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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Amen.

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I had something of an epiphany yesterday evening.

I was in the car with my oldest daughter yesterday, as part of her levuyee 3 month period post passing her driving test, when she has to be accompanied by an adult.

So, we’re driving to Mahane Yehuda, and I was still in the bad mood I’ve been in for a week, on and off.

Suddenly, this song by Yaakov Shwekey started playing:

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I know God uses all sorts of different things to give us messages – even cheesy (but catchy…) tunes by Yaakov Shwekey.

So, I’m listening to it, and I hear these words:

“Life is the people we love
And what we give to one another
Loving is giving, giving is life”

And suddenly, a light bulb goes off in my head.

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The last few weeks, I’ve been struggling with a feeling that nothing really matters. 

I know I’m not alone in that. I see my kids, and my kids’ friends, and I speak to my own peers and relatives, and I know so many of us are struggling in this ‘Covid-1984’ reality, to really find meaning in life.

Suddenly, all the certainties got blown out the water.

The career really isn’t worth as much as we thought. Making enough money has become even harder. Any ‘certainty’ that remained has vanished in a puff of smoke. And all our ‘standards’ and ‘goals’ and ‘plans’ have dissolved, as well.

It’s hard to plan, hope and dream when we literally have no idea what the next 24 hours will bring.

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And then add on to that the tremendous difficulties and obstacles that we’re all encountering to do even basic mitzvot right now.

As well as the onslaught against holy places, yeshivot, mikvahs and synagogues, and the deliberate closures planned to coincide with every Jewish holiday, there’s also the ‘bog standard’ miniot that accompany every mitzvah.

Even stuff like going for a walk has got so much harder, mentally, wrapped up as it know is in 5 million internal discussions about mask-wearing, dodging the police, how fast to walk in order to be able to claim “I’m exercising”, and all the rest of it.

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So it is, that I’ve been in a place the last few weeks where I’m finding it hard to answer the question:

What is the point of all this?

What’s the point of getting out of bed?

What’s the point of writing more stuff?

Or cooking more things?

What’s the point of trying to build, to create, to unite, when there is just such a huge big enterprise of evil that controls the world (apparently….) and that just continues to destroy, degrade and divide?

I’ve been struggling mightily to answer that question.

And then yesterday, I heard this song by Shwekey, and it something clicked.

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Right now, the whole job is just to work on my bad middot, and to do kindnesses for others.

And also, for myself.

And that’s it.

It’s a big enough job, believe me.

The last few weeks, my tolerance and patience for anyone else has been really low, even for the people I love the most.

I see now, that it’s all just a mirror.

God is making us all super-sensitised to ‘bad’ so we can clean up our act.

But the corollary of that is that we are seeing ‘bad’ all over the place, because the time has truly come to deal with it properly.

Each of us has our own job to do, to clean up our act.

I certainly have a lot of work to do, to start seeing ‘the good’ again, and to stop focussing so much on the bad.

And when I do that, I know the world around me will also automatically start to look like a brighter, nicer and more hopeful place again.

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We’re all in this together.

You know how I came to realise that so many of my own opinions and attitudes were dripping with sinat chinam, or baseless hatred of my fellow Jew?

My teenagers.

I know a lot of parents bemoan those polite times of yesteryear when your kids just had to nod mutely as you behaved like a jerk, or treated them (and others…) abusively, or felt too scared to tell you the truth because they didn’t want a slap or a cold shoulder or some other form of parental punishment.

But you know what?

My chutzpahdik teenagers have helped me to work on my middot like no-one else.

They’ve magnified every little bit of arrogant self-righteousness, every tiny speck of lashon hara that I was trying to pass off as ‘chinuch’, and challenged every rage fit that was more befitting of a two year old than a grown woman.

And one of the main areas they’ve been working on is my attitudes towards other groups of Jews.

It’s human nature, to find your ‘place’, your milieu, your level in the world, and then to start defending it to the hilt as being ‘the best’, ‘the only’, while everyone else is awful, terrible, disgusting, yucky or inferior.

