Tuesday, November 13, 2012

this one is not a mentch

This past Shabbos, R. Chanoch Teller was a guest speaker in our shul. He gave a class about being a mentch (an admirable person). He started by saying how all parenting classes tell parents to love their children, but that a lot of them do not say that it is much easier to love your children if they are well-behaved and are mentches.

Overall, I agree. It is easier to love a child who is lovable. But what about your child who is not? What if your child is the one who is throwing a major tantrum? What if your child routinely bites/hits/hurts/screams at you and his siblings? What if your child makes you wonder where he came from, because he is not like you and like your other kids?

Before I go further, let me clarify that this is not a parenting issue, that your other kids are being brought up in the exact same way, in the exact same household, but their behavior is more reflective of your expectations, while this one child is off the wall. If all your children are off the wall, then you might need to reexamine your parenting.

You have that one child who is different. The one who melts down over the slightest things, the one who drives you nuts, the one for whom you wish there were parents to call and to complain to, except that you are the parent. What are you supposed to do?

All of a sudden, a chorus of blaming voices materializes. These voices usually find fault in the parent.

  • It's your genetics, you must have had undiagnosed (or diagnosed) ADD or some other disorder and now look what you transmitted.
  • It's your reluctance to medicate, there must be a nice pill which will magically turn your little monster into a human.
  • It's your eagerness to medicate, must be that one of those drugs is causing a side effect, and you are blindly shoving more medicine in.
  • If only you would cut out gluten/sugar/carbs/food coloring/dairy, you would see such a difference.
  • If you were only stricter and show who is the boss, the child would obey.
  • If you only hugged them and held them during tantrums, then they would feel comfortable and not have to express themselves this way.
  • If only you would have held off on those vaccines, your child could have been normal.

The list goes on...

I included the items from both sides of the aisle, since I find that both sides scream themselves hoarse over the choices they make or regret making. The overall sense of guilt and wrongdoing starts to envelop the parent, who is coming to grips that this child will not be a conventional child. The parents either are paralyzed by realization that this is not going away, or seek out every single cure in hope that one of them will do the trick.

What happened to embracing differences? What happened to realizing that not everyone is cut out to be mentch by temperament? What happened to accepting the child for who he is, warts and all?

King David
David HaMelech was a warrior by temperament. By plain p'shat, same temper which caused him to act fearlessly in battle led him to audaciously seize Batsheva and concoct a cover-up with Uriah. Despite all the whitewashing of the story, David's actions were not in accordance with Hashem's will; he clearly performed an evil deed, and confessed later that he sinned. The larger question is: why is this story recorded, especially since it has to come with so many explanations of how it is not as bad as it sounds? It must be that an important lesson is hidden in there: even a great personality is not always acting as a mentch.

Based on midrashim, David's own family did not think very highly of him. He was odd, he was weird, he was different, he did not seem suited for leadership, and he wrestled bears and lions with his bare hands. Does not sound like a nice yeshiva bochur. His parents probably stayed up at night, whispering and shaking heads, wondering what would become of him. But he was given an opportunity to be a shepherd, stay in the wilderness, play his harp, expend his energy, find what suits him.

Are we giving our difficult children the same opportunity? Are we depriving them of a chance to become the next great leader by constantly squeezing them into a box that is too small? Do all of them have to behave like a mentch all the time? Do we have to point out every time how they do not measure up?

I am guilty of this. I have a child who is not like either my husband or me. Today I wish there were some parents somewhere to call and to complain to about how his behavior is just plain wrong. But now, sitting down, I think how this child is most likely to behave like a mentch in the most unexpected situations: share something, help someone, make someone feel better, tune in to the feelings of others. As I enlarge the box, his finer qualities manage to squeeze in, too, and overshadow the inappropriate behaviors.

I need to find more opportunities for this child to shine.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Thank you for this post! I think every parent has a challenging child and mine never stops testing me, pushing me to think outside the box, to become a better parent. After considering homeschooling for next year and just having come back from that child's parent teacher conference, I realized that parents aren't the only ones putting out children in comfined boxes, its schools and teachers too. They say " he can take his time now, but what will be next year? We need to get him on track for first grade" Let the child be who he is and help him grow into the person he should be! That's our challenge as parents.