Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Vayetze 76 - Kids can help to ' make or break ' a marriage

When we take a look at the lives of the Avot – the Forefathers and especially the life of Ya'akov- Jacob, we see lives that are full of challenges and very complicated, and yet in the end the light of the Torah is revealed.               Proverbs 23:31    implies   that only people who have their eyes on drink think that life runs smoothly without bumps in the road or complications. כִּי-יִתֵּן בכיס (בַּכּוֹס) עֵינוֹ; יִתְהַלֵּךְ, בְּמֵישָׁרִים.Leah as the older daughter,  according to the local people was destined to be married off to Eisav- Esau. She cried and prayed to God .She became Jacob's wife in a most complicated way because Jacob wasn't able to perceive at that time, that his destiny to become Israel needed him to marry Leah. Jacob initially felt a touch of resentment to Leah because of her complicity with her father in deceiving and conning him into marrying her. Leah was extremely conscious of not being the 'favorite wife' and felt not loved and even ' hated.' Thing slowly began to improve when she began to have children. We see from the names she gave her sons how each son helped Jacob's love for her to grow even more. She called their first born son – Reuvein, from God seeing her affliction which was apparent and could be seen by all. Her second son was called Simon, from God hearing her that she was ' hated' = less loved, something that only she could notice from the tone of Jacob's voice in conversation with her .After she had her third son and thereby given birth to her share of the 12 tribes, there would be no difference in the love Jacob showed to his 2 wives and that from now ' my husband will become attached to me', implied by the name Levi. Their connection now had the commitment of a couple that find their happiness only in each other. In fact, Jacob gives expression to his love and commitment by him naming the child, Levi. ( R'SRH). The Chizkuni says that until this point Leah could cope alone in raising her children, one child in each hand, now that she had a third child, she needed Jacob's help. The obvious question is why could not Leah rely on the hands of her maid-servant Zilpah? When it comes to ' education', it is the parent and not the ' super-nanny' that is responsible and has to be active in the child's education.

And this introduction from the parasha reminds me of a woman who had a ' problematic marriage ' and was told , that we can see from Leah's experience that 'having more children ' would solve her problems and cause her husband to show affection, love and support.  Unfortunately, things became much worse and she had to carry the burden of caring for even more children by herself. She continued to be 'emotionally abused' and with the added burden of the children, she had a physical and emotional breakdown. The husband tried to take the kids from her by having her certified by a psychiatrist as being mentally not there and unable to care for her kids. If he would have succeeded, a 'philipino 'and her friend would be looking after the kids.

It is pretty obvious that the cases are completely different. The woman already had a few children and that did not impact positively on the husband. The husband was a self-centered abusive personality and certainly not a Jacob. Leah was less-loved and not – not loved. The husband could be interested in ' having' children, but does not see them as a product of the love between his wife and himself and does not feel privileged and honored by God- Hashem , that they as a couple have been chosen by God to raise these children, however challenging they may be.  Ya'akov – Jacob and Leah were partners in establishing the 12 tribes that would become the nation of Israel.

It is said that God gives people the challenges and difficulties that are within their potential and ability to deal with. One woman who was struggling and feeling totally helpless parenting her challenging kids remarked that ' she wished that God would not have such a high opinion of her. I feel we need to reframe the belief – that if we receive the proper support and guidance, in addition to God's help, we are able to cope with the challenges that life presents to us.

Raising challenging and high maintenance kids is very stressful even when couples are 'on the same page ' and attuned to the needs of their kids. Being on the same page and moving in the wrong direction does not help very much. Often the husband feels the wife is too soft and does not know how to set limits with kids. He believes the kids can behave if they want to, all it takes is to make them ' wanna behave ',  using power, fear, threats, punishments, consequences, bribes and rewards. Using Plan A – imposing Adult will usually escalates conflict and causes more meltdowns. This causes even more stress between the parents, as the one party, usually the mother who is the primary care giver has made a paradigm shift. She believes and this is supported by at least 30years of brain research that ' children do well if they can ' and most problems have at their source in developmental delays and lagging skills particularly in the domains of flexibility, adaptability and frustration tolerance. The way to go is to improve the relationship and connection and reduce conflict by prioritizing problems and putting some of them on the shelf – this is called Plan C.  The focus then is on Plan B, not dealing with behaviors, but rather trying to solve the underlying problems using collaborative problem solving. Here, we first focus on the kids concerns and perspectives and encourage him to open up and express his concerns. We then share our concerns and invite the kid to brainstorm with us solutions that are mutually satisfactory, realistic and durable. We agree to review how the solution is working. In this way the kid feels understood. We support his autonomy = feeling self –directed and connected to his inner core, competence = we promote many cognitive and life skills, enhance our relationship  and moral development. Hillel taught that we should address not only our concerns, but also take into account the concerns and perspectives of others. The father, being concerned only for his need to control creates an atmosphere where it is ' my way or the high way ', so the home becomes more stressful and the developmental needs and needs for unconditional acceptance  are not met. Unconditional acceptance is making it clear that certain actions are unacceptable while still providing ' a very deep kind of reassurance that we care about them and are not going to punish or desert them if they do something very bad. The father is also promoting the lowest level of moral behavior, promoting  only thinking about the consequences for ourselves rather than reflecting on the consequences and the impact our behavior has on other people. If the father is not able to change his lenses and see that his concerns can be met using a ' working with ' approach , a mother most probably decide that being a single mom, would be easier and better for her kids and the family.

Raising kids is complicated and stressful , but if we become more aware of our relationship with our spouses and how we contribute to the family dynamic and the needs of our kids rather than our need for control, children can help ' make a marriage ' , if not they can help to break a marriage.

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