I was asked this week: As a teacher what do you wish parents would stop doing?” This was my response…
Firstly, I wish parents would stop loving their children conditionally. Conditional love is the most devastating aspect of misguided parenting. Love is a fundamental and core need for every human being. Children who grow up in homes where they are loved for what they do (or don’t do) rather than for who they are, become dysfunctional. Children crave and depend on the love of their parents for their sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Over the years I have counselled many adults who in their childhood were loved conditionally by their parents and as a result, now struggle to cope with life. They experience every interaction as a judgement and are so fearful to fully engage or express themselves. It can take an individual who was not genuinely and unconditionally loved, hours of counselling and years of emotional rehabilitation to heal the wounds.
Moshe Rabenu loved the Jewish People, irrespective of their actions. Sure he was angry with their rebelliousness, frustrated with their actions, disappointed by their demands and heartbroken by their protests. But in spite of it all, he loved us so deeply, that he was willing to sacrifice his life in this world and the next for us. This is the love our children need. We can be disappointed, frustrated and heartbroken by them but we can never stop loving them.
Secondly, I also wish parents would stop trying to live their lives through their child. I see this time and again. Parents who failed to seize the opportunities that life presented to them, manipulate their children to live their unrealized dreams and aspirations. These parents place intense pressure on their children to live up to expectations that are neither realistic nor beneficial for each particular child.
The Ariza”l writes that just as the physical face of each person is different, so too are the emotional and intellectual dispositions of each person different. Every child is unique, with a unique personality, talents and desires. Every child has a unique core purpose and the distinctive potential to fulfill that purpose. It is the duty of every parent to give every child the greatest opportunity to reveal and express that unconscious potential. So instead of parents trying to mould their children into the people they failed to become, they should focus on creating a loving, caring and nurturing environment within which the child can actualize their unique potential.
Finally, I wish that parents would stop being afraid to discipline their children. When there are no boundaries, when children don’t receive the fundamental life skill of discipline, then they will struggle to actualize their unique potential. By discipline, I don’t mean an authoritarian or draconian approach but rather a system that educates the child to take responsibility for their decisions. ‘Free Will’ is a core Jewish belief. Hashem set up a world of cause and effect. He gave us a manual to guide us towards living a fulfilled and purposeful life. He also gave us the choice to follow that manual or not. Children need to learn that although they are free to act, there are consequences for making good and bad decisions – a lesson that not enough of our children are learning.
Visit Rabbi Aryeh Goldman at A Mindful Jew.