That’s why people who move to Israel love to point out the flaws in the people and places they left behind; that’s why people who have no intention of moving to Israel love to point out the flaws in the people and places of the Holy Land; that’s why ‘frummers’ rail against secular people, and secular people rail against chareidim, and national religious people have no idea who to rail against, so they take it all on a case-by-case basis.

And underneath all this self-righteous judgment and indignation and anger and finger-pointing and accusations lies….

Our own bad middot.

And nothing else.

This is what my teenagers helped me to learn. Every time I’d start telling them about the founding fathers of the State, and how many bad things they got up to (to try to counteract the hagiography going on in school about people like David Ben Gurion) – my youngest would go for the jugular.

You’re talking lashon hara!!! Why are you only seeing the bad in people, why can’t you see all the good they did, too?!?!

But, what about all the Yemenite children they kidnapped and sold to the highest bidders?

But, what about the awful treatment they doled out to the Sephardim (including your Saba?)

But, what about the 500,000 Jews in Hungary that they could have rescued, but chose not to?

Ima, I’m not saying they were good people, but they did a lot of good things, and they were still Jews! Why are you always looking at the bad?!

She had a point.

So, I started trying to work on it, and it was really, really hard going to keep identifying bad behavior without going off on big, generalized rants about the Jew themselves. As Rebbe Nachman teaches us, the soul of every Jew is only pure, it’s only good. It’s just surrounded by so much trauma, so many klipot that’s eating up all their innate good.

But then, as God likes to use the mirror principle both ways, after we had this discussion when my youngest started ranting about ‘chareidim who don’t serve in the army’, and ‘chareidim who go around abusing everyone’ etc etc – I had to give it back to her:

You’re talking lashon hara!!! Why are you only seeing the bad in people, why can’t you see all the good they did, too?!?!

Man, did she hit the roof. Because while it’s easy and enjoyable to point out other people’s blind spots and prejudices, it’s so very much harder to accept them being pointed out in yourself, and in your school, and in your classmates.

Over the next two years, we came back to this subject a lot, because me and my husband skew much more to the chareidi side of things, even though we aren’t chareidi, while my two kids are very much in the national religious camp.

Between us, and all the arguments about different groups, and different Jews, we eventually figured out that there are people doing very good things in all groups of Jews, and there are people doing very bad things in all groups of Jews.

It comes down to the idea that in Judaism, there are no ‘good people’ or ‘bad people’.

There are only ‘good actions’ and ‘bad actions’, and we are all a collection of our actions that ultimately, only God will judge as being overall ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

So, my kids act as a guard-dog on my natural tendency to start criticizing in others what I really just need to work on in myself. And I do the same for them – and while the arguments are not so pretty, while they’re happening, I can feel how much good they are doing us all.

These days, my kids are far more careful about throwing out derogatory statements about ‘chareidim’, because they know they are going to be challenged to bring real facts, and not just a collection of chareidi-bashing rumors and headlines.

(We’ve had some very interesting discussions around the Rav, for example, and that’s also what spurred me on to set the facts of the story down and write the book. Sadly, they don’t read English… but it’s going in the right direction.)

And on my side of things, they keep prodding me to look for the nekuda tova, the good point, in even the most yucky, anti-God Jews, and to keep trying to inject some compassion for them, and all the trauma they must have gone through as kids, to be such messed-up, hate-filled, yucky derangos.

Ultimately, we are in this together.

All the problems we see in everyone else are just our problems that WE need to acknowledge and work on, and there are no exceptions to this rule. The more we all internalize this, the less we’ll be pointing our fingers all over the place, and the more we’ll be putting our hands up to the fact that the main people holding up the geula is…us.

So, if you have a teenager at home, take a deep breath and unmuzzle them. It’s hard to hear – often so hard to hear!!! – when you get assailed with a strong dose of ‘teenage trufe’, but it’ll help you work on your middot like nothing else in the world.

There are crazy people all over the place. In every section of our community, there is sinat chinam and lashon hara and arrogance and jealousy and self-righteous anger.

We can’t fix those problems in anyone else. We can only work on ourselves.

And if we do that, we’ll accomplish everything God sent us down here to do.

