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Credit and Blame in Parenting
Mom with a View

Credit and Blame in Parenting

Like it or not, your children have free will.


“Having sweet children wouldn’t mean I’m a good mother,” said a woman named Miri in an article in Mishpacha magazine. “It would mean I’m a blessed mother.”

What exactly is she saying and why did I stop and cut that quote out of the magazine before consigning the rest of the periodical to the recycling bin?

I think the point she succinctly makes is very important, and also very difficult for us to hear. We tend to reap all the glory and shoulder all the blame when it comes to our children. Long after the discrediting of Freud, we are quick to blame parents, especially mothers for the failings of their children. And we are too quick to accept that responsibility.

And yet it can’t be true. In every other area of life, we fall back on the cornerstone of Jewish thought that the effort is on our hands and the outcome is in the Almighty’s. We work hard to get into that college, to get that job, to earn that promotion – but there are many factors outside of our control that affect whether we achieve these goals, the most crucial being what the Almighty wants and determines.

Parenting is no exception. We put a tremendous amount of effort into raising our children. We read books and attend classes and stop sleeping for at least 20 years. We pray and we pray and we pray. But we can’t force the outcome. It is ultimately outside of our control.

Despite our stellar character and perfect modeling(!) our children have free will and, for reasons we may or may not understand, for reasons they may or may not understand, they may end up making choices different than or even antithetical to ours. Does that mean we are bad parents? Emphatically no. It is playing out exactly as it’s supposed to, even if it’s not as we would like.

Once we come to this important recognition – that we can’t control the outcome (I know you parents of young children haven’t accepted this yet!) and that if it turns out not as we would have hoped it is not our fault, then we must also accept the corresponding proposition.

If they turn out well, we don’t get the credit. It is just another gift from the Almighty, yet another undeserved kindness He is extending to us. And we need to acknowledge this and express our gratitude, recognize the blessing.

This is not a contradiction to the age-old Jewish desire of schepping nachas from our children. Nachas means (I believe) taking pleasure in their good, enjoying their joys and accomplishments, kvelling over the grandchildren, and marveling at the treasures the Almighty has given us. What nachas does NOT mean is taking credit, patting ourselves on the back, puffing out our chests or in any way asserting that this was our doing.

All outcomes are out of our hands. We try our best and leave the rest up to the Almighty. And when good comes (as it does to everyone along with the challenges), we say, like Miri, that we are not smart, talented, wise, or particularly well-read when it comes to parenting tomes, rather we are blessed.

January 21, 2018

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Anonymous, February 2, 2018 3:09 AM

A parent is responsible for their preventable mistakes

As parents we must make excellent and educated decisions. And we are not released from the responsibility of doing so by referencing phrases in the article like "It is ultimately outside of our control", and "All outcomes are out of our hands. "

If a parent is aware they have a condition that affects their lives, they must get help/treatment so their family does not suffer. If they don't, they bear the responsibility for the decision to let their issue continue unresolved.

Specifically, if one or both parents have trauma from childhood or later life trauma, by not working to resolve the personality stresses caused by their trauma, the psychological studies on the topic observe that the after-effects of a parent's unresolved trauma roll forward to the next generation.

When parents complain that their children turned out in unexpected ways or with psychological issues, the experienced counselor/therapist will ask first about the parents' interaction with the child during the early months up to about 18 months. Readers can google "Attachment Theory" and "Secure Base" to learn about how the parent's issues are very much involved in the emotional makeup of their beloved children.

As for the statement "It is playing out exactly as it’s supposed to, even if it’s not as we would like", this is incorrect. There is no script we are playing out. There is no inevitable fate -- not in Torah. There is a setup from Shamayim -- how we respond is fully up to us.

And though ultimately, in the macro, Hashem determines all, we don't live in that space. We can't retreat from the responsibility of taking action to address our challenges. Your article as written gives too much freedom to weak or inexperienced parents. You're allowing them to walk away from their family challenges -- and believe they are still righteous because they're being faithful to "All outcomes are out of our hands"

(3) Anonymous, January 26, 2018 12:24 AM

Thank you

I love to read your articles, and this one really hit the spot. I am going thru a hard time with some of my children and I do think I was a good parent. Thank you for writing this.

(2) another mom, January 25, 2018 2:33 PM

I'm working on this.

Really good article. I have to remind myself that I make my best effort, because that's who I am. The outcome is out of my hands. Children have free will and are completely separate human beings, with their own lives to live. They weren't born to give us anything, other than being who they are. This is hard to remember when you put your heart and soul into your children. Thanks for the reminder.

(1) tired mama, January 24, 2018 5:12 PM

Exactly What I Needed To Hear

I have put my entire being into raising my children right and unfortunately the results isn't fully positive to say the least. As parents we sometimes even get blamed by our children despite all we have done... It is validating and heartwarming to be reminded that "All outcomes are out of our hands" I wish I had internalized this 10 years earlier.

Thank you Emunah Braverman, keep the inspiration coming.

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