A little while back, someone asked me what I do to get my kids to pray, if they don’t feel like it. I told her straight: absolutely nothing. If my kids aren’t in the mood to formally talk to the Creator of the World, that’s OK: they’re 11 and 14, respectively. They get forced to pray plenty of Amidahs in school, so they know how to do it. And when the time is right, I’m sure they are going to want to start praying a whole lot more than are right now.
I mean, how much did you want to pray when you were 14? When I was 14, praying was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do, and now I talk to God for an hour every day. (Which is an open miracle, and really nothing to do with me.)
Sure, I want my kids to be connected to Hashem, but forcing matters is only going to backfire.
Someone told me a few years’ back about their son, who was at a very serious Torah High School, where they learned a heck of a lot of gemara, and rigorously tested the students on what they were learning.
He came out of that school hating Torah.
How could he not? Cast your mind back to your school days: is there any subject that you enjoyed more after being pressured to cram for it just to score an ‘A’ on an exam? I don’t think so.
And it’s even more the case with matters of the soul, because when you force your kids to conform externally, and they go along with whatever mitzvah it is you’re pushing down their throat, on some level, you just completely killed the inner dimension of that mitzvah for them.
The reason I don’t force my kids to pray, is because I so badly WANT them to pray, when they get older. Praying, talking to God, is so often pretty much the only thing that gets me through my day. It’s an enormous spiritual gift, and one that I want to pass over to my kids. But not by nagging them, cajoling them, guilting them or bribing them to do it.
When they’re ready, it will come.
How do I know? Because while I don’t force my kids to pray, I certainly expect it of myself: I try and pray for my kids on a regular basis, whenever they seem to need it (which can be every day, sometimes.)
I’ve been paying into their ‘spiritual bank account’ for years’ already, and like I explained to them, when they’re ready to start banking their own prayers, they should hopefully find that they’ve already got a fairly large amount of spiritual credit to start off with.
It’s such an upside-down world, isn’t it? So many of us are trying to muddle through with precious little idea of what’s really right, or not, and there’s so much conflicting advice out there from ‘experts’ who talk a good game superficially, but actually don’t help you very much.
The exception to this rule in my life has been Rav Arush. Once I read his ‘Education with Love’, I just knew that all the other nonsense out there about ‘tough love’ and ‘forcing’ and ‘being strict’ and ‘manners’ was exactly that: nonsense.
You can’t force good character traits, you can only model them yourself, and hope your kids will follow suit. So if you really want your kids to pray – take the lead, and show them how to do it.