I think we can safely say that, as parents, we love our children. And I think we can say with equal surety that we don’t always like them. I mean, do we ALWAYS like anyone? Even ourselves? We have a lifelong challenge to accept our kids for who they are. Why is it so hard to do? Perhaps one reason is because when they come to us with their struggles, they don’t always accept our help and it’s hard to not take that personally.
So, the scene in our Parenting Tweens Through a Jewish Lens class, which I taught both at The Rashi School and Congregation Dorshei Tzedek this fall, is a familiar one. A parent shares her frustration about a time when her tween came home from school super upset. Dinnertime didn’t go well with the family that night and the tween left in a huff. Later that night, the mom goes to her daughter’s room and the tween tells her about an exchange with a “friend” that was so painful and embarrassing. Ah, the mom rightly thinks, I’m being let in. With a full heart and the eagerness to help solve her daughter’s problem and “make it all better,” she makes a suggestion or two, and even sides with her daughter suggesting that the girl may not be such a good friend anyway. What was intended to help has now stoked the flames and the daughter is madder than before and asks her mom to leave.
Sound familiar? We’ve all been there! We’re all still there from time to time – no matter how old our kids are.
With the help of both ancient Jewish teachings and contemporary parenting texts, we challenged ourselves around the words we use with our kids. One of the parents around the table rightly noted that in an attempt to make her daughter feel better she had engaged in Lashon HaRa (gossip) by suggesting that the girl wasn’t very nice, which made the daughter defensive about her choices. I added that one of the more powerful things we can do for our kids in those moments, is ask instead of tell. And a great question can simply be: “what do you need from me?” It’s so respectful and empowering to pose a question that gets them really thinking about what they need. Sometimes they don’t know, and sometimes they do and will just ask us to listen, to let them cry, or to leave them alone for now. And sometimes, just sometimes, they want our advice, which is easier to give when it’s invited.
One of the best parts of teaching these classes is that through these conversations with amazing and caring parents, I grow in my own parenting and remind myself of things I can still do with my young adult children.