Rules and Limits
Despite what their kids might think, being a parent isn't easy. One of the hardest parts of the job for a parent (and certainly for the kids) is the occasional need to be strict and insisting that their children have rules and limits. This week's Torah portion compares God's disciplining the Jewish people to a loving parent disciplining his child. We can learn from here that just as God gives us limits and consequences out of love and as a way to help us grow, so too when our parents place rules and limits on our behavior, it's not because they don't love us, but rather because they do love us and want to help us become the best we can be.
In our story a kid finds out that being a parent isn't quite as easy as it seems.
Lauren Sherman glanced nervously over her shoulder at the clock on the wall as she quickly stuffed the half-rinsed dishes into the dishwasher. Her friends would come by any minute and her parents had given her permission to go with them to the water park - only after she did the dishes, that is.
Lauren hated the way her parents always made rules about everything she wanted to do. She would always tell her mom, "When I'm a parent I'm only going to have one rule for my kids - and that rule is: 'NO RULES!'"
Her mom would nod her head and say, "Honey, don't think it's so simple."
In the end Lauren made it to the park on time and came home three hours later more water logged than the dishes she still had to put away.
"Yeah, mom - to put the dishes away..."
"Well, yes, that too," said her mother, "but what I was going to say is do you remember I had mentioned Dad and I might be going out of town for a few days?"
"So it looks like this is the week. We think you are old enough to stay home without a babysitter - that is if you don't mind being a substitute parent and taking care of Rich and Robby while we're away."
The words 'substitute parent' had a nice ring in Laura's ears, and she quickly agreed. Finally she would have a chance to put her 'One rule - No Rules' policy into action.
The next day, after wishing her parents a good trip, Lauren jumped into her new role with both feet, working hard to make them all a good nutritious lunch. "Okay guys, time to eat!" she called out. She thought the boys would come running, but when nobody showed up, she went to investigate and found them laughing in the playroom, elbow deep in cookies and tortilla chips.
"Hey, what kind of lunch is that?"
"A DELICIOUS one!" said Robby.
"But I made you guys a whole big lunch. You know mom says you can't just eat junk, you have to..."
"But you told us: NO RULES!" protested Rich, "And we want this for lunch."
Lauren didn't know what to say. It was true she didn't want to make any rules, but... She walked back to the kitchen, ate by herself and put the rest away hoping they would want it for supper.
But they didn't. In fact chips, cookies and soda seemed to be all they wanted for any meal. That night, Lauren tucked the boys in at their usual bedtime, and was about to settle in herself after a long day when she heard loud music coming from the den. She threw on her robe and flew downstairs. "Rob! Rich! I put you guys to bed an hour ago. What do you guys think you're doing? It's way past your bedtime!"
"What bedtime?" asked Robby innocently. "You said 'no rules' and bedtime is a rule, isn't it?"
"True, but if you stay up so late, how will you get up for camp tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow isn't for another eight hours!" Rich laughed as he turned away and made the music even louder. Lauren trudged back up to bed. At least she'd get a good night's sleep.
But falling asleep with the music blaring wasn't so easy, and when she tried to get the boys to lower it, they claimed she was making a rule again. Tossing and turning, Lauren began to think. She always had looked at her parents' rules as unfair and restrictive, but this was different. If the kids didn't eat and sleep properly they would get sick, and if they never learned to be courteous of other peoples' right to sleep, they would become spoiled brats. She tossed some more and thought some more - it really was different, wasn't it?
The next morning it was impossible to get either boy out of bed. When they would open their eyes for a second they would just groan about their stomach aches and roll over.
Well at least they learned their lesson, thought Lauren. From now on I'm sure they'll want to eat real food and go to bed on time.
No chance. When the boys finally got up at 11:00 a.m., they dove right back into the junk food, and that evening any mention of bedtime was met with hysterical laughter.
As Lauren twisted and turned in her bed while being treated to a concert for a second straight night, she decided she had had enough. "Get into bed, NOW!" she shrieked as she clicked off the CD player, and pointed to the stairs.
"But you said no rules, and..."
"I don't care. Get into bed now, and not a peep! And you'd better be up at 7:30 sharp to eat the breakfast I make you and catch your camp bus tomorrow, or else!"
The surprised kids scampered upstairs in record time. Lauren was relieved at the quiet and a little surprised by her outburst. She had been so sure she wasn't going to make any rules or limits, and now she had just given the kids orders like a Marine drill sergeant. But they obviously need limits, she thought. Could it be that I need some limits too?
The next day Lauren's parents walked through the door just as she and her brothers finished the late lunch she insisted they eat after coming home from camp. The boys jumped up from the table and ran to give their parents big hugs.
"Boy are we glad to see you!" said Rich.
"Yeah, Lauren was okay, but she's way too strict," added Robby.
"Lauren, it sounds like you got a good taste of what it's really like to be a parent," smiled Mrs. Sherman.
Lauren blushed and said, "I guess even having no limits, has its limit."
Q. How did Lauren feel about her parents' rules and limits at first?
A. She felt like there was no good reason for them.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She saw how without any rules her brothers acted destructively and how rules were really for their good.
Q. What did Lauren discover from her experiment at being a parent?
A. She had always viewed the rules her parents made as being arbitrary and unfair. But after seeing how without them, kids could so easily fall into self-destructive behavior she realized that rules and limits are necessary to help kids learn how to act in a way that is best for themselves and sensitive to the people around them.
Q. What do you think her parents wanted Lauren to learn by making her do the lunch dishes before going out with her friends?
A. One thing could be to teach her to be a responsible part of the family and not feel as if she could just leave messes for someone else to clean up. Another valuable lesson is to learn how to delay something pleasurable until after completing what needs to get done even if it's not as much fun.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Are all the rules and limits our parents give us fair and loving?
A. There is nobody in the world who cares about and loves another like a parent does a child. Our parents' loving concern, together with their life experience, puts them in the ideal position to be able to guide us through life and set the limits we need to help us grow into the best and most successful people we can be.
Q. Our sages teach that we should be grateful for governments and their legal systems, for without them people would 'eat each other alive.' What do you think is the lesson in that statement?
A. Legal systems and governments, as long as they are fair minded, serve as a sort of 'parent' for society, setting limits and making rules to ensure people's rights are respected and obligations are fulfilled. Human nature is to behave not so differently than the young kids in the story and without governmental rules and limits society could quickly break down into destructive anarchy and a brutal game of survival of the strongest.