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Out of Control Parenting

Out of Control Parenting

Two basic rules to good parenting.


In close competition with the number of weight-loss books are the number of parenting books. And in almost equally close competition are the changing fads: be permissive, be strict; don't raise your voice, show them who's boss; be empathic and mirror their emotions, be matter-of-fact and business-like. And each in some way makes the same false promise that accompanies each new diet: a quick fix, a magic answer.

Just as we have yet to discover that special pill which allows us to consume unlimited calories and remain a size 2, we haven't found the perfect parenting potion either. In fact, it's just not available.

Paradoxically, the first step to healthy parenting is to recognize that it's out of our control.

There are, I think, a few basic rules to good parenting, and none of them are foolproof -- because our children have free will. And all the parenting classes and books and tapes and techniques can't rob them of their ability to choose. In some paradoxical way, the first step to healthy parenting is to recognize that it's out of our control.

The second step, following closely on the heels of the first, is to recognize Who does have control. And to pray. And pray. And pray. This is probably the biggest gift we can give our children.

However since we don't believe in relying on miracles (no matter how tempting the thought!), we must have some strategy when it comes to child-raising.

Our teacher, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, zt'l, gave us two parenting tips which we (try to!) live by:

1. It doesn't really matter which strategy you adopt (i.e. whether you talk so your children will listen and listen so your children will talk -- or not); what matters is consistency. The rules should stay the same and the parents should stay in synch. This is one of the most difficult challenges of parenting and marriage.

When Brian walked in at the end of a long day of work, little Sarah was acting up. "Go to your room immediately!" screamed Yael, his harried wife.

"Sweetheart," Brian said soothingly (and within earshot of Sarah) to his wife, "don't you think that punishment is a little harsh for her behavior?"

"How dare you undermine me?" his wife shrieked. "You haven't been home with her for the last two hours and seen all the other problematic behaviors leading up to this last straw!"

I can only imagine (!) scenes like this which damage both the child and the parents. The key is to have the discussion in private (it requires a lot of tongue biting and deep breathing) and then present a united front to our child.

Our children must clearly know and experience our love for them. That love must be demonstrated.

2. The second tip our teacher gave us was that we need to recognize that the power of parental authority has diminished in our society (and is mostly held in place by restricted access to the family finances!) and by and large, all we have is our personal relationship with our children. This does not mean we are their friends; it means that they must clearly know and experience our love for them. It's not enough to feel it; it must be demonstrated. (A little practical aside: that 'helpful' or 'constructive' criticism we so eagerly offer our children is NOT perceived by them to be a manifestation of our love!)

No matter how frustrated we are, how aggravating the behavior of our teenagers (and it can be pretty aggravating!), we never want to push them away. We may need to impose discipline but it must be accompanied by warmth and caring.

I once heard a story of a child who ran away from home. "I hate you," she screamed to her parents. "I never want to see you again."

"However much you hate me," replied her father, "I love you more and I will never give up on your return." When the circumstances of her life proved too much for her she ran back home, to her father's waiting embrace.

It's crucial to appreciate our children's individuality and to support them in their endeavor to figure out their strengths and weakness and goals. They are not living out our missed opportunities or our visions; they are not symbols of our success or failure. They are unique and wonderful human beings with special, personal gifts to offer. We need to move out of the way.

Our children need to discover and express their own passions, not ours. I've even seen some studies that suggest the less we push our offspring into our chosen fields, the more likely they are to choose it. Psych 101 or the Almighty's sense of humor?

Lastly (though not exhaustively), we need to trust our intuitions. When training therapists, professors admonish their students to learn the theories, then throw away the books. Lives of real and complex human beings can't be governed by a one size fits all formula. Each person and each situation is not the same as the last. We need to be focused on the person in front of us, not on a page in a text book.

Many parenting issues have no right or wrong answers -- to feed on demand or on a schedule, to let your baby cry or pick him up, cloth or paper diapers -- but depend on the needs and judgment of individual parents.

