A little while ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who told me about the latest ‘parenting craze’ to be sweeping the frum world, at least in Israel.
In a nutshell, this new system or shitta is telling parents, particularly mothers, that they have to find out what their problem is, in order to raise their kids properly.
Apparently, the thinking is like this: if you can help the parents to uncover the ‘fatal flaw’ or big emotional problem, or personal issue that defines them and their approach to everything in life, including how they parent their kids, then you’ll help them to change their behavior, and peace will reign in Gotham City.
I know, it theoretically sounds great doesn’t it? There’s just one problem: it’s a load of baloney, and in practice it’s going to end up doing far more harm than good to everyone involved.
How do I know all this?
Simple: in our quest to be better Jews, and better people and better parents, me and my husband have been through a whole bunch of shitot and systems based on ideas that sounded good in theory, but were actually useless (at best) or very damaging in practice.
Christians believe that people are ‘fatally flawed’ as a result of the ‘original sin’ where Adam and Eve brought death into the world. By contrast, Jews (especially Breslev-friendly Jews) believe that people are fundamentally good, and that the real them, their soul, is only good and holy, just it got caught up in a bunch of klipot (evil husks) and yetzer haras (evil inclinations) that it needs to fight off and fight through.
That’s the work of this world, and it really can take 120 years to achieve it.
But what’s happening in even the most frum circles is that people are taking a bunch of half-baked ideas rooted in the heresy of modern psychology and psychiatry, or in the idol-worshiping notions of Christianity or the Eastern religions, and then concocting all sorts of ‘workshops’ and ‘parenting courses’ that aren’t based on truth, and only serve to drag participants’ vulnerabilities, difficulties and yetzers out for public scrutiny, without giving them a real solution for how to actually resolve them.
I know so many people, my husband included, who have been caught up and hurt in all the frum public confessionals happening all over the place.
But however these things are being dressed up and sold to others, they’re all based on the same basic principles: encourage people to admit their biggest hurts, deepest secrets and darkest shames in front of a bunch of strangers; then, have the group’s ‘guru’ explain to them – publicly – what their problem is, how it’s affecting them, and why it’s so bad. Then – leave them to deal with it. Alone.
If they start to struggle, or feel even more alone, depressed or ‘bad’, explain to them that either:
- They didn’t get what they’re meant to be doing, or they didn’t complete the program and process properly and it’s their problem they’re so broken and can’t be fixed;
And / or:
- Promise to give them the answer to their problem in the next workshop (or six…); or the next private coaching session (or 10…); or the next super-expensive private retreat.
I have seen people keep coming back to these ‘gurus’ and the hugely profitable organisations they’ve built on the back of other people’s suffering for literally years. For as long as they are in touch with the ‘guru’ and the system they’ve built, they’re hopeful that the answer, whatever it is, is just one more group meeting away.
But it doesn’t work like that!
Quite the opposite: as time goes on, the participants split into 2 camps: increasingly despairing, angry, empty and cynical, or completely detached from the reality of who they really are, and what’s really happening in their lives and in their relationships.
Neither of these modes is emotionally healthy, or compatible with yiddishkeit.
So what’s the answer? Where are all these frum gurus going wrong, and why are they doing so much damage?
In a nutshell, you can sum it up like this: what helps people to be better parents, and to treat their kids nicer, and to be happier people, and to be able to deal with their issues and flaws appropriately, is when they concentrate on seeing the good in themselves, and developing more self-compassion.
Remember, God arranged the world as a mirror, to show us who we really are, and what we really need to work on. If we secretly believe ourselves to be selfish monsters, or hateful failures, or fatally-flawed and unfixable in some way, that’s the ‘self’ we’ll see reflected back to us from the people in our lives, and especially our children.
The more ‘down’ we get on ourselves, the more we dislike ourselves – all for the best motives in the world – the more we’ll be irritated by, dislike and probably mistreat our kids, who are just our mirrors. By contrast, the more we learn to see the good in ourselves, and to judge ourselves with compassion and understanding, the more that inner goodness will shine out of our kids, too.
(If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like Rebbe Nachman’s Azamra, you’re dead right.)
There’s a lot more to say about this, and I think I will be coming back to this idea again and again on my blog. But for now let me leave you with this:
The single biggest thing you can do to improve your parenting, and help your kids, and to build the world, and to become the fulfilled, happy Jew God created you to be, is to learn how to love yourself, and to concentrate on finding all the good He placed in your soul.
And if your course, workshop, or frum guru is not telling you that, or if it’s telling you to focus on your problems, flaws and issues, then run away as fast as your legs can carry you.