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We just put together a website for the book telling the true story of Rabbi Eliezer Berland, which includes the back story, FAQs and the video. You can see the website at the address below, so please stop by and take a look – and if you want to help someone else get over their media-induced sinat chinam of Rabbi Berland, please feel free to share the link:

http://oneinageneration.com

Right now, I’m having a bunch of stand-offs with one of my teens that you can basically characterize like this: she wants me – us, the family – to be ‘normal’, and I can’t give that to her.

She wants me to be the ‘normal’ sort of mum that spends more time washing dishes than sharing my thoughts in my writing; she wants a ‘normal’ house that doesn’t have 50 year old mangy floor tiles, and black grouting around the kitchen sinks.

She wants to be able to treat her various ailments and issues the ‘normal’ way, i.e. like a zombie who just goes to a doctor, pops a bunch of pills, and then doesn’t have to grapple with any of the deeper reasons for why they aren’t feeling so hot.

She wants us to ‘fit’ with her group of ‘normal’ dati leumi-type friends, she hates my husband’s (small…) payot, she hates that I’m not working a full-time, soul-destroying job, like all the ‘normal’ parents of her friends.

In short, I seem to be one big, fat, huge disappointment to her.

And both of us are struggling to find the way forward here, because while I’ve done my darndest to try to give my kids what they want – if it’s possible, and good for them – I simply can’t give her ‘normal’.

And what is making this situation so much more upsetting than otherwise is that I recognize that in a lot of ways, she’s just mirroring my own inner yearning for ‘normal’.

I’ve wanted to be normal since I was the one Jewish kid in my class of xtian Baptists at school.

When I was younger, I also couldn’t understand why I had to belong to such a weird, and frankly embarrassing, gene pool, that ate bits of apple for New Year, had five (!) kids, and drove an old minibus around, as that was the only way we all fit in the car.

And there was other ‘abnormal’ stuff that grated on me too, like the fact that my dad (who is a Moroccan Israeli) used to go on…and on…and on… about ‘tiny Israel’, and all the countries that were trying to invade and destroy it.

None of the other families spoke about Israel, no-one else cared, why did I have to sit through all that all the time?

And then when my family starting moving around a lot, when I was 14, the level of abnormality rose up to the heavens. I abnormally missed a whole year of school, because my parents couldn’t decide where to live.

We abnormally pinged from Canada to the UK – and back again, repeatedly – for the next four years.

And then on top of that, my parents did something else ‘abnormal’, and started keeping the Torah.

No more going out on Friday nights, eating in McDonalds, or having xmas trees.

How abnormal it all was!

Of course now, I’m grateful for at least that last bit of weirdness, where my parents made teshuva. And I’m also grateful that I have 4 siblings. And I’m also grateful that we got the heck out of Barking, Essex, which has become the local HQ of ISIS in the Greater London area.

But still….part of me thinks sometimes that it would nice to be normal.

I also want to have a nicer house.

I also want to ‘fit’ a bit better, and to have a bit more to show for my efforts.

I also wish – a billion times over, already – that my daughter’s acne would start to fade already, because I know that the pull to Roaccutane is behind so much of her attacks on my ‘abnormal’ approach to life.

What do I do?

I don’t know.

Not for the first time, I feel like I can’t see any doors opening on to salvation, and I’m backed in a corner. I’m starting to get angry at the kid, which is never a good sign, because when anger starts to enter the equation, you can say and do a whole bunch of hurtful, stupid things that can have potentially disastrous consequences for the relationship.

But in the meantime, she wants something I really can’t give her, and both of us are getting increasingly frustrated about the situation.

God, come and rescue me! Come and rescue her!

Come and give this kid enough ‘normal’ to make her feel a bit happier, and a bit less disgruntled.

Because I really can’t do it.

Sometimes, we question why God put certain things in the world, like ISIS terrorists, left-wingers, poisonous snakes, mosquitoes, and….stroppy teenagers.

As my two kids have been moving through their teenage years, it’s certainly been challenging in parts, especially until I got the message that God was just using them to give me a message about what I still needed to work on and fix.

For example, when one of my kids started to dress like a semi-freak, I was sitting there wondering what on earth it was all about for months, until I realized that she was just mirroring that ‘squashed’ bit of me that didn’t really want to do the whole ‘black-clothing’ thing that’s the hallmark of ladies in the very frum charedi world.

