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)