The Perils of Parenting

“Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories,” wrote John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester (1647 -1680).

It is no easier to raise children in the 21st century than it was in the 17th century; in fact, it is probably a good deal more challenging. Our children encounter a myriad influences we cannot control and choices beyond the Earl’s wildest imaginings. What is more in a culture milieu saturated with the illusion that happiness comes from buying it all and having it all.

Hopefully, parents know better. We try to protect our children from so much, but the task is overwhelming. Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, a homiletical commentary on Leviticus written 1800 years ago tells us this: How is the eagle distinguished from other birds? All the other birds carry their young between their feet, because they are afraid of the birds flying above them. But the eagle is afraid only of people who might shoot at him. Therefore, he prefers to have the arrows lodge in him rather than in his offspring. A parable: A man was going on the road with his son walking in front of him. If robbers who might seek to capture the son come from in front, he takes the boy from before himself and puts him behind himself. If a wolf comes from behind, he takes his son from behind and puts him in front. If robbers come from in front and wolves from behind, he takes the son and puts him on his shoulders.

These days, the dangers come from in front, behind, above, and below. Yet we cannot shield our children from every negative influence. What we can do is instill in them the values we consider essential by modeling those values in the lives we, their parents, live.

The story is told of a man who came to Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk and asked how he could insure that his children would devote themselves to Torah. Menahem Mendel answered: "If you really want them to do this, then you yourself must spend time studying the Torah, and they will do as your do. Otherwise they will not devote themselves to the Torah, but only tell their children to do it. If you, yourself, forget the Torah, your children will also forget it, only urging their children to know it, and they will forget the Torah and tell their children that they should know it. And no one will ever know the Torah." What is true of Torah study for Jews is true of every important value in life for all of us. If we want our children to grow to be honest, diligent, thoughtful, generous, and kind, then we must live these values with gusto.

The advice columnist Ann Landers once famously wrote, “Maturity is the ability to do a job whether or not you are supervised, to carry money without spending it, and to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.” This is a good place to begin.

Rabbi Scheinerman wrote this article for the Carroll County Times.