As my clothes have returned to being more colorful, and more authentically ‘me’, my daughter’s weird fashion habits have simmered back down to almost normal.

Teenagers test us on our middot (character traits) like no-one else in the world. Every day, they can say things, and act in ways, that completely throw us out of our comfort zones, and challenge to the core that picture we’ve built up of ourselves, and our family lives, and our spiritual aspirations and accomplishments.

Even the small, nonchalant stuff can be testing sometimes. Like, two years’ ago, my oldest daughter said to me in such a sweet way:

“Mum, we have fat arms, don’t we?”

Do we?!?!?!?

This was news to me! I was secretly quite pleased that I’d been avoiding the dreaded ‘middle-age spread’ – but apparently my arms had been hit by the horrible ‘fat arm blight’ and here was my teenager shoving that fact clearly in my face.

Thank God, I’ve really been working on accepting criticism with love, like Rebbe Nachman teaches us, so I smiled weakly and decided I have to start buying looser-fitting tops from now on.

Not to be outdone, today my other teenager went into a whole big rant about how big her bottom now is, and apparently it’s all my fault, because my derriere should have its own chapter in the Guinness Book of Records and she got my mutant genes…

By this stage, I actually find a lot of these comments funny, which annoys teenagers no end, because they’re trying to make a point, and I’m there laughing my head off that people still get so agitated about how bad their hair looks, or how big their bottoms are (NOT….) when geula is probably about to kick off any minute.

But I’ve realized that even this is ‘avodat hamiddot’, or work that God is giving me to do on my character traits. My kid needs some empathy and commiseration that she’s feeling insecure about her appearance, and I’m often still very bad at pulling my head out of all my lofty spiritual concepts to come down to her level, and meet her in that place where she’s really at.

The world at 13 is a very different place from the world at 43, I know. But sometimes, I forget.

So God then sends me a stroppy teenager (or two) to remind me that I also need to pay a bit more attention to my appearance, or that I need to stop pretending that I’m on a spiritual level that I’m really, actually not, or just to give me my daily dose of criticism in a format I can actually usually handle OK.

Sure, they also have their own work to do too, and they’re also on their own paths of growth and self-development. But please be reassured: when your teenager is telling you your arms are fat, your bottom is massive, your cooking sucks, and you’re a control freak who’s trying to ruin their lives, they aren’t just saying those things to upset you.

God’s just using them to get us to work on our middot, and man, it’s hard work!

Drone view of a city

Well, how was your Purim?

Uplifting? Joyful? Stressful? Spiritual?

My Purim was actually quite nice, in a very non-standard way. This year, I decided to dress up as the ‘Doctor of the Soul’. I had a blue medical hat stuck on my headscarf, plus a plastic stethoscope and a big sign that I pinned to my top that said ‘Doctor of the Soul’, to make it clear.

In shul, an older American lady leaned over to me and told me: ‘I like your outfit, it’s cute’.

Aha! I thought I’d managed to identify another Breslev anglo in my area! Things were looking up!

Then she ruined it by leaning back over and stage-whispering:

‘What is that, anyway? A psychiatrist?’

On to the megilla reading.

They banned loud stamping and exaggerated musical instruments and groggers at the mention of Haman, so it went pretty fast – except for the fact that the older Moroccan woman directly in front of me decided she was going to read the megilla loudly herself – and completely out of sync – with the official version. It was like some weird simultaneous translation, or something.

I came home, I made challah (!) for the first time in months, I tried to wake up at midnight to pray, and mumbled something for about two minutes before conking out again – which was good, because at 5am I was woken up by some loud puking noises.

Hmm. We hadn’t even got to the stage of drinking the alcohol yet, or crazily stuffing in all the junk from the mishloach manot, so what was going on?! Turned out one of my children had stomach flu.

I have one bathroom and guests coming for seuda, and most of the morning she was running in there about every half an hour to throw up.

Hmmm. I decided to leave that up to God to sort out before the guests came, because in the meantime I had to hear megilla and then deliver my mishloach manot.

