25 Kislev 5778 / Wednesday, December 13, 2017 | Torah Reading: Mikeitz
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Hold Back and Hold On    

Hold Back and Hold On

Sometimes parents send the hypocritical message “Do as I say, not as I do.” Actions speak louder than words and are much more effective than constant lectures...


One way to be an effective parent is to keep your mouth shut. Inserting yourself into a child's spiritual struggle can backfire and distract him from the inner work he needs to do. When we try to “own” our kid's dilemma, it can go from a problem that needs to be solved to a power struggle that could be avoided.


My youngest child Miriam, had trouble deciding what to do after high school. She completed her sherut leumi (national service) at a health care clinic and then got a job as a waitress, saving up money to travel with a group of girlfriends and see the world. The day I got a photo of her washing an elephant in Thailand was the day I finally admitted that her life was out of my control. As a baalas tshuva my dream had been to raise very religious girls and these activities did not fit the bill.


In between travels Miriam worked as a nanny and continued waitressing at an upscale wedding hall. During certain times of the year when Jews cannot marry, Arabs use it. At first I was frightened by that but after a while I calmed down and enjoyed hearing what Arab weddings were like. She said they were actually very quiet compared to Jewish weddings (no alcohol) and she was always treated extremely politely by the women she waited on.


But this was not what I had pictured for my daughter! Miriam is an exceptionally mature young woman, partly as a result of growing up with an older sister who suffered sudden cardiac arrest at the age of sixteen, when Miriam was only eleven. During her teen years, Miriam was witness and helper to her sister's painstaking recovery. It wasn't a picnic for any of us but being the youngest, Miriam saw it all and I believe it taught her patience and compassion. But it also impacted her in ways I'll never know.


I wanted Miriam to study special education or child psychology because she is so good with kids. I also wanted her to continue learning Torah like she had at school. She didn't seem interested in doing either of these things so I dropped those subjects along with the marriage subject, the get off your phone subject and my old favorite –  the your-skirt-is-too-short subject. My “dream daughter” was fading fast.


But because Miriam was such a good girl (although not “Beis Yaakov” like I had always imagined) I decided to leave her alone. I didn't want her to feel that I was disappointed in her. She is respectful and kind, asks questions about kashrus and makes sure to give ma’aser (tithing) every month. When traveling she spends Shabboses at Chabad Houses, which she claims is a real education. She has been to Uman as well. Drugs, drinking and boys were never an issue, thank God and for this I am very grateful. But it took me time to accept that Miriam is not typically “Charedi.” She doesn't aspire to that, even if I do. Did I fail in some way? I suppose I did if my goal was to have her be someone she isn't. Did I succeed as well? Absolutely. She is a wonderful person. I just have to remember that my kids have free will and they like to use it.


Eventually, after a few years of me keeping my mouth shut and my teeth clenched, Miriam told me that she was done traveling. It was fascinating she said, but she had had enough. She wanted to do something with her life. “I'm getting too old to be a waitress,” she told me,” I'm twenty-one and it’s really a job for kids.” This was music to my ears, like a hit song I was hoping to hear on the radio.


She finally decided to become a professional seamstress and is now in her second year of sewing school. She also joined a weekly Torah class for young women in Jerusalem and enjoys it very much. (Bingo!) She is soon twenty-two, the age I was when I first came to study in Israel. She would like to get married but prefers to wait for her older sister to go first. I can understand that.


I am so grateful I never criticized or condemned my daughter! I learned the hard way that winning your kids' trust is the best way to keep them close. Because Miriam was able to share her feelings safely, we could have honest discussions about society, Judaism and God. In the past, when I tried to make my kids into my image, I didn't have this kind of honest communication and I paid the price in emotional distance.


Looking back at the times I pushed and pulled my older kids, I really didn't have to. Providing that our children are not hurting themselves or others we can relax and let them percolate. Not all kids know exactly what they want to do, not every kid moves smoothly from one stage of life to the next. Our kids are people who need space to figure things out. Living takes time.


Another daughter of mine once gained a lot of weight after she had a baby. It hurt me to see her heavy because I equate overeating with being emotionally overwhelmed. But I knew that she was aware she wasn't taking care of herself and she knew me well enough to know that I was distressed by her weight gain and all its disadvantages. But I kept my mouth shut because it would only add to her discomfort and also because it would become an “us” issue. Her health is her responsibility, not mine. As they say in 12 step programs: Keep your hands off other people's problems. Half a year later she joined a diet club and started going to the gym. She lost thirty pounds and looks and feels wonderful. She came back to herself with God's help, not mine. Was it easy for me to keep quiet? It was not.


But I didn't have to talk. Our kids can tell how we feel by what we ourselves value. My husband and I both eat healthy foods and work out because we appreciate our health and want to guard it.


Sometimes parents send the message “Do as I say, not as I do.” That is obviously hypocritical. Not only do actions speak louder than words but constant lectures, opinions and suggestions can hamper spiritual growth, not facilitate it. And sometimes silence is the best catalyst of all.


As the sages say, ”Nothing is better for the soul than silence.” And maybe that goes for our kids' souls as well.



* * *

Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen began her career as a Crisis Intervention Counselor in Silver Spring, Md. in the seventies. After moving to Israel, she worked as a marital mediator and social skills instructor for kids. Following the death of a son, Rebbitzen Channen became a certified bereavement counselor and worked with young mothers who had suffered loss. Most recently she worked at the Melabev Center for the memory-impaired, as an activity director and group facilitator for families coping with Dementia.  The Rebbitzen has written for numerous magazines and newspapers and recently led an interactive creative writing course called Connective Writing. Yehudit Channen is the wife of Rabbi Don Channen, Rosh Yeshiva of Keter HaTorah.  They are blessed to have nine children and many grandchildren and live in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Today, Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen is a certified Emuna Therapist for Breslev Israel. You can set up an appointment with her by contacting staff@breslev.co.il

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