When I used to have a TV, I used to love wasting time watching animal shows. One of my favorites was the lady who was known as “The Pet Whisperer” or something like that. She amazed me with her intuition and how she was able to express exactly what the people’s pets needed. Usually, it was something emotional. Today, I was on a wonderful and enlightening Emuna Parenting call with Dr. Zev Ballen, our in-house psychotherapist, and the participants began discussing the subject of anger and child-rearing.
Being a repeated victim of the anger sting, I can feel its venom running through my veins every time my kids do something upsetting, like using their 7-month-old brother to play “Hot Potato” or playing with their microscopic Legos right near him. If I am lucky enough not to let the venom come out of my mouth and sting my kids with it, I turn to Hashem and desperately plead with Him to help me overcome this mountain of an obstacle. I feel stuck, and another participant in the call pointed this problem out in her life as well.
Here is what our dialogue helped me realize: Hashem is The Parent Whisperer, and He uses our, rather, His, children as messengers to help us discover a lot about ourselves- so we can ultimately reach our potential as loving, nurturing, compassionate human beings.
1) The first thing He tells us is that our kids are not the ones that need fixing; they are just reflections of our own shortcomings. Therefore, if we see behavior in our kids that repels us or pushes our buttons, we must search within to find out where we have that behavior in ourselves. Sometimes we can’t find the exact same behavior. In these situations we should try to find similar behaviors in ourselves from when we were children. Sometimes it’s just a matter of doing teshuva for something we did as a child. Once we tie up those loose ends, our children’s unattractive behavior may stop of its own accord.
2) The Parent Whisperer knows how imperfect we are. I think that for many of us, we don’t really see our imperfections as clearly until we have kids. Children have a talent for bringing out the worst in us, to the point where (speaking for myself) I am shocked at how horrible I can behave at times. Sometimes I feel like Cruella DeVille or Saddam Hussein (G-d forbid!). When I have reached my tolerance level of being spit at, looking at my son’s ridiculous faces as I try to talk to him seriously, not being listened to, or refereeing yet another round of Ultimate Fighting, I snap and go into Furious Drill Sergeant mode: “All right, get those Legos off the floor this instant! DID YOU HEAR ME, SON?!! Then get your tushes in that shower, ON THE DOUBLE!” Do you think this even phases them? Sometimes it does, when I end up barking orders in their faces like they’re at the 4am lineup in Basic Training.
What is important about this point is that each of us must take an objective look at our reactive behavior. What is your reactive behavior? Do you yell and scream? Do you give the cold silent treatment? Do you spank? Whatever it is, Hashem is showing us this is a side of ourselves that we must work on improving. At this point, He wants us to ask Him to help us rid ourselves of our ugly character traits. The key is that we cannot rid ourselves of our undesirable traits without Hashem’s help. You’ve heard the phrase, “People can’t change”. You know what? It’s true- no one can change without Hashem’s help. We’re up against a dark force that is millions of times stronger and smarter than we are. The Evil Inclination knows our weak spots better than we do, and he will manipulate us like hand puppets if we let him. Only Hashem is stronger than him, so we must ask for His help at all times.
3) Hashem also uses our kids to help us develop humility. Dr. Ballen was telling us the story of an accomplished female surgeon who was beyond frustrated at her lack of ability to control her kids’ behavior. Many of us fall into this trap. We might ask ourselves: “I’m smart. I have a good head on my shoulders. I am sociable and diplomatic...why can’t I control myself or my kids when they’re misbehaving?” Let me tell you that one has nothing to do with the other. Remember, to be successful in the business world, you need education and training, usually many years of it. Give yourselves a fair chance- how many years of proper child education did you receive growing up? Most of us didn’t have parents that were straight out of The Brady Bunch. Even if we did, it doesn’t mean we got their unusual knack for dealing with kids. Most of us have to undo our entire lifetimes of getting the wrong messages of how to deal with kids, through the way our parents dealt with us. Now we have to not only undo all of the brainwashing, but we have to figure out the right way on our own. That’s not easy.
The only way to really give ourselves and our children a fresh start is to be humble. Realize that we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re not perfect, and Hashem doesn’t expect us to be that way. Through our humility, we become open to receiving divine help. Don’t be like the addict who thinks he doesn’t have a problem and refuses your help.
4) In order to help us reach a state of humility, The Parent Whisperer helps us in another way- He uses our kids to break us completely. Every parent goes through those moments where they just break down and cry. At this point, we admit our shortcomings and the fact that we have been trying to hide from ourselves- we really don’t know anything about proper parenting. But why does Hashem have to go to such extremes? The answer is simple- if we didn’t completely get rid of our egos and delusions that we know what we’re doing and that we don’t have areas of our characters to improve, we would never wholeheartedly ask Hashem to help us. We would be in the middle at best, thinking, “Sure, Hashem’s help would be nice, but I can fix this on my own.” Many people aren’t even at the point of asking for help. Many parents don’t want to connect their kids’ behavior with their own shortcomings, and don’t even realize that there are things to fix.
So if you reach this point of being broken, thank Hashem! It is a total mercy! Like the Drill Sergeant in the army, Hashem uses our kids to break us so we can be rebuilt into new and improved people! Imagine, you can be “Adam Steinberg, v2.0! New and Improved! 80% more Tolerance Level!”
5) Another great point that was brought up in our call was that anger is a defense mechanism. When someone hurts us, our pride doesn’t want them to see the pain they’ve caused us. G-d forbid that they might enjoy it. So we become angry instead- like a survival mechanism. If we allow our kids to see that their actions do indeed hurt us, there is a good chance they will feel sorry for what they did and not be as inclined to do it again. My friend lets herself cry in front of her kids when they really upset her, and they actually end up comforting her! Doesn’t this get the message across so much better than yelling at them about what they did wrong? Usually kids just tune us out when we start nagging and yelling. But if they really see that they did something to make their mother cry- believe me, they won’t forget that so quickly! Warning: don’t overuse this tactic because it can get old and make the kids immune to your pain.
But don’t limit your crying to displays of hurt in front of your kids- cry to Hashem for help! When your kids come crying to you, doesn’t your heart melt? Don’t you want to do anything you can to help them? This is how Hashem feels, too! Cry to Him that you just don’t know what you’re doing! Yell: “Hashem! What do you want me to do? How am I supposed to handle these kids? I have no idea what I’m doing! I understand now that You’re showing me the ugly side of myself, but I don’t know how to fix it! Please, help me fix myself! Don’t let my kids suffer from my shortcomings! Don’t let them inherit my bad tendencies! They deserve nothing less than a parent who loves them unconditionally! They deserve a parent who is patient and compassionate! Hashem, help me to be this parent! You have trusted me with these children! Don’t let me fail You and don’t let me fail them! Hashem, I need Your help!”
If you would like to participate in these fabulous and life-changing Emuna Parenting calls, please contact Dr. Zev Ballen at firstname.lastname@example.org. May we all have the merit to work on ourselves successfully, and with Hashem’s help, may we all raise children who are happy and balanced, and who will make Hashem a part of their everyday lives as well, Amen.