I got to shul 10 minutes before the megilla reading was meant to start – to discover they’d managed to lose the key to the aron hakodesh. We were waiting around 25 minutes before someone remembered which bookcase they’d shoved it behind, and they could unlock the Torah scrolls and get on with reading the megilla.

I ran home for the next stage of Purim: deliver the baskets of goodies.

This year, I decided to give 4 mishloach manot: 2 for people who lived close who I really like; and 2 for people who lived close who I really don’t like – thus, keeping all opinions satisfied.

I also decided to do ‘worthwhile’ baskets, with good wine and nice pastries, instead of the usual chocolate bar and waffley things – and one of my ‘don’t really like you’ recipients was clearly shocked when I handed it over, in a good way.

They reappeared at my door a few minutes later with a reciprocal bag of goodies, and heaped blessings on my head, including that we should merit to buy our own apartment soon. I took that as a really good sign, as that was most of my Purim ‘ask’ this year, but clearly they didn’t know that.

The puking kid went to sleep the whole time the guests were here, so that got resolved. The seuda was very relaxed and pleasant. And I was ready for Shabbat two hours early, for a huge change.

That night, I walked down to the Kotel for Friday night prayers, and a woman dressed as a huge silver bird came over to me and wished me ‘shabbat shalom’.

Hmmm.

I got to the Wall, and there was a flock of swallows spinning and turning all over the place right next to the wall, which is a pretty unusual sight – I don’t remember seeing that before. So given the bird woman, and then the unusual flock of birds, I decided to look up the ‘song’ of the swallows in Perek Shira when I got home.

Here’s what it said:

The swallow is saying, ‘So that my soul shall praise You, and shall not be silent, God my Lord, I shall give thanks to You forever.’

I liked that very much.

There’s a Breslov idea that Purim in many ways marks the beginning of the year. Just before the Purim seuda last year, my husband finally made it out of the depressed state that had engulfed him for months after our business went bust and we ran out of money, and went back to work the week after Purim.

I don’t know what amazing turnarounds and miracles await me this week, Bezrat Hashem, but I know they’re coming.

God always has a sense of humour:

In the middle of me pulling together a huge mountain of evidence that ‘science’ is increasingly coming to the view that parental emotional neglect is at the heart of pretty much every mental and emotional difficulty you care to mention, from the biggest to the smallest, I suddenly realized that I’m spending far too much time typing, and not enough time interacting with my own family.

Thankfully, my daily dose of hitbodedut, or personal prayer usually helps me to catch these problems while they are still relatively small, and to hopefully nip them in the bud. So it was, that as I was mulling over the whole concept of the ‘good enough mother’, and related ideas about being a ‘good enough Jew’, that it struck me that I spent most of yesterday ignoring all my family so I could get another few thousands words of my next book typed up.

One kid had just spent two whole days doing a bunch of amazing volunteer mitzvah activities with Bnei Akiva – and I was too tired to ask her anything about it. Another was clearly bored, but I gave her some cash to buy a ‘NeoCube’ and then went back to my computer, relieved to have got out of having to do anything more ‘hands on’ and interactive.

And my husband?

What, that guy that takes out the rubbish and sings zemirot on Shabbat? Well, he got back from Uman a couple of days’ ago, and I’ve still only heard a fraction of his stories and experiences.

Not unusually in my life, things had got out of balance again.

When my kids were small, and I had a career (that actually paid me really good money…) I realized I had to choose between putting my family first, or working, because I couldn’t do both. When I quit work, it was the best decision I ever made – and also the hardest. Writing is in my blood. Interacting and communicating is my life-force. But I just knew that if I didn’t take a few years’ off from pursuing ‘my interests’ my kids were going to end up emotional and spiritual wrecks.

The last few years, I’ve had to fix so many things spiritually in myself, and I came to a point last year where I thought I’d learnt enough lessons about what was really important to risk pursuing ‘my interests’ again. And generally speaking, I think that’s probably true.

But I’m learning that every day is still a balance, and every day I have to take the time to ask the question again:

Am I being a ‘good enough’ mother?

A ‘good enough’ wife?

A ‘good enough’ friend?

A ‘good enough’ Jew?

