Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody
Avi (name changed to protect his privacy) drove me to one of my lectures. During the drive, he told me his painful personal story that exemplifies just how terribly parental bickering affects children.
Avi's daughter would faint frequently without any apparent reason. He and his wife took her to all sorts of experts for thorough testing, but they failed to identify the source of the problem. Everything seemed fine, but the girl kept fainting. Finally, they went to a rabbi who told them something that astounded them: If they'd stop their incessant bickering, their daughter would stop fainting.
They agreed to stop fighting; for six months, they avoided arguing and their daughter did not faint! One Shabbat evening, Avi became angry and almost started a fight with his wife. His daughter told him: "Father, do you want me to faint? I can't stand this tension!" He told me that her words pierced his heart; he then realized how much damage their arguments were doing to their daughter.
The story's not yet over. As a child, Avi had also fainted frequently. Now he understood that it was his parents' arguments that had caused him to faint. His daughter's words served as a flashback to his own childhood. He remembered how his parents had terrible arguments and he and all his siblings needed psychological and psychiatric care. He understood that his daughter's story was a repetition of his own childhood. His parents' unfortunate conduct had negatively affected not only his own life, but the life and future of his children.
Avi begged me to publicize his story to save other families. He wanted parents to know what terrible damage they do to their children with their fights. When his daughter said to him, "Abba, do you want me to faint?" he felt like a criminal. He couldn't stand the realization that his negative character tendencies - particularly anger - were destroying his entire family.
G-d's Divine Presence abandons anger and strife-ridden homes.
Parents often suffer because of their children's problems. Children become sick from repeated afflictions, Heaven forbid, like skin or emotional problems. As we know, there are no tribulations without prior transgression. Such parents may seem to be upright and yet they don't understand where they're going wrong. What did they do? They don't realize that their children's illnesses are liable to be the result of lack of love and lack of unity between them as husband and wife.
Love and unity between parents is the source of children's vitality, for children were born by virtue of the parents' connection. But when this connection is not really based on love and unity – or outright strife and separation – it causes a spiritual wound to the child, which manifests as health problems, in addition to obvious emotional problems, G-d forbid.
On the other hand, we see that a person who grew up in a loving and united home tends to be healthy both physically and emotionally. Parents must consequently understand how much responsibility they have in maintaining peace in the home.
Let's get back to Avi's story, in his words:
First, I have no intention of speaking badly about my parents. They had no negative intentions, G-d forbid. Just the opposite; they taught us good values and gave us love. They just did not understand how much their fighting hurt us.
I was a good boy and smart as well. My teachers always said I had tremendous potential that I did not actualize. But I was also very sensitive. My reactions were extreme and totally disproportional. I felt like murdering anyone who insulted me in the slightest.
As a young boy, I was already reacting with uncontrollable anger. I was capable of throwing tables and chairs; when I would calm down, I'd feel as if black liquid toxin was flowing through my veins. And when I was small I would faint. Today, I am certain that it was because of my parents' bad relationship.
My parents would argue. The strife escalated to verbal abuse and curses. Strangely, they would fight terribly about the most inconsequential things. The fights were not about staying out late with friends or the like. The fights were about "Why isn't my button sewn? Why isn't the salt in its place?" Their inner emotions would burst out over the smallest things, frustrating us to no end. And then they would suddenly act loving to one other, and that would confuse us even more.
As a child, I needed psychological therapy for six years. Because of their fighting, I could not adjust well in many social situations.
When children see their parents fighting, it saddens them and ruins their joy in life. That's how I define it. We are a number of siblings and we all needed therapy. On one hand, we had to deal with the fighting, which tore us. On the other hand, we had a warm home with a lot of special attention and good education. All my brothers and sisters are good people. My parents were also like that - respectable and honest – except for the fighting, which soured our lives.
In order for the readers to understand how our household worked, I will tell a bit more: Money was not lacking in our home, to put it mildly. My father could have bought our entire neighborhood with the money he had in one pocket. We would go on vacations to hotels and that was forty years ago, when it few families could afford expensive vacations in hotels. Then, it was the privilege of wealthy people alone. When my mother would see a lot for sale while in the car, she would say to my father, "Get out of the car a minute and buy me that lot." He had money in his pocket to buy real estate. And all the money disappeared. It is entirely unclear how and to where the money disappeared, because my father did not go with other women, did not gamble, smoke or anything like that. I am absolutely sure that the money disappeared because of their marital strife, which made our entire lives dysfunctional.
For a long time, due to my parents' relationship and all the strife, I was sure that all women were bad. As a child, you see things out of proportion. You project what you see onto other situations. The tension of growing up in such a home influences your entire future - school, work, marriage and how you raise your own children.
Amazingly, as much as I abhorred my father's conduct - the way he expressed himself and his anger - I found myself acting exactly the same way! Even after therapy! Whatever is imprinted on a child's soul is so strong that it overcomes everything else. When the child grows up, he acts like his parent – even though he doesn't want to.
When my father's anger would get out of control, I saw that it gave him enormous power. That is the feeling: When you get upset, you feel that you could pick up a car and throw it; that you can hit and kill the whole world. Only after you calm down do you understand that you were actually pitiful when you lost control.
I am telling all this for the good of others. Perhaps we can prevent other people from suffering like I did. After all, the most important thing to everyone is their children. Nobody wants to hurt their own children. Unfortunately though, there is no guidance for young parents. You have children and in the meantime, they suffer. Every child is born a good soul. The only thing that can ruin a child is his parents' bad relationship. Even a difficult external environment doesn't ruin a child if he comes from a good home.
After all this it is important for me to say that I love my parents and would never want to exchange them. All they wanted was for us to be happy. That is what was most confusing. If parents are only bad or only good, at least the parameters are clear. Yet when they go from one extreme to the other - on one hand they are so good and loving and on the other hand they fight and turn into monsters - it destroys the child.
Clearly, if our parents had fought and also been bad and stingy people, it would have been even worse and we would not have been able to pick ourselves up. But the reality is that even though they were good and showered us with love and abundance – the fighting and anger between them destroyed us.
Imagine that you are submerged between both burning hot water and ice-cold water. That's how our home was - completely not normal. One minute there was tremendous love, hugs, and attention; the next second it was all destroyed. When my parents would fight, they wouldn't stop until something drastic would happen to one of the children. That was from the very beginning until today. Just that today it is not as strong. But until we were older, that is how it was.
Sadness and futility would overwhelm us. On the one hand, you're supposed to love your mother and father. Yet on the other, you have to protect your mother from your father's wrath and vice versa. It's insane!
All of this cost me my health. At the age of 27, I was hospitalized with a heart attack. Treatments cost me a load of money. It all stemmed from my childhood in a home with parents at war with each other.
* * *
Every parent who reads Avi's shocking testimony must become sobered by the awesome responsibility for his children's well-being. If marital strife would only mean that his life and the life of his wife would be ruined, that would be terrible enough. But much worse is the helpless souls of the children who depend on their parents for a proper and healthy upbringing.
Parents, invest in your children! They are our future and our highest priority! Only in recent generations have parents become so self-absorbed that they don't pay attention to their children. Not only that, but they harm them with their thoughtless and unrefined conduct.
Every wise parent must wake up from his slumber and understand that he is obligated to direct his prime energies and efforts toward his children's education. As we've learned, the first goal is marital harmony, which is the most fundamental basis of child education.