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Are You Mean Mommy or Despicable Daddy?

Have your children ever felt you were cold-hearted? If you’ve never been a “Mean Mommy”, then it’s high time you step into the role. 😉 (On a related note, one of my all-time favorite parenting book titles is I Didn’t Plan to Be a Witch by Linda Eyre. 😂) All kidding aside, one of the necessary challenges of parenthood is that we must occasionally do things that appear heartless and make our children unhappy.


The Torah portion of Re’eh, (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) has several seemingly ruthless commandments. Upon entering the land of Israel, the Jewish people were commanded to completely eradicate all vestiges of idolatry in the land. A little further on we’re told if a false prophet should arise and attempt to draw the nation away from God, he must be put to death. This apparent hard-heartedness continues with a command to kill even a family member who uses his influence to secretly seduce a loved one to idolatry. And finally the Torah discusses a situation, (according to Jewish tradition this is entirely theoretical and never occurred), whereby if a whole city is lured away from God to idolatry, it must be eradicated. A nation devoted to the service of God cannot have in its midst an entire city betraying the fundamental principle of its existence. Amidst all this seeming cruelty and destruction lies an astonishing verse.


Deuteronomy 13:18

Not the least of the banned [things] shall adhere to your hand, so that God may turn back from the fierceness of His anger, allow you to be merciful, love you with compassion and multiply you, as He swore to your fathers.


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (orthodox rabbi and leader of German Jewry in the 1800’s), explains the phrase “allow you to be merciful” is teaching us that although one is required to act in certain situations with apparent cruelty, and a person may rightfully be concerned that he will be irrevocably altered by those acts by becoming desensitized and hard-hearted, God promises that He will restore such a person to his or her innate kindness and mercy. We needn’t be afraid that by fulfilling God’s commands, even ones that seem ruthless, we will become ruthless people.


This promise of restoration of mercy and kindness is granted in the context of eradicating dangerously damaging negative spiritual influences. Protecting a nation from sharp spiritual threats is so fundamental that we are commanded to act completely out of character albeit with the assurance that we won’t lose our character in the process.


There are times in the life of every parent when we see a person or object influencing our child in a concrete, negative way. Perhaps a friend or neighbor brings out the worst in them, or maybe it is our child’s relationship to social media or the internet that threatens his or her spiritual life. When we see something that is a moral danger to our children, we have a responsibility to set up barriers to protect them even if it means we come across as “Mean Mommy” or “Disagreeable Daddy”.


The boundary we need to establish may be as simple as stating that while you welcome a neighborhood child to your home, you’re not comfortable with your child visiting theirs. While it is true that the neighboring family may feel hurt or offended by your decision (and equally true that we can almost always find a tactful and kind way to phrase it…), their feelings can’t override a parent’s responsibility to protect their children. We may need to firmly tell a babysitter that they may not use their cellphone in front of our children. Yes, your teenage babysitter may view this as unreasonable, nevertheless it is appropriate. And when we set up solid boundaries between our children and their beloved digital devices, they will likely call us mean and cold-hearted. Yet, the Torah portion of Re’eh reminds us that our responsibility, (and ultimately the greatest kindness we can show our children), is to protect them from damaging spiritual influences. We must never endanger our children’s spiritual health because we want to appear nice and neighborly. We will be able to exhibit true kindness and compassion within healthy boundaries that protect our families.


Important disclaimer here! There are many people our children will interact with, perhaps even beloved family members, who have different values and may not be a great influence on our children, and yet they should not be cut off from our family. The value in the relationship exceeds the potential challenge and we must work with great effort and wisdom to keep the relationship while mitigating the danger. I am not encouraging family estrangement or neighborhood divisiveness, but pointing out that acting neighborly or friendly in a way that threatens our children’s spiritual safety is ceding our parental responsibility on the altar of mistaken kindness.


If you missed this week’s webinar, Parenting So Your Children Will Listen, it isn’t too late! You can download the jam-packed recording here.



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Guest
Aug 14, 2023

I like the connection to the parsha -- very apt.

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Thank you!

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Guest
Aug 13, 2023

I was called a 'mean mommy' today! Now I don't feel so badly!

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It's a badge of honor... 😂

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Thank you! Yes, it's hard to remember that our children's opinions don't determine our job performance value!

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Guest
Aug 11, 2023

This was a great article and makes me feel better about sometimes being called "a mean mommy."

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