Over Shabbos, I was reading the parsha.
(Occasionally that still happens 😉
We were in Vayetzei, where Yaakov runs away from his psycho brother, to try and find a wife in the home of his equally ‘difficult’ Uncle Lavan.
As I was reading, I was struck by the parenting paradigm that seems to characterize our holy forefathers of Abraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov – and that of Laban.
To put it at its most blunt, whereas the Patriarchs and Matriarchs adopted a parenting paradigm that could be summed up as ‘put your kid first, ahead of your own interests’, Laban’s paradigm was the polar opposite.
Laban used his kids to further his own ends.
He ‘sold’ his daughter to Yaakov – as they themselves complain, in the parsha, not even giving them a dowry and instead expecting Yaakov to ‘pay’ for them with 14 years of hard work.
Then, when Yaakov wants to flee, Leah and Rachel tell him Go!!! There is nothing here for us, our father certainly won’t let us inherit anything together with his sons!!! And he didn’t even bother giving us a dowry when we got married, and all his calculations just boil down to what’s best for him.
Or in other words: Lavan didn’t really care a fig about his children, and on some level, they knew that.
What does all this have to do with us, today?
The Torah is timeless, eternal, don’t you know? Don’t you know, that even today there are parents who will persistently put what is best for them, what suits them, what is most comfortable for them ahead of what is best for their kids.
Sometimes, this is blatant.
Sometimes, it’s clear that the parent is pushing a career, a course of action, a school, a decision, on their kids 100% because it suits them.
Even if it’s the worst thing in the world for their kid.
Other times, it’s way more subtle.
We parents tell ourselves we’re doing everything only for our kids, when we boss them around, use them as a passive ‘audience’ to talk at, push our own ideas and notions down their throats and then react angrily if they dare to disagree.
But if we were a little more honest, a little more humble, a little more willing to explore what’s really going on, inside ourselves, maybe, just maybe, we’d realize that sometimes, we’re actually acting in a very selfish way, when it comes to our children.
I’d love to tell you that this ‘Laban style’ of me-first parenting is very uncommon, especially in the orthodox Jewish world.
But if I did, I’d be lying.
In the orthodox and not-so-orthodox Jewish world, I’ve seen a long line of parents abusing their children while hiding behind the cloak of kibud av’ v’em.
They rely on a warped understanding of the commandment to respect the parent, which they interpret to mean that the parent can do anything they want to the kid, and hurt them and let them down in any way they wish, and the kid just has to take it and carry on doing what the parent wants.
Listen, I’m also a parent.
I’m also a flawed human being. I know how easy it is to use kibud av ve’em as a manipulative tool to avoid having to look ourselves in the eye and deal with our own bad middot, and having to make compromises, and having to put up with situations that we’d rather not deal with.
But if I’ve learnt one thing over the last few years, it’s just how much a parent’s mesirut nefesh can heal the soul of their child.
That means the parent is going to give the kid money, time and support – not expect it from their child.
That means that the parent is going to do their best to compromise and back down – not automatically expect that their word should be law.
And it means that as much as we can, we sacrifice what we want, what’s comfortable for us, what’s easiest and nicest for us to choose the path that is genuinely best for our kids.
Your kid doesn’t want to marry someone from a background you feel comfortable with?
Your kid doesn’t want to join your family business and effectively ‘work for free’ to support you in your old age?
They don’t want to be so frum?
Or maybe, they DO want to be more frum?
There is no way they are going to university…. OR they dafka are going to university?
They do want to vaccinate your grandkids, they don’t want to vaccinate your grandkids….?
All these things – and more, way more – can cut through a parent’s heart like a knife through hot butter.
If we let them. If we adopt Laban’s parenting paradigm.
What does Laban say to Yaakov?
“The daughters are mine and the sons are mine, everything you see before you is mine.”
When we treat our children as though they are our possessions, to do anything we want with, that’s parenting like Laban.
And if we continue parenting like Lavan, then at some point, for their own mental health, our children will have to leave us stealthily in the night, and run away somewhere far, far away.
For their own mental sanity.
So, may God help us to put our kids first; to choose what’s right for them over what’s best or easiest for us, and to heal all the broken-hearted children out there (of all ages), who are still so hungry for the real love of their parents.
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