Q: As Yom Kippur comes closer, I am not feeling particularly inspired. If anything, I’m just feeling guilty and depressed about how certain issues never seem to improve. I often question whether I’m being too strict with my children (and worry that they’ll rebel, chas v’shalom). Other days, I think that I’m not being strong enough in expressing my hashkafos, and that my children are receiving a watered-down chinuch.
It’s hard to feel motivated when you continue to try but don’t see progress. Take lashon hara, for example. Maybe I don’t speak of people in a direct negative way, but I speak lashon hara “with the eyes” — showing how I feel without words, expressing the feelings with my eyes. Or judging people — sometimes I don’t have the mental “creativity” or “elastic thinking” to give someone the benefit of the doubt at that moment.
My children see that I’m not exactly a role model of great middos. I feel somewhat of an impostor — telling my children how to behave and daven, when they know that I, too, have areas in which I need to improve.
A: The idea that we all can reach perfection creates pitfalls in our path. Having high expectations can help motivate many (but not all) of us, as it gives us direction. But our expectations must be realistic.
On a basic level, you need to ask yourself, “Do you think you are better than Moshe Rabbeinu? He erred, but you cannot?” As parents, we need to remember that our children are not projections of our selves — we can only daven for siyatta diShmaya to make the right decision in each given situation. Each child needs to be responded to differently, depending on his or her stage of life; how you speak to a child at age 12 is not the same way you should speak to an 18-year-old.
The yetzer hara has a field day introducing thoughts of despair during the Yamim Nora’im. Remember, its ways are subtle. Your questions sound sincere but if pondering leads to despair, you know that the yetzer hara has won and you have lost.
Our goal in teshuvah is to return to Hashem; there is no greater joy than this concept. As we say in daily davening, “Oz v’chedvah biM’komo — Joy and gladness are found in His Place.” (Wherever “HaMakom” is mentioned, it refers to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, as He is the Place of all the world.)
If we focus on what is lacking in ourselves and that brings us to sadness, teshuvah becomes very difficult to experience. However, if we focus on what we lack but know we can improve, we become inspired by hope.
On a practical level, a person needs to concentrate on optional ways to respond to recurring problematic situations in life.
If after we expend true effort no change is forthcoming, perhaps other techniques need to be created and attempted to get different results. One needs to imagine the problematic circumstance and envision other possible ways of responding, before the event occurs. One can request assistance from others until a workable plan comes into being. Hashem assists those who come to purify themselves.
If Hashem wanted perfect parents, he would have created them. The goal of perfection for any human being is unrealistic and can only lead to despair.
If we were to actually write a list of all our good accomplishments over the past year, we would be more hopeful about the future. Try it. Remember and record positive actions, from the smallest item to the greatest achievement. The time you held yourself back from saying something, for example, might be the highlighted accomplishment of the past year!
Your children will notice the sincerity of your efforts. They will observe what your priorities are, in the way you serve Hashem with simchah. One good example — yours — is surely worth a thousand words.