Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Toldot 76 - Be a Grandparent before being a Parent

The portion begins with'אלה תולדות יצחק בן אברהם ,אברהם הוליד את יצחק' – these are the generations of Isaac the son of Abraham, Abraham fathered Isaac. The verse seems to be repetitive, so what is the Torah coming to teach us by stressing that Abraham and Isaac were father and son. The Midrash commentary quotes a verse from Proverbs עטרת זקנים בני בנים ותפארת בנים אבותם  - The crown of grandparents are their grandchildren and the glory of sons- children  are their fathers-parents. It is easy to understand why grandchildren are the crown of their grandparents. It is a wish and prayer that we ask in our Psalms 128:6 ' And may you see the children of your children, and peace upon Israel' – וראה בנים לבנך שלום על ישראל  and enjoy their company.  The greatest joy of grandparents is their grandchildren and this is because in most cases, the connection is based on ' relationship ' and not based on' power ' and authority and being judgmental '. It is said that people should become grandparents before they become parents, in order to learn that we should put ' relationship ' first in our dealings with our kids. When we see our grandchildren, both good and God fearing people, we see a certain continuity of ourselves following the path of our forefathers in serving God and of being in service of man. It is also proof of our competence - that we have raised children to be responsible people and who are successfully involved in raising their own families. In a way, grandchildren justify our existence – that we have made a contribution to the world. The Midrash actually goes further. Grandchildren not only are a justification for our lives, but they can be the very reason why we were given 'life'. The Midrash says that Abraham was protected and saved from the ' fire of the furnace ' by Jacob, long before Jacob was born. This is because God saw that a Jacob would be a descendent and come from Abraham. The Midrash is saying that both Abraham and Isaac are a source of strength to each other. Rav Charlap says that without outstanding founding fathers - the pillars of the nation and without outstanding children and descendants giving strength to each other, the nation of Israel and the individuals involved have no future.

  Grandchildren bring peace to Israel as they bring families together – Sons and daughters have an interest that their children experience and have a relationship with their grandparents, so they tend to see their parents a bit differently and in a more positive light. Unfortunately there are tragic situations, because of family conflict some children don't allow their parents to have contact with their grandchildren. This not only denies kids of grandparents , an experience denied to  many kids after the 2nd World War,   by the holocaust , but denying grandparents  access to their grandchildren , according to the Tanna De'bei Eliyahu it is as if you have kidnapped them – taken away  both grandchildren and grandparents  from their family. The  proximity of the commandment to honor parents in the Ten Commandments  to ' do  not steal ' -and here stealing refers to people , do not  kidnap  -   teaches that if your children don't honor their grandparents, because of your parenting,  it is as if you have kidnapped them, how much more   so if you actively deny the grandparents access to their grandchildren.

 The glory of sons are their fathers –' ותפארת בנים אבותם  '  - the Midrash says that the ideal is that children are proud of their righteous fathers and  fathers are proud of their children. But if we check the reality ,  relationships between parents and kids are from perfect  and this is reflected in the verse  והשיב לב אבות על בנים ולב בנים על אבותם"  -מלאכי ג כד And He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers. I suggest that if we look at the mothers –daughter's relationship we can understand the challenges to effective communication between parent and child, a vital factor in parents being attuned to the needs of their children.
In a book – You're wearing that  ! and in an article oh, Mom.Oh,Honey. Why did you say that  the linguist Deborah Tannen examines the conversations between mothers and daughters. There is a special intensity to the mother-daughter relationship because talk, - particularly talk about personal topics- is the glue that holds the relationship together and the explosive that blows it apart. Daughters yearn for their mother's approval and want their mothers to see and value what they value in themselves. Daughters complain that their mothers are always criticizing them and mothers say ' I can't open my mouth, she takes everything as criticism. ' Deborah Tannen says that ' Both are right, but each sees only her perspective.' A mother feels entitled or even obligated to comment because they are supposed to educate their kids and persist in commenting because they can't get their adult children to do what they believe is obviously right. They focus a lot on appearance– hair, weight and dress knowing that women are judged by appearance and that mothers are judged by their daughters' appearance, because daughters represent their mothers to the world. The problem is that while mothers think they are offering guidance, constructive criticism, showing that they care and are interested in what their daughter is doing, the daughter experiences the comments as criticism, interference, lack of trust and controlling. Even praise is experienced as ' controlling' because praise is about being judgmental and it does not matter if the comment is  positive or negative, people don’t like to be judged. And once a daughter has a certain opinion about her mother – controlling, interfering, critical etc, the daughter has an internal need to justify her position and so everything her mother says or does will be interpreted in a way that will justify her opinion of her mother.
Deborah Tannen says the way to go is to try and be more empathic and take into account the other person's perspective and concerns. One can reframe what a mother has said as trying to show that she cares and is concerned and when she says something it may be more about reflecting on her own personal values and not about being judgmental and critical. Instead of criticism or  praise , solve problems in a collaborative way and keep comments to neutral feedback – just describing what you have seen without any commentary. We have to remember it is not so much what we say or teach that matters but how our parents or children interpret what we say , it the meta-message that counts , not the message itself.

It would have been better if we were grandparents before parents , but now that we may be grandparents as well,  we should speak and relate to our kids like we do to our grandchildren and our children  should treat us like they treat their grandparents who they love and maybe then - parents will be the glory of their children and children will be the glory of their parents. In this way , parents and children will emulate Abraham and Isaac , supporting each other and  being a source of strength to each other in building a family and a nation.

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