Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Pinchas 75 - How Children raise their Parents

In Gen 18:19 God explains why Abraham was entitled to a role in the Divine conduct of the world. It was because of what he would teach his children, and who they would become - compassionate, shy and generous. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot says, having a good eye, being of humble spirit and having an undemanding soul (focused on the spiritual) makes one a disciple of Abraham and having the opposite traits makes one a disciple of the evil Bilaam. From this we see that educating children should impact on the character and traits of the child and their actions should be an expression of their deeper selves and values.

 There is discussion as to the legal potency and the weight of mitzvoth – commandments performed by children who have not reached the age of 12 for girls and 13 for boys. It is for sure a logical and moral responsibility for parents to educate their children. The question is whether we consider the mitzvah of chinuch, becoming educated an obligation of the son and the father is there to support the child and facilitate the performance of the commandments   or is it the obligation of the father to make sure that the child does the mitzvoth. Where the obligation is on the son, the mitzvah has legal weight and potency to the extent that the son can act on behalf of someone else and enable them to fulfill the mitzvah. Where the obligation is on the father, the son's actions don't have the same weight and potency.

The philosophical difference can be learned from the following story.  John Souza   was giving his daughter and nephews a tour of Hawaii. They stood in a parking lot when John noticed that most probably one of his nephews had opened his door a bit too enthusiastically and had made a deep dent into the door of an expensive and newish car. For a moment he thought he could get the kids into the car, drive away and no one would be the wiser.  Then a similar scene which would take place 10 years later flashed through his mind. The scenario was of his nephews and daughter, having damaged a vehicle in a car park driving away to avoid the consequences of their actions, laughing and saying – we totally got away with that. It was in that moment he  realized that in order to increase the likelihood of these impressionable youth taking responsibility for their actions in the future he  had to take some responsibility for his  nephew’s actions and  could guide him through the process of reparation and  being accountable. He decided not to tell the family of what happened because  in his  family, so often when a child makes a mistake it seems that each adult must take a turn giving the child feedback (some not always constructive). This can be overwhelming and confusing to a child.  So in a very discreet way he spoke to his nephew careful be non-judgmental, but supportive.  He explained he was there to help him take responsibility for his actions and engage in the moral act of reparation. His nephew said he would write a note, leaving a telephone number, apologizing for the damage and saying the  damage would be repaired.  When the car owner called, John explained   his intention to help the kid take responsibility for his actions. The owner was not so happy about his car. Later he called to say that a friend who had heard of the story was so impressed of how he was helping his nephew take responsibility that he got the story published in the newspaper.  Then John  shared the newspaper story with the family, who responded with love and admiration that the boy had acted with so much integrity.

 From experiences like this  and many years of parenting and being a family therapist John Souza   concludes that while we certainly raise our kids , kids are equally responsible for raising us and teaching us. If we see our parenting as being obligated to get the kids to comply with our demands and do the mitzvoth, we are less likely to be aware of ourselves  and to focus on our contribution to the educational mix. But if we see the 'mitzvah of chinuch ' as an obligation to do the commandments = mitzvoth that rests also on the child we are more likely to be aware of ourselves and how we contribute to the parent-child dynamic and educational mix. We understand that education is not motivating a child to be compliant and to do the mitzvoth, but creating an environment where the child is inspired and is able to motivate himself.  Instead of ' doing to a child' , leading with  power - making him'  wanna  do what he is told by using  assertive language ,rewards, praise and consequences , we can ' work with ' the child, leading with greatness of character , helping him reflect and make meaning of his obligations. In this way the parent and child can focus on the character traits and values underlying the mitzvoth and thus support the autonomy of the child so he feels self-directed in the way he conducts his religious life.  The mitzvoth were given to refine ourselves .So  the mitzvah of chinuch , educating a child ,  setting an example  etc  are  not only necessary  for the child's education but crucial for our own personal growth.   If we set an example just for the kids, when they leave the home or are not around we will revert old behaviors and lower standards. If we become aware of ourselves in raising our kids, our kids will play a part in ' raising' us too. 

Joshua in our Parasha was given the power of a king –give him some of your honor= hod and the ability to influence as a teacher –place your hand on him , giving him the responsibility to give over the religious tradition. We don't pray for power of a ' policeman ' but we pray that our judges and counselors will be restored as first. By being the ' guide by the side' we can not only raise our kids, but together with them we can raise ourselves.