Q: I understand the need to be very positive about Torah and mitzvos with children, but my husband’s schedule is very packed, and he works greatly with community needs. The chinuch of my children has become a one-person job. By the time my husband comes home from learning (or being involved with chessed projects), it’s usually very late and our children are sleeping. He is a great father, but I feel like my children don’t see him enough to really appreciate him. Any ideas of how to work with this?
A: One can always argue about the advantage of eichus (quality) to kamus (quantity time) that parents give their child. Both have their redeeming points, but limited time is a common reality for many people.
A father can add to a relationship by calling his child daily from work. Those few moments can be used to demonstrate interest in the child’s day as well as praise (for information that his wife conveyed about their child) sprinkled with appropriate hashkafos on any topic discussed. It is the conscious effort that is involved, that makes it quality time.
Going to shul is another chinuch area that involves fathers. When a father brings his children to shul, an important message is being conveyed. If a family has chosen to daven in a shul where there is little or no talking, this portrays the seriousness of tefillah in the parents’ mind. In reality, our contemporary society overstimulates the individual, causing both children and adults to have difficulty relaxing and concentrating. This can result in much talking in shul; people are unable to be calm enough to hear themselves think — much less be introspective! It is easy to fill the void with chatter. One needs to ask oneself: “Do I look forward to davening as a way of self-expression and relating to Hashem, or is a shul a place to go as a matter of practice? A child can intuit the parent’s true priorities in such a situation.
A father cannot underestimate his importance as a role model. Even if a father’s learning abilities are limited, or he has little time to learn with his children, the five minutes spent discussing the parashah at any opportunity is remembered by his children. If a father cannot attend PTA, he can call the child’s rebbi twice a year. In this way, a child will see how both parents value chinuch.
If the priorities in your life are Torah and mitzvos, it comes through in all areas and your child feels it. If Shabbos-table talk veers away from these areas often, that is a strong message in itself. It’s not only what your husband adds to your family’s Yiddishkeit, but what he doesn’t take away.
The Mishnah (Bava Metzia 33a:) discusses what is a child’s first obligation: to help his father or his rebbi find a lost object? It states that he should first help his rebbi, as his rebbi gives the child Olam Haba. If the child’s father taught the child Torah, he is the child’s rebbi and father. He has given him Olam Haba and Olam Hazeh. The sincerity and effort in Torah learning that a father gives to a child is eternal.
The whole concept of lemalei mekomo — to fill a father’s place — (as with kings and rebbes) reflects the idea that, without a doubt, the successors learned the holy ways of their fathers and came to an internalized knowledge of their greatness by being with them from moment to moment. Should we not feel that our children can appreciate whatever limited spiritual understanding we possess? Whatever we have, achieve, or aspire to achieve, should be given as a personal yerushah to our children.
Ask any child how s/he felt about his or her parents’ involvement in his or her personal religious growth, and what an impact it made on the child’s life. The memories of the special person who gave of what little time he had is truly an eternal gift.