The instructor caught his hand and said sharply, “if you don’t learn to be calm no matter what the situation, you will never succeed in a street fight or in any unexpected situation! The main thing you need to learn from this course is to never let yourself lose your head and react without thinking. You must always keep your cool, no matter what happens.”
A few weeks later, Ron went scuba diving. He was enjoying himself deep, deep down in the water when suddenly, to his horror, his mouthpiece fell out. Ron panicked and concluded that he was a goner. As he flailed around, waiting for the end, the image of the instructor slapping him came to his mind. He remembered the message about staying calm no matter what, and managed to relax, even though he thought he was about to die. Once he calmed down, he was able to reach out and find the pipe that was attached to his oxygen tank. He followed it till he found the mouthpiece, put it in his mouth, and took a deep breath of life-giving oxygen. He wasn’t going to die!
As soon as he had a chance, Ron went to visit his instructor. He told him, “If it weren’t for the slap you gave me, I wouldn’t be here today. I would have died from panic in the water. The slap that I was so upset about saved my life.”
Sometimes events occur that make us feel angry, hurt, sad, frustrated, worried, and many other unpleasant emotions. We think it’s terrible that such a thing could happen. It may be an incident with a child, or a particular child that is difficult in general. What we have to try to remember is that everything that happens is orchestrated for us by Hashem, our loving Father, and that it is all for our own good. The hard things and the easy things, the things other people do to us, the things that happen to us. Even the things we do to ourselves. Getting upset keeps us stuck, drowning in the thoughts of how unfair life is. If we accept that this was meant to happen, and thank Hashem even for the things we don’t like, we will be able to rise above our feelings, grow from the challenges, and become great.
Every time our children whine, fight, yell, talk back, don’t listen, make messes, and all the other wonderful things children do that make us crazy, we are being given a chance to grow.
R’ Steinman says that having a difficult child is a vote of confidence from Hashem. The neighbor whose kids always behave perfectly didn’t get this child because she wouldn’t have been able to raise him properly! The parents who have him were chosen because they are the best parents for this child.
What else can we take from this story? That learning to be calm can help us when it comes to chinuch. The calm parent can think objectively about what the best thing to do would be. Not being calm, on the other hand, is counterproductive for a few reasons. “My child doesn’t listen to me until I scream” is a common refrain heard from parents. The fact is, though, that when parents lose it all the time, children learn that they don’t really have to listen until there is yelling or threatening. When parents are generally calm, the children learn that they are serious the first time they say something. That doesn’t mean the children will listen right away every time, but usually they will comply fairly quickly.
Learning to be calm can take time. But it can be tried first by just trying to count to three before reacting. That in itself is a true accomplishment. A parent that manages to do this should pat themselves on the back no matter how they react afterwards.