feeling loved for a while without losing hope. How do we teach them that?

Further, who, as an adult, is unconditionally accepted? Should an adult think that those who love him will always love him regardless of what he does? Or that, even if he is still loved, that the consequences of certain behavior could result in the withdrawal of the benefits of that love? Does love consist of making a person feel good, or doing what's best for them? Is feeling good the best good? (Perhaps with that I'm heading into deeper waters than is called for.)

jewish philosopher said...

It's true that Orthodox Jews are less tolerant than some other people, but not really all that much so.

Picture this: An average kid in Ohio or Iowa decides he wants to be an Orthodox Jew, starts coming to school wearing a yarmulke, keeping kosher, etc. Do you think he'll meet with a little hostility, ridicule, bullying, teasing etc? His parents might well kick him out. I speak from experience on that. Almost everyone believes: Me = good. Not me = not good.

lmark75 said...

I follow your blog and some other "OTD" blogs, as I'm a bit of an OTDer myself (Although I never was really "on the derech," as I grew up in one of the roughly two dozen truly Conservative Jewish households in the world. I did attend a "Modern Orthodox" yeshiva for middle school). I've seen alot of this business about blue shirts lately. What exactly is the big deal? Is there a passage in the Talmud that forbids blue shirts or requires white ones?

lmark75 said...

JP-An average kid in Ohio or Iowa decides he wants to be an Orthodox Jew, starts coming to school wearing a yarmulke, keeping kosher, etc.

Ah yes, the obligatory insult to "flyover country." I have a cousin in Dayton, Ohio who is Orthodox and, from what I could tell, doesn't really deal with the difficulties of which you speak, at least not any more than she would in a non-Orthodox portion of New York.
And Iowa? Isn't there a town there with the highest concentration of rabbis in the world? Of course, they're a bunch of crooks, but that's another story.

Jewish Atheist said...

HH:

It is pretty obvious that you are not going to be part of the community, if you think everything is silly, brainwashing etc etc etc. It's unfair to the community and its unfair to you.

Why does the community have to be that way, though? Are you arguing it's impossible for Orthodox people and kofrim to coexist within the same community? Must we really wall ourselves off into communities of only like-minded people?

Communities can be formed around almost anything -- from simple geographic proximity to common interests to just plain habit. There's no reason Orthodox people have to have separate communities -- except that they're terrified of their kids going "OTD" or otherwise violating halakha.

BTW, all of this is different from the issue of disappointment. Would you be disappointment if your son became an Imam? Of course you would. It may passs over time, but that does not mean you don't love him.

I agree that disappointment is different from conditional love, but from the child's point of view, it can feel the same.


AW:

Nice comment.


LB:

A "time-out" is a threat of withdrawal of love? Really? From the child's perspective, maybe, but not necessarily. Let's remember that children don't have good perspectives; that's something they need to learn.

We're talking about the child's perspective here. What matters for the child's emotional well-being is not reality but that child's perception of reality.

It sounds to me that when you say children "need to learn" to have a good perspective that you're rationalizing doing things that are harmful because they'll learn it the hard way. I don't think it works that way.

Whatever the measures, hopefully they would allow us also to teach our children not too put too much stock in how they feel at any given moment.

I think that's just wishful thinking. It's not about short-term feelings, but long-term feelings of being loved and accepted as a human being.

Perhaps the teen suicide rate would be lower if, rather than needing to feel loved at all times, they could endure not feeling loved for a while without losing hope. How do we teach them that?

I think it's probably safer to deal with children as they are instead of how you want children to be in your ideal world. I don't think you can remove the need to feel loved from children, and it would probably be a bad idea even if you could.

Should an adult think that those who love him will always love him regardless of what he does?

Hopefully an adult who grew up feeling unconditional love will have the emotional resources to be a little stronger in the face of conditional love... but also, hopefully that adult will also receive (relatively) unconditional love.

Holy Hyrax said...

Why does the community have to be that way, though? Are you arguing it's impossible for Orthodox people and kofrim to coexist within the same community? Must we really wall ourselves off into communities of only like-minded people?

Nobody is "wallling themselves in." But it all depends on what you mean by a community. Are you talking about a simple neighborhood? Well, even our orthodox community in LA has blacks and asians and many others living within our neighborhood. Are you talking about community as in a group of people with common values, and goals and things they want to share? Would someone that does not believe in the doctrine of the boy scouts remain part of the boy scout community? Again, you are acting if someone drums you out. You also have to be more specific as to what community you talk about. Chassidic communities? Ya, they kick people out. MO communities? Not even close.


>Communities can be formed around almost anything -- from simple geographic proximity to common interests to just plain habit. There's no reason Orthodox people have to have separate communities -- except that they're terrified of their kids going "OTD" or otherwise violating halakha.

So again, it depends on what community you want. Do you want a simple neighborhood book club, or a vibrant community built on an active belief? You can't have it all. The reason OJ communities are successful is because they MORE than just built on geographic proximity. It's their common interest of belief and values that keep them tight.

I am not so clear as to why separation makes you so uncomfortable.

Holy Hyrax said...

You are also not talking pragmatically here. Kofrim leave because they detest those values. They don't WANT to stay. It only makes sense that people find their own which they feel comfortable with.

Jewish Atheist said...

HH:

I agree I'm probably not talking pragmatically -- Orthodox Judaism as practiced today itself is somewhat incompatible with this way of thinking. And yes, there are tradeoffs.

