It Wouldn't Work in My Home
It is very gratifying to me to see more and more FJJ columnists addressing parenting concerns. The various techniques and reassurance offered by these sagacious writers reflect the unfortunate fact that parenting continues to be an extremely difficult endeavor. Perhaps the expression l’fum tza’ara agrah, usually translated as, “according to the effort shall be the reward,” could also be understood to mean ”when it’s really hard, you know that the stakes must be very high.”
Why do I say that? Because when it is so incredibly hard, why not just give up? I think parents don’t give up because there is so much at stake. This is the life of a child we’re talking about. It’s a tremendous responsibility but it’s also a wonderful opportunity to mold and help to grow another Ben or Bas Torah in our community, in Hashem’s world.
So when someone reads the article and says, “that’s sounds great but it won’t work in my home,” what do I say to them? I ask them to describe their home to me, the ambience, the tone and feel of their home and the nature of their conversations with their children. I believe them when they say that they really did master the technique but it didn’t work. And then what?
Let me share with you an excerpt from the preface to my, b’ezrat Hashem, forthcoming book, on this matter:
Techniques are all well and good—but they require competent technicians. If you don’t have the presence of mind to be able to apply the technique when it counts, then all the methods in the world won’t help you. Here’s a story that illustrates this point:
Mendel was fascinated by the intricate wooden key chain his brother Sammy had made in camp. When Mendel went to camp the next summer, he couldn’t wait for arts and crafts so he could make one just like it. The arts-and-crafts counselor, Tzvi, showed Mendel how to hold the knife and handed him a block of soft wood.
Mendel tried to cut on the line that Tzvi had drawn on the wood, but his hand slipped and he gouged the wood. Mendel became angry and frustrated. He poked at the line on the wood with the point of the knife, but it glanced off the side and he cut his finger with the blade.
Tzvi walked over and reviewed how to hold the knife and where to make the cuts into the wood. But by then Mendel had lost all patience. He angrily picked up the block and stabbed at it again, chipping off another chunk instead of cutting the groove he had intended.
Mendel understood the techniques, but he was not a capable technician. The michsholim of anger and frustration tripped him up, preventing him from utilizing the lessons he had learned.
Mendel didn’t need to know more about knives and wood. He needed to know more about what happened to Mendel when he became frustrated and angry.
Three things happened to Mendel as a result of his anger and frustration:
Mendel did not succeed in making the wood into a key chain.
Mendel damaged the wood so that it became even harder to make it into a key chain than it was before he started.
Mendel cut himself.
This realization might have been an incentive for Mendel to think about what made him so annoyed and frustrated. By being aware of his frustration, he could pull himself back and calm down before continuing.
Mendel realized that angrily attacking the wooden block was just making things worse. He took a deep breath and decided to go out for a five-minute walk. When he returned, he asked Tzvi to review once again how to hold the knife and where to make the cuts into the wood. Then Mendel picked up the block, carefully positioned the knife, and began to cut the groove as he had intended.
The nimshal for parents is obvious. This book will, of course, offer many good techniques. But along with the techniques, you will learn to become a better technician so that you can wield those tools effectively. Tools are worthless if they are not handled properly. When that happens:
you will likely not succeed in your goal,
you may cause damage that will be harder to repair afterward, and
you will hurt yourself in the process.
In each chapter I will present a middah to build you as a parent and provide techniques for raising your child. I will show you how the middah serves to build you into a more competent technician, less susceptible to the michsholim many parents struggle to overcome.
I will show you how you can overcome the michsholim when they happen to you and regain a state of nachas, tranquility, so that you can use the techniques that you have learned effectively. Like Mendel, you will learn that it’s a good idea to take a deep breath and think the situation through calmly before proceeding.
That’s what I wrote in the preface, but as I think about it now I think that it’s more important to think about yourself in the situation rather than just thinking about the situation as it involves your child. What you think to yourself about how the situation reflects on you? Are you thinking to yourself, “My child disrespected me. My child never listens to me. I am failing as a parent?” I would rather you think about yourself as safe and not threatened in any way, and that your child failed to meet an expectation.
If you are feeling threatened and off-balance you will not be able to wield the very best parenting tools successfully.
And remember: the very best parenting frame of mind consists of savlonut, empathy, and compassion.
May you have much nachat.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting.