Am I Doing Too Much?

Q: I realize that there are no fast and easy answers to what I’m asking. I just need to get a perspective on how much hishtadlus I need to make in order for my children to succeed — without making them too dependent on my efforts.

I have older children who are almost resentful towards me for being too pushy when they were growing up. I put in a lot of effort to be sure that my children would get into the best schools for them — calling endless people, trying to help schools appreciate my children’s particular maalos, etc. I helped “clean up their mistakes” when issues occurred, knowing that in certain academic and camp situations, you’re only given one chance.

Now, some of my older children feel that I should have let them learn from their mistakes (instead of bailing them out all the time). This sounds good in theory, but I see so often others who do this, and their children often don’t learn from their mistakes.

Boys who don’t put enough effort into their studies do get poor grades, and don’t get into that “excellent mesivta.” They end up going into a less desirable school and hang around others of the same caliber. They don’t necessarily “get up and smell the coffee” when it comes to entering beis medrash, either. If I could be assured that my children would learn from their mistakes, maybe I’d let them make those mistakes. The same is true in pushing my daughter to get a part in the school play.

Some of the issues don’t have to do with mistakes, but with situations where there was limited space available and I wanted my children to be chosen.

My older children feel I was too aggressive in how I handled things. What are your thoughts about this?

A: As you mention, there is no definitive answer to this question. There are instances where it is helpful for a parent to be consistently assertive — especially when there are limited spots in schools, and school activities such as performances. A new school that your child is applying to might not know his many positive attributes, if your child happened to have had an eighth-grade Rebbi with whom he had a severe personality clash. This Rebbi might not give your son a positive report, and it then becomes your part (being his parent) to become your son’s lawyer. As you mention, a teenager’s social environment in mesivta most definitely helps shape his future, and being placed in a growth-producing yeshivah is imperative.

The truth is that due to finite opportunities, advocating for our children has become a reality. Certain potentially inspirational and life-molding experiences will not happen for our children in the next academic year or on summer vacation.

Perhaps the way we approach it helps balance one’s hishtadlus and bitachon. If a parent doesn’t reflect anger at the “unfairness” of the situation, we are already being a positive role model to our children. Being pleasantly persistent is done with dignity, with a “win/win” attitude toward all involved. A “win/win” attitude reflects the idea that both sides will gain from your personal request. Yet, if all our efforts do not lead us to our desired ends, one needs to keep in mind that Hashem has a bigger picture of each individual’s life.

By using a “cushion method” when speaking to a person in a position of authority, one can help achieve one’s goals. One needs to initially verbalize a “joining statement” — perhaps a specific thanks of how they’ve helped you, until now (the first “cushion,” so to speak), and then you give your actual request. After your request, another “cushioning” or positive statement helps soften what might be considered too much directness on your part. In this way, any seemingly aggressive manner is held in check.

In truth, what we might feel is the best first choice may be an inaccurate assumption. The class that you wanted for your daughter may have a very problematic classmate who is entering the class — and this information is not known to you. As in all areas of our life, we need to daven for siyatta diShmaya to make the right decisions when options are put before us.