Starting the New Year Afresh

Q: As the new year gets underway, I find myself looking back at past years and thinking about how I’ve been as a mother. I think my patience has improved somewhat, but when I look at my husband, I just see ways in which his general attitude has become more negative. I’m sure a main cause is that he’s been under a lot of stress due to his work (he’s self-employed), and has suffered a lot of financial setbacks.

He snaps at our children more quickly than ever, and criticizes whatever he doesn’t like that goes on in our home. His general simchas hachaim just isn’t what it used to be.

I try to be a supportive and understanding wife, trying to relate to him, but I have my limitations.

Books always mention how children learn from their parents more than from anyone else. What are my children learning from their father? To get angry for small and large things alike? It’s also always said that you can’t change anyone but yourself. So that makes me believe that it is no use trying to help him with his moods, since it won’t have any long-term effect.

To his credit, he is kovei’a itim and is quite self-disciplined in his daily schedule. So I guess that when things occur that disrupt his daily schedule, his patience is limited. I know that you don’t know my husband’s temperament, but he is generally a level-headed person, open to new ideas. He’s just somewhat broken due to the financial stress. How should I proceed?

A: I can well understand your concern about parents being positive role models for their children. However, unexpected challenges are an oft-occurring design in the tapestry of life. Be it physical illnesses, psychological crises among family members, etc., human beings face continual tests. Our expectations of being the perfect parent often bring us to unnecessary anxiety — it doesn’t usually inspire us to greatness.

Being a compassionate listener to your husband and validating his feelings about his present difficult predicament is a good beginning in trying to reach out to him. However, this is not necessarily the path to follow for an extended period of time, as it can lead to feelings of self-pity and sadness.

Emphasizing ways that your husband is an essential and integral part of your family, through verbalizing concrete examples of this to him, can be very helpful. You might point out the way he is a role model of being ehrlich in business dealings (which is a challenge during financial downturns), or that he says kind and thoughtful words to family members at home, in moments when he is more focused and less irritated.

The goal is not to change another person, but to perhaps share with others your knowledge and understanding of certain concepts that have been helpful to you. When you share your life experiences with your husband and what helped you get through difficult circumstances, it’s less of a criticism of your husband and more that you are sharing your life jacket with him.

You can commiserate with each other on how annoying it can be when Shloimi or Sarale persist in continual requests, and discuss ways of how you respond appropriately when you remember to implement these ideas.

As behavior patterns are quite consistent in children (and adults), parents can usually predict their children’s verbal responses and daily actions. That being the case, wise parents can imagine recurrent scenarios with their children and think of possible constructive responses to their behaviors.

Your husband can see the negative patterns, and if he is open to new ideas (as you mention), he alone (or you two together) can problem-solve and come up with possible thoughts to keep in mind in order to avoid negative knee-jerk responses to your children.

Such a line of constructive self-talk could be, “Children are natural saboteurs to our plans” (after someone throws a bowl of oatmeal on the floor on the way out the door). Such constructive refrains that we repeat to ourselves decrease our unrealistic expectations of things always going “right.” Our level of stress can be decreased just by internalizing these words alone.

In the final analysis, it is the Ribbono shel Olam Who orchestrates our challenges, and He is well aware of the obstacles that we encounter. As we strive towards being superlative role models, the idea that “one who comes to purify himself is assisted [by Hashem]” is recalled. May all parents receive siyatta diShmaya with their parenting!