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.)
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.
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.