We Owe it to Our Children to Educate Them
Everywhere I look, children are on the loose. I recently took to Facebook to bemoan an incident that had occurred in synagogue one Saturday morning:
“Dads bring their children to shul so mom can rest. But the fathers do not parent their children who are left to run wild. Yesterday boys climbed the fireplace in the women’s section, children shouted, played catch or hide-and-seek and generally conducted themselves as if on a playground. A grandmother over the age of ninety asked some unruly boys to be quiet. They spat, pulled tongues and kicked. One of the mothers was present. She airily looked on without disciplining her child.
“Aside from the fact that children need parenting, we are not your children’s babysitters. Keep ‘em at your side, keep’ em home, create a children’s program but don’t leave ‘em wild in the women’s section!”
Teach Them Not to Break Things
Although I had once been told, in response to asking for quiet from the women themselves, “You don’t belong here. Go somewhere else,” for various reasons I went back. Yesterday as I sat alone at a table after services, I noticed a child smashing plastic cups as an antic for his friends. Now is not the time to go into a discussion on how damaging I think disposables are both to our sense of personal value and our environment. Mentioning anything of the sort would have been entirely meaningless to the children. My focus rather was on the wanton breaking of utensils.
A story is told about Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. He once received a silver snuffbox as a gift and commented, “There is one organ in the body (the nose) which by nature does not crave worldly pleasures and they want to make a means to indulge it as well?!” Sometime later, his grandson the Tzemach Tzedek heard that the Rebbe had broken the lid to use as a mirror for his tefillin. He remarked, “The Zeida was not involved in breaking. It is not possible that he broke the lid. There must have been a hinge which he removed to detach the top.”
That is the story I was thinking of as the boys took to enjoying their game of smashing cups. (Um…trigger warning! If you believe in allowing children indiscriminate free reign, do not read on.) It pained me that they had zero notion that what they were doing was wrong. And the brazen response was even more painful, not only from the child but the father too. I do not know his name. I was told he is somewhat of a tyrant. Maybe that is why his children were so rude. Rather than telling his child that breaking the cups, refusing to give them to me, not telling me his name when I asked and running away to the men’s section when I was speaking to him were disrespectful, the father shot the messenger. On my way out the synagogue, the boy’s older brother called out, “Take a chill pill!” And when I mentioned this to the mother, her son said, “That is what Ta told me to say.”
Something is wrong. I am not writing this story because of personal honor. I felt as much, and more, pain when I saw the grandmother disrespected the week before. Her dignity, holiness, humility were insignificant to the children she tried to quieten and get down from the fireplace.
CONTAIN a Tantrum – It’s Your JOB!
Some months ago, a child had a full blown tantrum across the street from our home. Initially I was certain someone was being beaten. I could not for the life of me fathom such screams arising from anything else. I ran to the window and there on the sidewalk stood a Wild Child ranting at her mom. The mother stood there, a limp, wilted stalk. This must have gone on for close to ten minutes. It was so hard to listen to that at moments I felt compelled to go help that poor mother out. She simply had no power. She had given it all away to the ludicrous notion that her child must be “happy” and that she was beholden to ensure the girl not grow up with any “issues” for if she did, the blame for her psychological unhingement would lay coldly at her own aging feet.
Somewhere in the mix we became all mixed up. The truth is, if you refuse to discipline your children, you betray them. Job tells us we are born like wild donkeys. Even earlier in the Bible, G-d tells Noah, “The inclination of a man’s heart is evil from his youth.” This is not to repudiate the essential goodness of each person. We have many parts. Or in the more contemporary language of Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Each of us contains that essentially good part. We also hold a Wild Donkey, the job of whose it is the parents to train. As parents and educators we have a duty to serve the next generation by socializing them, guiding and rebuking them, all by way of transmitting G-d’s truth to them.
By the same token, if you love yourself and are committed to being the “perfect parent” you are going to fail your children too. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Your children will not like it all. They will also (trigger warning!) experience some wounding. And then, when all is said and done, it will be up to you to assist them through the delusion that your shortcomings are the hook on which they can hang all their failings.
The freedom to behave according to the whims of your inner animal is not freedom at all. It is animalistic! We owe it to our children to teach them another way.