But I'm asking you to think about the notion of a community based on an active belief, and how that affects people who grow up in that community but at some point do NOT share that belief.

The inevitable result is that people through no fault of their own can no longer be members of the community they grew up in! I'm arguing that that's (in some significant way but not in all ways) a bad thing.

Another way to put it: when you base a community on a set of beliefs, you condemn some subset of that community's children to being community-less as they come into their own as adults. If your community was based instead on geographic proximity or on friendship or just habit, then your children can still choose to remain or stay, but it is their choice, and not an accident of belief (or birth, if they're gay.)

Holy Hyrax said...

>But I'm asking you to think about the notion of a community based on an active belief, and how that affects people who grow up in that community but at some point do NOT share that belief.

It would obviously be hard. I don't deny that.

>The inevitable result is that people through no fault of their own can no longer be members of the community they grew up in! I'm arguing that that's (in some significant way but not in all ways) a bad thing.

I don't know if its bad or good. Clearly a person that is antagonistic toward the communities values has no place to remain there. It only makes sense. Its unfair for him to have to be miserable for him and its unfair for the community to change their values. If that person wishes to stay, I doubt anyone is kicking him out. (except UO communities)

>Another way to put it: when you base a community on a set of beliefs, you condemn some subset of that community's children to being community-less as they come into their own as adults.

The only way around that is literally to not have any set of shared values or beliefs. Again, this could go on for any community. What if someone was raised in a kibbuts that really has outgrown the values of what makes a kibbutz a kibbutz?

>If your community was based instead on geographic proximity or on friendship or just habit, then your children can still choose to remain or stay, but it is their choice, and not an accident of belief (or birth, if they're gay.)

But by definition (as you know) Judaism functions much more then just that. I have conservative and reform friends and they all frown on the lack of community they have (which is their biggest drawback for them). I can assure you, that they have friendship and habits, but yet, it doesn't quite make for them a Jewish community which is set higher then mere friendship.

Geonite said...

All parents make mistakes.

Demanding that your child listen to you and do things your way does not mean you don't love them. It means that you are misguided and don't understand how to raise a child. Sometimes parents think they are doing what is best for their children and end up doing incredible damage.

I have a lot of issues with how I was raised and some of the things my parents did to me for religious reasons. But there is no doubt in my mind that they meant well and love me.

No one is perfect.

Shalmo said...

One of the reasons I haven't bothered with this blog for a while is because of how repetitive you are JA.

OJ hurt you. boo-hoo.

On the other hand, I suppose writing about this stuff is theraputic for you. So if it helps you cope then good for you. But sooner or later you gotta get over it

Everything you wrote about orthodox jews in this post can just as easily apply to an average atheist family in similar circumstances

Geonite said...

Shalmo,

Hopefully some day he'll grow up.

Fawzia said...

Shalmo says:One of the reasons I haven't bothered with this blog for a while is because of how repetitive you are JA.

Okay,how about you being original & debating with me about Ayesha's age?

Its been some months since I had a proper debate with any member of my ex faith.

Or about some other issues in Islam which interest me, I'll give you a list of 5 topics, you may take your pick.

1) Ayesha's age.

2) Muhammad's "marriage" with Safiyyah-I call it rape.

3) Wife beating in the Quran & hadiths.

4) Muhammad as a good example for mankind-I don't think he is, please disprove me.

5)War, intolerance & violence in the Quran & hadiths.

Please debate anyone of these with me.

One Indonesian classmate of mine, on learning I'm Iranian, presumed I'm Muslim-when I told her I'm ex Muslim, she was shell shocked. She challenged me to a debate, hoping to change my mind.

She hasn't changed mine, but I think I've3given her many doubts!

Anonymous said...

Shalmo has a point. WASPs do a ton of this stuff as well.

JGP

JAlanKatz said...

On my way out, I passed through liberal modern orthodoxy and conservative Judaism, even traditional Judaism (I'm a BT who grew up reform, so I didn't need to try them out.) I'll tell you this - the most 'radical' modernization quickly began to strike me as cheap sops. Women can wear kipas and tefillin? What does this do to address the underlying problems?

In time, I began to see modernization as really not helpful. At least the haredi, you know where he stands, and he's consistent. In dealing with the modern folks, though, I just don't get it. I meet modern orthodox/conservative/traditional Jews who hate racism and homophobia as much as I do - but talk about how they revere the Bible as an inspired, holy book. Well, if you're not a racist and not a homophobe, and you don't think God wrote the Torah and gave it on Sinai, just what makes it so beautiful?

The problem is, if God wrote this book, fine, that's God, I don't understand. If men wrote it - the conservative and traditional line - well, I know what counts as good and bad in a man, and I know that much in the book doesn't fit. If God said to kill the Midianites for having consentual relations with Jews, ok - but if a man thought that was a nice thing to write, I can and will judge it.

If the Torah does not come from God, just what is beautiful about describing the 12 brothers as righteous - men who sell their brother into slavery, lie to their father, think that it is appropriate to wipe out a city to avenge a rape by one man - and later one of them is seen going to a prostitute. Yes, I know, an angel pushed him. An angel pushed me too, all the time.

This beautiful book of laws teaches that if a woman commits adultery, she gets killed - but if a man rapes an unmarried woman, he has to marry her. Are they trying to create stalkers?

Don't get me started on killing your son.