My daughter recently said to me, “Baba,” (that’s what she’s called me ever since she was too little to say Abba), “how can you teach a class on parenting when you’re still figuring out how to do it yourself?” After my initial reaction of, “Oh no, she’s on to me!” I explained to her the same thing I said to the members of my class on opening night: I do not have this all figured out, and this class is not about me telling anyone how to parent.
Whenever I teach anything, in fact, it’s not about me telling anyone how to do anything. Instead, I hold by Rav Kook’s statement of the purpose of learning Torah:
“Understanding reached by one’s own mind – this is the highest expression of spiritual progress. All that is learned by study is absorbed from the outside, and is of lesser significance as compared with what is thought through within the soul itself. All that is acquired by study is only a profound strategy as to how to draw on what is hidden in the heart, in the depth of the soul, one’s inner understanding, from the knowledge within.” (Orot Hakodesh I, 180)
If this is true about anything, it’s true for parenting. I see my role as creating the framework for parents to clarify their deepest goals and envision their own best parenting selves, and then cultivating a supportive environment to help them get there. With our PTJL class in Sharon, sponsored by Young Israel and Striar Hebrew Academy, we had the help of free babysitting and pizza dinners.
So, for example, our first class was dedicated to participants identifying three core values and then articulating them in a way that both parents and children can understand. We then spent the subsequent classes imagining how we might do daily routines, Shabbat, and life cycle events in a way that manifests those values and teaches them to our kids, organically. In my own family, my wife (who joined me for the series) and I determined that one of our core values was that our family feel like a team, with every member having an important role to play in working together. To foster that, we decided to give our kids responsibilities in preparing for Shabbat and making Havdalah together, to express that value to them in concrete ways.
This process has been so refreshing and rewarding for us and for the other families. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and share with this group as we plan for PTJL Part 2 in the fall.