And recently, the answer has been coming back a bit too often: “no, you’re not! You’re getting too preoccupied with minutiae again, you’re losing track of the importance of people, of the beauty of a walk or conversation with someone you care for that isn’t ‘goal-orientated’.”

I bet you’d like to know how I’m defining ‘good enough’…

Well, it’s like this: Good enough is definitely NOT full-time perfect, 100% altruistic and angelic. If it was, no-one could achieve it, which would kind of defeat the whole point.

‘Good enough’ is a state where generally, I put my kids and husband and God and my own soul first enough of the time to let them know I care about them, I love them, and that they are the most important things in the world to me.

That doesn’t mean that I immediately stop what I’m doing every time my kid or husband wants something, for example, but that I stop enough times for them to know that if I didn’t stop on this occasion, either what I’m doing is really important, or what they want is really not.

Being ‘good enough’ means that when I know I’m dropping the ball, I don’t just sweep that understanding under the carpet or make excuses; I try to fix the problem.

So today, once I realized that it wasn’t ‘good enough’ that I hadn’t taken the time to ask my kid about her volunteering experiences, I decided to walk her to the bus-stop this morning, so she could tell me a little.

I was so pleased I did. I felt like the balance was starting to swing back again towards ‘good enough’, before I’d done enormous emotional damage to my child and made her feel unloved and invisible.

Being a parent, being a mother, is a huge responsibility, especially in this generation of emotional disconnect. If not for hitbodedut, I shudder to think how bad things could get before I’d take my head out of the computer and realize that my family, my children, my marriage were melting down.

And I don’t have wifi at home…I don’t have an i-Phone…I barely spend any time at all doing ‘extra-curricular’ activities with girlfriends, and having hour long catch up sessions on the phone.

And I’m still struggling to be ‘good enough’.

I know this isn’t easy reading. But I want you to know, dear wife, dear mother, that you, me and all of us CAN achieve that level of ‘good enough’ where our kids will turn out emotionally and spiritually-healthy, and know that they’re loved.

There’s a few things that will help us along the way:

  • Brutal honesty that often, we’re not ‘good enough’ and that the internet, the TV, the Facebook, and all the other external ‘fluff’, materialism and superficiality is still taking up far too much space in our lives
  • Huge amounts of self-compassion – that we want things to be different, that we want to be ‘good enough’, that we really do love our kids tremendously, and at least WANT to be ‘good enough’ for them
  • Massive amounts of humility – that without God in the picture, and regular doses of personal prayer, we’re not going to come anywhere near to really being ‘good enough’
  • Optimism and hope – that even when we’ve messed it up, and wrecked the relationship, and acted consistently selfishly, that it often only takes one sincere gesture, one genuine apology, one attempt to validate and accept the other person’s hurt feelings, to tip the whole thing back over into the measure of ‘good enough’ again.

If someone asked you ‘what’s single thing is going the make the biggest difference to your child’s emotional health’ what would you say?

One person might say that the most important thing would be to teach them how to be a mentch. Someone else would maybe put the emphasis on self-discipline, and that their kid should know how to get places on time and tie their shoelaces right. Yet another person might say that the single most important thing should be that their child felt loved, ‘seen’ and respected (OK, that’s three things, but you get the idea.)

Me?

I think that the one thing that makes the single biggest difference to a child’s emotional health is how much humility their parents have. Let me explain what I mean.

When you’ve been working on your character traits for a while, and trying to get your ego reduced down as much as possible, that’s when you can actually start to internalise the idea that try as you might, you are not a perfect, infallible human being, and you never will be.

Let’s be clear that reaching this level takes a huge amount of spiritual striving and effort, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But once you start to even just approach this level of genuine humility, it completely changes how your view yourself and your interactions with other people, and particularly, how you view your relationship with your children.

Here’s my 5 top reasons why humility is the most crucial parenting skill of all.

A humble parent:

1) Doesn’t automatically assume that they’re always right.

This cannot be stated too many times. Sometimes, even the best-intentioned, most well-meaning, genuinely empathetic parent in the world can still be plain wrong about things. They can still make mistakes – sometimes, even huge mistakes – in how they relate to their children. They can still cause damage, pain and suffering to their children, even when it’s genuinely the last thing they’d ever want to do.