We can't abdicate that responsibility. Only we, the parents, know and understand our children. The advice of outsiders is limited at best, damaging at worst. I received confirmation of this theory recently when one of my children called to say, "Thank you ima and abba, I'm so glad I listened to you." I wish someone had been taping that conversation! I was unable to save the message but I carry it with me. That and my constant prayers.

March 11, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Anonymous, March 29, 2006 12:00 AM

so true

u said"I've even seen some studies that suggest the less we push our offspring into our chosen fields, the more likely they are to choose it." this is so right. someone i know her father is a teacher. he says to his kids(ages 15,14,13,12, 9,5,2) to do something better with their lives but at least one really wants to be a teacher!!!!!!!

(7) Hannah, March 15, 2006 12:00 AM

Agree with Yehudis

Not only is leaving a baby to cry cruel, so is feeding a baby according to a schedule!! Babies do best when they know that we will respond to their hunger and pain. In the case of breastfeeding, limiting feedings can reduce supply. Watch your baby, not the clock!!

(6) Anonymous, March 13, 2006 12:00 AM

what about requiring Jewish education?

I appreciate your words about acknowledging a child's individuality and not forcing our missed opportunities on them. I also agree with the importance of prayer in parenting.
I want to send my two younger children (ages 12 and 14) to a day school next year. They completely oppose it because it's very different from the secular, hip-hop city life they're used to, and of course they'd have to make new friends . But I am looking for a serious intervention to the warped values that I can not seem to remove them from in the secular world. Do I defer to their wishes of continuing in public schools and just pray that in the future they will discover the better path of Torah? Isn't it better to "force" them to at least give the day school a chance?

(5) Yehudis, March 13, 2006 12:00 AM

Don't be cruel!

Lots of wise comments in this article but I'm wondering about the line which says that whether or not to let a baby cry has no right or wrong answer!?

Didn't we long ago learn from the tragic mistake of those "experts" who ordered mothers to cruelly ignore their crying babies?

The Jewish (and humanitarian)way is to tend to a crying baby.

(4) Pierre N Renaud, March 13, 2006 12:00 AM

From experience ...

(I am French and I will try to express my self as best as I can in your language)

I am a father of four boys. They are now aged between 21 and 15. Raising four boys was a beautiful challenge for my wife and me. I can express my opinion on this subject because of our experiences. I can tell you that the best of the best way of raising children is home schooling. I could write pages of advantages, but let me give you a few;

1- Teaching G_d’s way, the right way
2- Children are raised by an adult, not by children (school yard, were they learn garbage from the world)
3- Children are tutored by an adult (one on one)
4- You choose the best material for you child
5- They are loved every day (they are with you from 0 to 16 years of age, it is very precious for you and you child)
6- School is done in the morning (calculate the time they are in class?) In the afternoon you have everything available for you (theatre, museum, concert, gym, skiing, skating)
7- You can have your vacations any time you want, you do not need to wait for March break…
8- It is cheaper to home school then sending your children to public school.
9- Etc.

Oh yes, I know what your thinking, every one that I talk to about home schooling told me the same thing and you are wrong. “How about there social life?” Ha! Do you remember the school yard? The bullies, the fighters, the other one that tells you are ugly, stupid, no good and so on and so on… You learn quickly to retreat, you become anti-social. At home they are not attacked by those situations, so they are not afraid to be social.

Oh another thing, career, well let me tell you how proud I am of the choice my made of her career. She his a wife, a home manager and a teacher. A career most wanted and to be very proud of when you see the fruit of it, your children…

My boys are more then happy to being home schooled. And today they are searching for there love mate and one of there criteria is to home school there on children.

It was the best of the best investment in our children’s life and very beautiful experience and the best souvenir of our life, but the best of all is planting the fear of the Lord G_d in there life.

When I was in first grade, my first teacher, she was old and wise, told me;
“A child is like a tree, if he starts growing crooked he will stay crooked, but if he starts strait he will stay strait”. I will add to this; if the roots are well planted nothing will make him fall…


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