Q: As Tishrei approaches and another year seems to have gone by so quickly, I’ve come to wonder what I’ve actually accomplished in this time.
In terms of my family, I’m a pretty responsible person. I keep up with my obligations and work on my middos when I see there’s something that I need to work on. But I wouldn’t say that my house is very inspiring. What can I tell you? I work very hard, and I don’t have time to be exciting and dramatic, the way some mothers are. It’s also not my style to act that way. But I also see that the outside world is so inviting to those who crave this type of intensity, and it frightens me a little to think that maybe one of my children will be that type and my husband and I will not be able to fill the need and create a void. What are your thoughts about this?
A: Parents may say that they do not possess these exemplary character traits, and some parents uncomfortably have to admit that their observance is in the category of mitzvos anashim milumadah — they do their mitzvos by rote, unfortunately. However, just as a couple needs to re-evaluate their marriage when they reach a crisis, parents needs to re-evaluate their spiritual standing when they want to embark on a project to help inspire their family. When Chazal instruct “Chanoch la’naar al pi darko, ki yazkin lo yasur mimenah — Educate a child according to his individual path, so that when he grows old, he will not depart from it” (Mishlei 22:6), this is a sign for future doros that each child possesses his or her own derech. Any mother can attest to the fact of how different each of her children is, and that each one’s challenges are unique. However, the sincerity and honesty of parents are something that all children internalize, no matter how their personalities manifest themselves. If children see that their parents’ spiritual experiences and endeavors give them much joy — not anxiety and worry — they will look to Yiddishkeit as a haven in a cruel and materialistic world. If their role models are refined, calm individuals, they will see how emunah and bitachon truly refine and mold human beings.
Verbalizing what you believe is something that doesn’t have to be dramatic, but sincere. When you stress the idea of hashgachah pratis, Hashem becomes an integral part of your daily life. When you verbalize an incident that reflects this, the occurrence is elevated from the mundane and your child’s perspective on life begins to expand.
How a parent responds to life is how a child learns to respond to life. Many people might have said, ”When I get angry at my children, I’m not going to react as my parents did” — whatever that was. Yet, when under enough pressure, individuals may instinctively respond by acting in the way they learned from their parents — even though they don’t want to. This just reinforces the idea of how our actions make strong impressions on our children, just as our parents’ actions made strong impressions on us.
Even if we find certain weaknesses in our avodas Hashem, our children should feel that we are consciously working to change them. (“Baruch Hashem I davened Minchah today! Things were so hectic, I’m glad that I was able to do it!”) It is helpful if a person can express his or her own connection to Yiddishkeit and why it is so important. If you are unable to envision a reason beyond “Well, my parents did it,” it will be difficult to be a role model reflecting the depth (or the intensity, as you have called it) that your child is seeking. You need to search yourself, as each Yiddishe neshamah reflects infinite ruchniyus horizons.
If people overvalue something not reflected in Torah values, their general hashkafos can become lopsided. For example, if a parent is always involved with thoughts of improving gashmiyus (be this due to an overabundance of money or a severe lack of money), a child’s thoughts and behavior begin to follow in a similar direction, either showing off material possessions or feeling sorry for him- or herself because of what s/he does not possess. One needs to re-evaluate one’s priorities — and be careful of how one talks in front of one’s children.
Another way to instill a “spiritual identity” in a child is to stress pride in a child’s enthusiasm in a particular mitzvah, be it davening, learning or certain unique acts of chessed, and help strengthen them. If a child has no inborn “spiritual direction,” one can help a child find such a direction and cultivate it.
A child should feel that Hashem needs him, as part of the Master Plan.
To be continued…