Well, it’s been late in coming, but here is the promised final part of our kibbud av va’eim column.
We’ve reached the understanding, based on Chazal’s various statements, that our relationship with Hashem —He to us, and we to Him— should serve as a template for basic parenting attitudes and techniques, and kibbud av va’eim obligations from our children to us. The obligations of the child are for mora (awe; reverence, maybe a bit of good old-fashioned fear), which is mirrored in the obligation of yir’as Hashem
—a bit of fear of punishment, to be sure, but really, as we are taught, and more significantly, awe and reverence, to the point where Chazal even describe it as evoking bushah (shame —I am embarrassed to be acting this way, after all the ideals and values taught to me by Hashem). This is the mora children should feel towards parents, and did until about 75 years ago.
Then there is the obligation of kibbud, which, we have seen, on the Biblical level, is serving the parents, taking care of their needs, fulfilling their requests. That is mirrored by the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem, where I serve Hashem because I feel love and devotion to my Creator. This is my way of saying ‘Thank You’, which the Chovos Halevavos describes as the highest form of avodah. This is the level of kibbud children should have towards parents, and did until 75 years ago, when parents started living for the sake of their children.
(It should be obvious that we are not referring to caring for children, which parents do until the child becomes self-sufficient. That is the parent’s basic responsibility, also emulating Hashem, who provides for all our needs.)
These two basic obligations are our “response”, so to speak, to Hashem the Mother and Hashem the Father — Hashem is our nurturer, our provider, who showers us with love. He is our teacher, our guide, who demands that we live up to the values he teaches us —and at times, He is the disciplinarian who enforces and compels.
Certainly all parenting —even the ‘father’ angle— must be, as by Hashem, based on love and caring. That is why Chazal admonish us (Gittin 6b) not to have an atmosphere of intimidation in our households. Rather, we strive to make sure that all that we do is because we care about and love our children. Rav Mattisyahu Solomon tells a story of Rav Elyah Lopian zt”l, which he, Rav Solomon personally witnessed. Space does not allow for the telling of a great story, but the “punch- line” has Rav Lopian telling the wayward student, “If you only knew how much I love you, I would give you a slap across the face right here and now.” What powerful and beautiful words! Think about them for a while. In addition, the secondary message is that if the child does not know that you love him —you cannot punish him!
We will now follow up with more examples and ramifications that result from implementing these principles and ideas.
- Children, like many people, are natural narcissists. You must make a primary goal of parenting to teach them self-control —not self-esteem. The self-esteem will then come from exercising self- control, being guided by the values that you teach them, and doing their best (see further about this). Look at Hashem. How many lavin (negative commandments) are there and how many mitzvos assei (positive commandments)? Children should be hearing many more “No’s” from you than “yes’s” —just as we hear from Hashem. The beast in us must be tamed. Many Rishonim explicitly state that the primary goal of the mitzvos is to train us in self-control.
- We stated in the last installment that parents should teach character, and the schools, skills. A vital corollary of that is –being like Hashem. Require of your children only that they do their best. That is a character issue, not a skills one. The grade that one receives on exams and assignments is a test of skills. Whether or not one did one’s best is an issue of character. Demand they do their best —but that should be all that you care about. Just like Hashem with us.
- Be an erech apayim—slow to anger. Have 13 middos of rachamim… do NOT expect instant results or instant gratification. At least, not in parenting; discipline and living values and character traits take time. BUT —if a red line is crossed— show zero tolerance.
- Spend more time and energy, focus on and pay more attention to your spouse than you do your children. It is the father plus mother unit that is the mini-Hashem in the child’s life. You need both of you, together, as Chazal recognized and stated. That has to come first. The parent’s first obligation is to each other, to form this solid unit. Do more for your spouse than for your children. Yes, you heard correctly.
- There must be very, very clear boundaries between the children and their parents. Parents are not the child’s “pal”. Nadav and Avihu, and other figures in Tanach learned that about Hashem. (Such as Uza with the Aron Kodesh, and the biblical Anshei Beis Shemesh). Parents need, deserve, and must demand privacy. And to be left alone for the next 30 minutes (except for emergencies). And a child does NOT have the right to know where a parent went, what the parent did, whom the parent spoke to…
- Always think about how Hashem deals with us. Sechar ve’onesh, reward and punishment, is necessary —but only as a backdrop, as a training tool to help the child (B’nei Yisrael) learn to do the right thing for its own sake. Nevertheless, it is necessary to use in order to get there!
- Hashem has chukim too. That teaches us something —every once in a while, it is healthy for the child to hear a clear, uncompromising “Because I said so!” This helps clarify and ensure proper authority. Always allow questions —never allow challenges to authority. This is exactly how Hashem has it —and so should we.
- Be like Hashem. Keep your kids busy. The Chovos Halevavos says that Hashem created the need for hishtadlus so as to keep a person busy and thus out of trouble. Give them chores to do in the house. But do not feel a responsibility to figure out for them how they should spend their free time. Leave them alone; let them figure it out. You should give them responsibility… how to spend leisure time should be in their province. That is the proper response to “Mooommy, I’m booored!” “You’re bored? Here, wash the dishes.” NOT— “Oy, let’s figure out what you should do.”
- Finally, like Hashem—ignore your kids (to a degree).
Yes —let your kids learn on their own to do good, not bad; let them learn the consequences of their actions, thus developing as mentschen. (Of course, they must know that you are there for them if they need you.)
- Moreover, perhaps hardest of all, we are enjoined by Hashem to emulate Him (ve’halachta biderachav); the parents have the acharayus, the responsibility, to be role models to their children! And if they are not, they had better work on themselves to be such. This is how Hashem sums up His teachings to us —and this teaches us that that is the very best way to be mechanech. And without it —this is not impossible, but really tough.