Not everyone appreciates the value and importance of having children.
One of my daughters needed stitches but, thank God, it was nothing serious. Still, we needed to rush to the emergency room. In answering a few basic family history questions, the doctor heard me say that my wife and I have five children between the ages of 1 and 11 years.
"You must feel like you have a full house?" she asked.
"No. With God's help, we would like to have more children," I responded.
"Why? Isn't five enough? More than enough?" she persisted with a smile.
It wasn't the time or place to engage in philosophical debate, especially since I did not wish to get the doctor perturbed. After all, I needed her to do a good job on the stitches!
But since that day, I have been doing a lot of thinking. Why did God make the world this way? What exactly is the purpose of putting 'grown-ups' in charge of little kids who can be quite a handful at times?
Truly, there are moments in a parent's life that are extremely gratifying. There is nothing quite like playing or reading, laughing or singing with one's child. But parenting sure has its stressful and frustrating moments!
Parenting begins innocently enough with the easy loves and joys of infancy -- when they don't talk back. But as kids grow older, beginning with those 'terrible twos', parenting can be a real challenge to one's sanity and equilibrium. As the old Yiddish proverb goes, "Small kids, small problems. Big kids, big problems!"
What should our perspective be on the problems we inevitably face as parents? Why must we suffer through inattentiveness, non-compliance, and general moodiness with our kids at times?
Morrie Schwartz had this approach:
"Whenever people ask me about having children or not having children, I never tell them what to do.... I simply say, 'There is no experience like having children.' That's all. There's no substitute for it... If you want the experience of having complete responsibility for another human being, and to learn to love and bond in the deepest way, then you should have children." (Tuesdays with Morrie)
Parenting is aggravating sometimes. This is because we are forming and developing a human being. We are given the complete responsibility to raise this child, to help him reach his potential. As we know from our own individual experiences, reaching one's potential is not easy. We have our good moments along with our difficult times. The same is true for trying to develop a child's maximum growth.
As the old adage states, "No pain-no gain." Ethics of the Fathers said it first, "According to the suffering, is the reward" (5:26). When we parent and at times suffer indignities and other emotional casualties, we are experiencing the struggle of helping another human being become a responsible adult. And that struggle requires us to sacrifice much of our selves. This is what real and profound love is all about.
We learn to love in the deepest way when we parent. In Hebrew, the word for love is 'ahava', whose root 'hav' means to give. True loving is to give to another. The ultimate giving we can perform is to offer our complete selves, to sacrifice for our children.
When the Torah instructs us to honor our parents, it is telling us that parents exhibit tremendous sacrifice, mesirat nefesh, for their children. Beginning with being woken up at all hours of the night, during infancy and childhood, to the financial stresses of paying for a wedding, parenting by definition is about sacrificing your own comforts for your children. The Torah prescribed the great reward of "length of days" for honoring one's parents, in order to cause people to appreciate the mesirat nefesh that parents exhibit.
This is why the Talmud says, "He who raises children is considered as if he created them" (Talmud Sanhedrin, 19b). By raising children, we actually imitate God as Creator. And this helps us relate to Him in a powerful way.
There is a concept known to students of Rav Tzadok HaKohen that in order to discover the profundity of an idea, we must look to the first time the idea appears in the Torah. The foundation and understanding of any concept is seen by analyzing the concept at its root, and that root is its first appearance in the Torah.
When we look for the first time having children is discussed in the Torah, we find that the directive to Adam and Eve concerning the commandment to bear children, "pru urevu -- be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis, 1:28), is actually the first time that God ever speaks to mankind. This means that having children is the most fundamental task and charge that God gave to man. Being the first God communication to man, parenting is the root of man's existence in the world. It is the purpose and basis of God's relationship to man.
As a great man said, "Parents are to children what God is to the world."