Family Matters: Give and let live

In honor of Purim, conflict resolution expert Shimrit Nothman looks at what to do if your child chooses an inappropriate costume.

Haredi kids in Purim costumes (photo credit: Hadas Parush)
Haredi kids in Purim costumes
(photo credit: Hadas Parush)
Tamar asks: “I have a sweet 12 years-old daughter. Purim is coming up soon, and so I took her shopping for a Purim costume. Two years ago she dressed up as a princess and last year as a magician. I was very happy to hear she wants to dress up as a nurse this year, but was dumbstruck when I saw what the nurse’s costumes look like. Let’s just say that no hospital would allow a nurse to appear dressed like that to work. When I tried to explain to my daughter that she’d have to come up with a different idea, she burst into tears and said that everyone at school but her will be wearing these costumes.
I want my daughter to be happy, but dressing like that goes against what I believe is right. How can I convince her to go with a more modest costume?
Purim is a much-loved Jewish holiday, when grownups and children alike use the once-in-a-year opportunity to be creative, funny and show a different side of themselves.
Tamar’s daughter is not a small child any more, but not yet truly a grownup. Should she be given the autonomy to decide what she wears or does it remain the parent’s decision?
Making a choice between two evils?
As parents we’re often torn between our need to educate and discipline our children and our innate wish to feel loved and adored by them. Sometimes these needs don’t go hand in hand and we’re left with a dilemma that can make us feel bad, no matter which we end up choosing.
You may decide to insist on this point, pressing the importance of modesty in dressing. In such a case your daughter may adopt one or more of these delightful tactics: not talking to you, not doing her homework, yelling, crying, begging, recruiting the grandparents to argue her point and many other tactics she discovered can drive you crazy.
You may decide to put your values and beliefs aside. This will make your daughter very happy no doubt. As well as making you feel like you’re not doing a good job as a parent, you’re passing a very dangerous message to your daughter. By first insisting on keeping your values and then throwing them out like yesterday’s leftovers, you are teaching your child that all rules can be bent and there are no values that are more important than others.
Be creative
This doesn’t have to be a win-lose situation. I’m sure that just as much as you don’t want to lose here, you also don’t want your daughter to feel like she’s lost in the battle of self-determination.
Sit down and discuss your fears. Listen to what she has to say and think of some creative ideas together. If you have an artistic side to you, perhaps you can make a costume together. You can even invite your daughter’s classmates with their moms for a night of costume-making, so that your daughter will feel like she is the life of the party and not the outcast.
Give and let live
In an ideal world, your daughter is always saying: “yes mom, you’re right” and doing what you ask her to do. In the real world, however, she has her own take on things and she doesn’t always see eye to eye with you. A little voice inside you is saying: “just give in, let her have this little victory”. It may not feel right, but it might be the right choice for you and her right now. You can choose to defer the lesson about modesty to another time, when the emotions have cooled and it’s not a pressing subject.
In the meantime, you can opt to educate her about other important values that are associated with Purim. Take her with you to donate money to a worthy cause or bake some hamantaschen together and deliver Mishloach Manot to those close to you. Embrace this opportunity to spend some quality time with your little girl and teach her about the beauty of Jewish holidays.
Ask yourself which of these solutions can bring you and your girl closer together in the long run. Parenting is similar to ruling a kingdom. Like queen Esther, consider which battles really need to be fought.
Shimrit Nothman has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution and believes that like charity, conflict resolution begins at home. If you have any questions for Shimrit, please use the comments section below or email her at
This column is brought to you as general information only and should not be a replacement for professional advice.