PARENTAL PARADOX

Dr. Miriam Adahan, April, 2008 

            One of the reasons that parenting is so difficult is because parents are caught in a paradoxical situation. What every child wants most is to be loved as he is. This need must not conflict with the parents' job as teacher, which comes from the word hora'ah – instruction. A teacher's job is to civilize the child, instill values, shape attitudes and correct negative behavior. We can't let our children go out into the world as pampered slobs or short-tempered bullies. We want them to be hard-working, reliable, thrifty, considerate, patient, polite and organized. We know that they need these traits in order to be happy and to survive in a tough world. If her room is a mess and she has tantrums over her split ends, what will happen when she has to juggle work and kids and a husband who is less than perfect? If he slams doors when he's upset or torments his little sister, how will he behave when his wife irritates him in any one of the thousands of ways that people can irritate each other?

Unfortunately, the parents' drive to improve him is often interpreted by the child as rejection.  This is why so many children complain bitterly about their parents, "No matter what I do, it's never good enough. They care about my grades, not about me."  And because we see their faults so clearly, they hear the double message, i.e., "I love you. But remember, there's always room for improvement!" And that's why they may feel so much happier and freer at their friends' homes, where no one is trying to change them.

Parents must be like orthodontists, exerting just enough gentle pressure to straighten them, but not so much that we break their spirits. Growth happens very slowly, almost imperceptibly. Either extreme - excess pressure or lack of discipline - communicate a lack of true caring. It's hard to get the right balance. While one child might thrive with strict limits and high expectations, another may feel unloved and stifled and begin to lie about his thoughts, feelings and actions.    

Overly-controlling parents push their child to fit their fantasy, i.e., "You must be a brilliant talmid chacham [or a tireless balabusta/teacher] or else!" To achieve this goal, they keep up constant pressure, convinced that, "If I don't wake him up, force him to learn and harp on every little fault, he won't wake up, will be a slob, will eat only junk food and will leave the religion, God forbid. I must constantly potsch, criticize and punish to make him shape up." During the early years, this seems to work. But the over-controlled child may turn into mindless automaton, incapable of independent thought or action, always looking to outside sources to determine what to think, wear, eat or say and always anxious that he is not living up to the ideal.  Or, the child rebels, scorning all authority, out to prove, "No one can tell me what to do. I cannot live a lie! I cannot pretend to love what I hate." Either way, the child never develops an authentic personality, but simply responds blindly to external forces.

Just as a toddler will not walk until some inner force tells him it is time to do so, no amount of pressure will make a child develop against his inherent personality [to distinguish between middos and inborn traits, see my book Awareness.]  Our goal is to help a child want what is best for him, from his own internal sense of what is right, not because of external coercion. After all, if he is forced to daaven, then when the parents are not around, he may simply not daaven, because he has always done so only to please others or avoid being punished. When daavening does not arise from an inner desire to connect to HaShem, it becomes a lie - empty and meaningless. Likewise, a child who is forced into a marriage or way of life that he does not want, the results are disastrous. The parents may think that more force will make the child better, not even seeing that their pressure is making him bitter. 

The only method which really works to instill good values in children is the VICTORY METHOD. This means that we show enthusiasm for the small victories which the child is already manifesting in the areas we want to see improvement. Then he is more likely to do more of what we want, because he feels successful. If a husband constantly complains to his wife that she is overweight and eating too much, she will eat more, because his comments make her feel unloved. And she will probably deal with that pain by eating even more. But if he truly loves her compliments her on her looks and encourages her to talk about her "victories" when she eats two cookies instead of ten, she is more likely to learn self-control.

The key to growth – including our own - is to be a loving orthodontist. Pressure which comes from our own ego needs or from anger will always boomerang. Each parent must tread the fine line between respect for the child as he is and the gentle push which will help him move forward. Try to make a new or difficult task fun. A child who hates to clean can clean to music. He can be given a 3-minute egg timer and asked to do so for just 3 minutes at a time. If we feel scornful when talking to the child or our advice is met with scorn, this is a signal to back off.  Remember, the child is an individual, not a lump of clay that can be molded to fit our dreams. Do not think that this is an easy task – for any parent! 

 

[To learn the VICTORY METHOD, you can order my new series of 8 one-hour DVD sessions on childrearing from my website, www.adahan-online.com. My new survival guide for people struggling with abusive relationships is called FROM VICTIM TO VICTOR. It can be purchased for $15 from the ADAHAN FUND, 2700 W. Chase, Chicago, Il. 60645 or in Israel, 13/5 Uzrad, Jerusalem, 97277. All proceeds go to impoverished people in Israel. For private sessions, I can be reached at emett@netvision.net.il or 011-972-2-5868201.] 

   

 

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