It takes humility to admit that to yourself.

It also takes a lot of humility to admit that to your children, and to openly acknowledge that you probably messed up a whole bunch of times, at their expense. The good news is that just the simple act of admitting we aren’t perfect too our children goes a really long way to fixing the damage.

2) Can ‘hear’ what their child is actually telling them.

One of the hardest things to deal with in an emotionally-healthy way is when your kid decides to travel a path that suits them, and who God designed them to be, but that goes against your dearest held principles or ambitions for them. When the first earring in the nose shows up, or the first tattoo, or they tell you that they want to drop out of medical school to go and be a gardener, or musician, or something, it can cut a parent to the quick. The more humility a parent has, the more respect they’ll accord to their children, and the better they’ll manage to react when their child chooses something that is not in alignment with the parent’s own wishes and desires.

3) Doesn’t make their own problem their kid’s problem.

The more humility you have, the less you try to pin the blame for your own character faults and issues on other people. If you’re yelling at your kids, it’s not because ‘they’re acting too wild’, or ‘winding you up on purpose’ (even if they really are…), or because they’re ‘acting disrespectful’, or to ‘teach them a lesson’. We yell at our kids because we have anger issues. Full stop.

We all have a whole bunch of negative emotions and issues that we all need to identify, acknowledge and accept, and our kids excel at helping us to uncover them.

Kids are just our mirrors. If we fix the issue in us, whatever that might be, we’ll fix it in them, too.

4) Understands that parenting is giving, not taking.

Writing in ‘Education with Love’, Rabbi Shalom Arush explains that parenting is giving. We give to our children all the time – and yes, sometimes it’s really, really hard work. But ‘giving’ doesn’t just means material things, like clothing allowances, luxury holidays and the latest i-Phones. Real giving includes a number of things that are sometimes much harder for us to part with. Like time, effort, sleep, comfort and always having things our own way. It’s impossible to really give, and to continually put what’s best for your child above what best suits you, as the parent, without a big dose of humility.

5) Asks God for help.

Humble parents realize that even when they make their best effort, they’re still going to make a whole lot of errors and mistakes with their children. They understand that they need as much help as they can get to raise happy, healthy, emotionally well-adjusted kids, and they’ll go straight to The Top to get it.

It requires humility to go talk to God about your parenting, and to admit that you’re not feeding your kids right, or spending enough quality time with them, or messing them up with your hyperchondriac tendencies, rage fits and obsessive house-cleaning habits.

The truth?

If we could fix these problems ourselves, we would. It takes humility to admit that not only are we flawed, we can’t actually do much to fix our parenting problems and own emotional issues. But once you put God in the picture, you can relax: your bit is to act humble and ask for help. His job is to help your kids turn out just fine, regardless of everything you did or didn’t do for them.

In some ways, I’m very lucky:

My oldest daughter has been in difficult ‘teenager’ mode since the day she was born, so I’m actually used to being challenged, argued with, and forced to look at that side of myself I’d rather just ignore.

The whole thing with teenagers, and with kids generally, is that, as Rav Arush explains, they are just coming to teach us something about ourselves. The sooner we work that out, the easier they are to deal with.

Their obvious ‘bad’ is just my secret ‘bad’, and once I realise that, (and I’ve got over my urge to run away from my family), some sort of solution to the problem usually starts to present itself.

So like I was saying, this particular kid is extremely strong-willed, and extremely difficult to control, in any way, shape or form (as well as being very sweet, and a genuinely good, kind, loving person.) Now, I also have those tendencies, but I’ve always seen them as positive: I’m very principled, determined and hard to corrupt. It’s quite a shocker to realise that maybe, at least occasionally, I might also be quite annoying and even (gasp!) plain wrong about things.

Anyway, my daughter is a huge neshama, and I know for sure she’s going to set the world alight at some point, hopefully in a good way.

But in the meantime, I’m having one ‘control’ argument after another, that’s driving me bonkers.

