Respect for the Old

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


One Mother, Seven Children


There is an old expression that one Ima can raise seven children, but seven children cannot take care of one mother.  “Honor Thy Mother and Father so that you may live long on earth” has long been forgotten.  Jewish parents especially, pamper their children and give them bechol levovko, ufchol nafschecho ufchol meodecho (written phonetically) with heart, soul, and hand. Mothers and fathers will extend themselves and do with less, as long as their offspring have every comfort and every opportunity.  There is also an article about a widowed mother who scrubbed floors to earn a living and send her son to medical school.  When graduation day came and she wanted to be there to “schepp Naches,” the son told her in no uncertain words to stay away, as he was ashamed of her appearance/ the way she was dressed, etc. 

More recently I visited Rachel, a ninety-four year old woman in a nursing home whose spirits were broken, more damaged than her frail body.  With tears in her eyes and with sobs, she told me of her depression.  After her husband’s death, she returned from Florida, where they had lived after his retirement. To be closer to her children, she returned to her home town.  She was persuaded by her oldest daughter to give up driving and gave her car to this woman.  She was to live with her middle daughter, a nurse, but recognized that this person was too busy and rarely at home and the youngest of her three offspring lived in Rachel’s little home and had no empty bedroom to give to her mother.  She asked to be returned to her old home and have her independence reestablished but not one of her offspring offered to help her.  Against her will they placed her into a nursing facility to “get strong through rehabilitation.”  When she felt ready to be discharged, her three girls came to visit and in a very authoritarian voice told her “You will stay here until you die.”  Rachel was inconsolable.  In between sobs, she kept reassuring herself that she still loved her offspring, but at the same time felt abandoned without independence, without choices.  The oldest one of the trio was handling the Mom’s finances and had total control of Rachel’s hard earned, carefully saved possessions.  This very caring, kind Mom has lost everything that was important to her.  When have you ever heard a yiddishe Mamma reject a child in need? No matter how old and frail the mother is, she will open her home to her child and will refrain from denigrating him or her, regardless of the circumstances or the inconvenience.

Parents speak proudly of their children.  How often do they speak of  their “son the doctor, their daughter the lawyer, their grandson the Talmud chochem (Talmud scholar), the absolute genius.”  One very proud Jewish mother spoke with great pride about her daughter “the full fledged bookkeeper.”  

There are many lessons to be learned here.  Children must not be over adulated lest they have no respect for their elders and become narcissistic; parents must remember they are the teachers of the young and are responsible not only for their physical safety, but also to teach them morals/ethical behavior.  They should not be rewarded for poor and unethical behavior, nor should they be overindulged.  A child who is raised without having responsibilities will not be able to be a respectful acceptable adult.

Those fortunate young children who observe the loving and respectful behavior that their parents exhibit/practice can become a role model for the younger generation, the grandchildren, and how they will behave toward their parents as they grow up and the parents grow old. Impatience with the hearing loss, thought delays, jokes at or about the old, rejection and expressing self praise for what the younger generation “does” for the parent/grandparent generation is the antithesis of the “honor thy mother and father.”  Ridiculing slow movements in walking or driving and much more are means of denigrating the older generation. The common expression “What goes around comes around” is the reward that the hostile adult child will reap as he reaches his/her older adulthood.    Remember that if you are fortunate you too will grow old and you will want to be treated with love, respect and dignity!


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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