However, barring the occurrence of continuous miracles, Mr. Fine is heading straight for disaster. His windows are all fogged up, and he can barely see! How can he possibly drive safely under the circumstances? He is sure to cause tremendous damage both to himself and others. Unless, that is, he fixes the problem by turning on the car’s defogger.
In a previous article we discussed viewing a child positively, as inherently good. Now I would like to take a step back to something that needs to come even before that; the issue of actually seeing the child altogether. The above scenario is a mashal Rabbi Brezak uses often to portray how, in many cases, a parent reacts with what he thinks is discipline geared to the behavior of his child, when in fact, he doesn’t even see the child, but rather himself! His parental view is all fogged up. He is acting from a place of bias and subjectivity, as opposed to being objective about the situation. How can he provide guidance if he cannot even see the child?
A mother asked me what to do about her seven year-old daughter who wouldn’t say “thank you” after eating a Shabbos seudah at a family friend’s house. I asked the mother what bothered her about that, and she said that she’s embarrassed that her daughter is ungrateful. Does the mother see her child in this scenario? No — she said it herself — she sees only her own embarrassment. I asked her if she had asked her daughter why she wouldn’t say “thank you”, and she said that she had, and her daughter said that it’s because she’s shy. “But that’s not an excuse,” the mother told me. “She is still being ungrateful.”
There are many problematic issues with this case, but our focus right now is observing how parents see themselves rather than their children. This mother is so blinded by her feelings of embarrassment, that she cannot see or acknowledge her daughter’s side of the matter.
Another mother seems to really be out for her child’s good. She is out for her child’s good, actually. But she doesn’t see her child. How do I know? Because she tells me: “My mother never made me do anything in the house, and as a result I don’t know how to do anything. I’m not going to make the same mistake with my daughter. I make her do everything, so she’ll know how to run her house.” It is indeed good to help our children become capable adults. However, this mother is not seeing her daughter, she is seeing herself as a child. She is only training her daughter because she herself wasn’t trained — not because it is objectively good for the child. What harm can be done, one might ask? It’s a good thing, so even if the intentions aren’t perfect, at least the daughter will in fact become a competent wife and mother?
Well, what can and does happen is that this mother is not capable of making objective decisions. She is pushing her daughter too much, and sometimes even degrading her by making her pick up after her very capable family members, just so that she will learn. This can very well lead to a wife and mother who, although perfectly capable, shirks any and all housework because of the negative emotions it stirs up in her. I have seen this exact scenario more than once.
What about the parent who idolizes her own parents, and seeks to raise her children the way she herself was raised? I cannot begin to count how many times parents have told me, “I would never have gotten away with that when I was a kid. I would never even have thought to do that!” But we are not parenting our children in the generation that we were parented! This line of thinking takes the child and his circumstances completely out of the picture, making it impossible to begin to think of a sensible chinuch plan.
When parents consistently fail to remove their blindfolds and take a good look at their children, great damage can result. The child can lose trust in his parent and be resentful, which today, is more dangerous than ever. Aside from that, the child won’t even learn the lesson the parent is intent on teaching. Children see right through their parents, and know when their parents are thinking only of themselves.
A strong parent is one whose goal is to do what’s best for the child.
Being objective is the first step, as it is only when one is thinking about the child that he can know what is best for him.