Let’s be clear that I really do know that I’m not in control of anything, and that God is running the world. At the same time, I keep coming up against my daughter’s yetzer hara, that’s insisting on keeping her out with friends until all hours; insisting on going to Netanya for Shabbat to spend time with people I’ve never even spoken to, let alone met or know anything about; insisting that she doesn’t want to come on holiday with us, or insisting that limiting her phone time to only 18 hours a day is completely unreasonable.

On the one hand, I’m trying to nullify my ego and control-freak nature as much as possible, and on the other, she’s only 14 and is occasionally plain wrong about things.

But it’s taking me hours of prayer to work out if I’m arguing ‘my side’ of things for her, or for me. If it’s ultimately for her – then I can stick to my guns and know it’s OK. If it’s for me – then I know it’s not going to end well, and I’m risking alienating her, God forbid.

It’s such a narrow bridge, and I frequently have no idea of where it’s actually taking me.

At its root, I’m struggling with two main issues:

1) To keep seeing the abundant good in my teenager, and to not believe the yetzer’s propaganda that she’s just doing things to be awkward or rebellious.

2) And, to remember that neither she, nor I, are really in control. God’s running the show, God’s setting up all the tests, God’s making me stubborn like a mule, and making her stubborn like a mule.

 

One of us has to break the deadlock by acting like a grown-up, and as I’m 41, that job seems to be falling to me.

But it’s so flipping hard! It’s so hard to let go of some of my deepest-held principles in order to send my daughter the clear message that SHE is what’s important here. More important than what I want; more important than keeping her elbows covered in 40 degree heat; more important than my daydreams of what she should be, and say, and look like and believe.

I want her to be able to serve God as her, which means letting her discover who that ‘her’ really is.

I was hoping that ‘her’ would like to plait her hair back, wear blue shirts and black loafers, and be enamoured with davening.

But just like that could never work for me, that’s not working for her, either. She has wild hair, a huge personality and a penchant for wearing the biggest earrings I’ve ever seen in my life.

Sigh.

Until I realise, I’m not in control here, and that’s the way God made her.

For His own very good reasons. For the best. Because she’s got her own unique job to do in the world, and blue button-downs simply don’t figure in there.

And who am I to question God?

But Shabbat in Netanya is still out of the question.

 

Last week, my husband decided he needed to get a phone that would let him send texts (but nothing else…) which sparked off a frantic round of ‘musical mobile phones’ in my family.

When the music stopped, I’d ended up with my daughter’s old phone, she got my husband’s old phone, and everyone was happy. Then that particular daughter started popping off to her room for ‘quiet’ time with alarming regularity.

I thought to myself: ‘Maybe she’s stressing out about the end of year play….Maybe she’s overwhelmed by all the bat mitzvah prep…Maybe one of her teachers is giving her a hard time…’ Then one morning, I went to wake her up – and she was already awake, playing on her new phone.

The penny dropped.

Turns out, there’s some really cool zoo game on my husband’s old (apparently not as kosher as it looked) phone, where you have to keep feeding the animals every day, or they die.

My kid was hooked on feeding the electronic gorillas.

Now, I’ve learned enough to know:

 

1) Confiscating the phone is only going to backfire

2) God is using the gorillas to show me something about me and my life

3) I HATE how slimy modern technology actually is.

 

I explained to my daughter that she was addicted to her phone, and she agreed.

“But if I don’t feed the gorillas, they’re going to die!” she told me plaintively.

In the meantime, she’d been so caught up in feeding the gorillas she’d forgotten to feed her real life hamster for a week, and it was looking a little peaky, to put it mildly. But I digress.

I left my daughter, and made my way back to the laptop, that’s been consuming a bit too much of my life this past week. As I plugged in the internet stick for the 4th time that day, my husband raised a quizzical eyebrow at me (I had huge internet addictions 8 years’ ago, and that’s one of the reasons I got it out of the house.)

“I have to check my emails,” I explained plaintively.

Then it hit me: I sounded just like my daughter, caught up in the fantasy land of feeding pretend gorillas.

Maybe the excuse was a bit more convincing, but I could see it was exactly the same stupid principle at play: If I don’t check my emails every few hours, all my online opportunities and connections are going to die….

But really? They’re not. And if that does actually happen, then they were probably as genuinely useful and real as my daughter’s gorillas.