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Should We Judge Parents By Their Children?

Social media is crawling with posts implying or explicitly stating that if a mom parents the right way, her child will turn out to be loving, respectful, kind, and empathetic. The implicit (and sometimes explicit) threat is that if a mom parents the wrong way, her child will be aggressive, emotionally scarred, or traumatized. Those messages are absolute nonsense. 


The authors of these posts mistakenly believe that there is a direct cause and effect relationship in parenting. They offer advice on the assumption that parenting is similar to following a recipe. If you put in 3 cups of love, 2 cups of empathy, and never let your child cry more than 1 teaspoon of frustrated tears, you will produce a perfectly baked child. Real life with real human beings is much more complex and defies simple cause and effect formulas. Wonderful parents can have very difficult children and mediocre parents can produce incredible kids because our children are not chemical products of our parenting reactants. 


Children, like all human beings, are more than the sum total of their experiences. Each child has unique traits, temperaments, strengths, and challenges that contribute to their personalities and impact how they react to the people and events in their lives. This isn’t to say that parents aren’t incredibly important and impactful and have an extraordinary responsibility to parent wisely and well. All that is true, but modern popular parenting influencers have forgotten to separate the labor from the outcome. Parents do need to put in great effort, but their efforts shouldn’t be judged by their children’s outcomes. As Rabbi Tarfon said in Pirkei Avot (Tractate of the Mishnah commonly known as Ethics of the Fathers), “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.” Parenting is an awesome responsibility which demands great effort and wisdom, but a parent’s ability is not directly correlated to their child’s reality. 


This lesson is beautifully illustrated in this week’s Torah portion. Parshas Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38) is the last section of the Book of Shemos (Exodus) and it details the completion and assembly of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).  The descriptions of assembling the materials, building the vessels, and sewing the tapestries and priestly clothing are all in the active voice, such as “and he made'', “and he placed” and so on, with one exception.  Towards the end of the Parsha the Torah says, "It was in the first month of the second year on the first of the month that the Tabernacle was erected”.  After all is said and done, the final assembly of the Mishkan is described passively, “was erected” instead of in the active voice “and he erected''.


Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki 1040-1105) shares a beautiful description of the Tabernacle’s assembly from the Medrash.  After the Jewish nation brought all the components of the Mishkan to Moshe (Moses) it was time to put it together.  Hashem (God) wanted to give Moshe alone the honor of erecting the Mishkan but the planks and other pieces were so cumbersome that Moshe knew it was impossible for a human being to lift them and set them in place. “Moshe said before Hashem, ‘How can it be erected by a human being?’  Hashem said to him, ‘You do your part - make an attempt so it appears as if you’re doing it, and it will rise and be assembled by itself.’  And that is why the Torah says, “the Mishkan was erected” in a passive voice, because it assembled itself.”


Notwithstanding the great effort we invest in parenting, there is a deep truth reflected from that verse in our lives.  We work hard to raise our children well as it is our responsibility to do.  We make mighty attempts, and to the rest of the world it may look as if we are raising our children. The truth is somewhat different.  Just as it appeared as if Moshe was lifting the beams and assembling the Mishkan single-handedly, it appears that parents make their children into who they are. Yet, just as surely as the Mishkan was erected independently of Moshe, the final development of children is also independent of parental skill or strength. The final outcome of raising children is dependent on Hashem, not simply parents. Moshe couldn’t sit back as in a fairytale and watch as the Mishkan erected itself before his eyes. He was required to heave, heft, and exert great effort, while simultaneously knowing that the task was too great for his strength. Parenting, and all human effort, works the same way. We put in tremendous effort, we strive to do our very best in raising our children. At the same time though we acknowledge that the final results are not in our hands. We exert ourselves to the best of our abilities and then we hand our children’s lives over to Hashem with faith and prayer.


 

In Parenting As Partners, my husband and I tried to share our personal experiences with you. One of the most vulnerable yet important pieces of advice we shared was the way we approach parenting as a team with God, asking Him for help when we face parenting challenges. We don't see ourselves as the arbiters of our children's futures, but know that He has infinite power and love to help them beyond our abilities. Watch this clip to learn how we do this.




This article is dedicated to the memory of Shahaf Krief, 17, who was murdered by Hamas terrorists at Zikim Beach on October 7. While every single person murdered and hostage taken is a tragedy, words fail me when I think of the children lost at the beginning of their lives. May Hashem bring comfort to Shahaf's parents, Shlomi and Rita, and his three siblings, Inbar, Shai and Shontal and may He quickly bring an end to all suffering.



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