I’m fed up. I’m really fed up. I’m at the point where I can’t stand myself anymore. I hate who I’ve become. The Yetzer has me in a vicious cycle and I find it almost impossible to get out of. What am I so upset with myself about? If you’re a parent, you might have already figured it out by now: the way I treat my kids.
No one can prepare you for the challenges you will face as a parent. No one can explain to you that you will never stop worrying about them for the rest of your life. No one can make you understand the intense pain you will feel when they go through their own pain. Every good and “bad” thing your kids will go through, you will go through with them. Even if it’s just your own pain, whether emotional or physical, your pain will affect your kids. If you’re sick, you’ll worry that they’ll catch what you have. If you’re sad or in a bad mood, most likely they will be the primary victims of your lashing out. Once you have kids, your world of “me” is officially over.
A whole new world begins.
Unfortunately, much of this new world consists of what we have internalized as a result of our upbringing. Most of us don’t realize what we terrible habits or character traits we have picked up from our parents until we become parents ourselves. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we’ll never turn into our parents- that we’ll never, ever treat our kids the way our parents treated us. We’ll never scream at them, we’ll never hit them, we’ll never antagonize them. Then reality hits- I’ve turned into my own worst enemy. I hate myself for this. I want to hate my parents for this. After we realize that we have indeed become like our parents, the next phase comes in: resentment. Why didn’t they know better? What were they thinking? Why couldn’t they love me the way I needed them to? Why can’t they ever admit their mistakes? It’s their fault I’m like this! Now I have to suffer trying to change my lifelong training so my kids don’t turn out the same way.
Life seems to really be unfair. But if I apply emuna to this situation, I see a different picture, and I hope you will, too. Yes, my parents weren’t perfect. Who is? But, I realize that Hashem chose me to break the pattern. He gave me the strength and the sechel (sense) to question and ultimately change the destructive path I was headed down. Remember, Hashem doesn’t give us challenges we can’t handle, no matter how impossible they seem. However, there is one caveat- we cannot be successful without Him. There is no way for us to overcome our evil inclination without begging and pleading to Hashem for help.
Looking at my children’s behavior objectively, I see that they are just acting like ordinary kids. Kids do crazy and annoying things, like stick their hands into dirty car grease on the side of the road and then wipe it over their white shirts and faces. Or they decide to see exactly how much toothpaste is in one of those tubes, by squeezing the toothpaste all over the bathroom counter. Or maybe they want to see how many times we can say no to something they ask over and over and over again! I know after I break up their fights, they’ll go right back to fighting a few minutes later! After I clean up the spilled chocolate milk, there will be another spilled drink waiting for me on the table! Nothing I do will change their nature- they are kids, and they will stay that way until they become adults.
But it’s my programming that tells me I must teach my children to respect my authority, or else. I must punish my children in order to teach them a lesson. I must chastise and insult my children in order to get them to behave themselves. If you’re an honest parent, ask yourself- does this really work? NO!!! None of our angles at child discipline will have any positive effect on our kids. They will not magically transform our children into perfect angels who say please and thank you and eat politely at the table. When I think of it, I realize something- I am a hypocrite, as are most parents. We expect our kids to be perfect, but are we perfect? Do we behave properly all the time? Do we say please and thank you? Do we control our emotions when we’re feeling reactive? I know of a now-divorced couple who were having dinner at our house. The father kept insisting that his daughter be nauseatingly polite and proper- yet later we found out he was cheating on his wife! Is this not the epitome of hypocrisy?! We all have this fault to one degree or another.
The bottom line is, it’s not fair to expect our kids to behave the way we want them to. They will behave exactly as Hashem wants them to, and for good reason- to stimulate our self-assessment and teshuva. Everything that bothers us about them is only for us to reflect on our own behavior. We must only look at ourselves when they’re acting up. Because the fact is, that no matter how we try to change them, we simply can’t.
Rav Arush’s advice to parents? Just grin and bear it. Put a (fake) smile on your face and thank Hashem for the test. Pray that your kids will turn out to be loving, balanced adults. Any attempts at forceful discipline will just end up pushing them away from you, thus creating lifelong resentment in their hearts. I know that’s the last thing you want. This is a battle of me against myself, not me against my kids. The other day, I thought of a great trick. When you want to yell at your kids, just put Hashem at the beginning of whatever you have to say. That will stop you right away! “Hashem, how many times did I tell you to put your toys away?!” “Hashem, stop hitting your brother!” “Hashem, why can’t you just LISTEN TO ME?!”
See, it sounds ridiculous! You can’t possibly yell at Hashem! When your kids test you, remember, it’s Hashem pulling the strings. So just take a deep breath, and let out all of your anger, frustration, and need to show them who’s boss. I promise that if you try your best to fight your battle against yourself, you will win. It’s only a matter of time. And patience. Lots of patience!