Monday, December 14, 2015

Vayigash 76 – Repeating the parenting and discipline mistakes of parents and teachers.

Joseph sends off his brothers with wagons containing a generous supply of provisions to go and bring their father, Jacob and the rest of the family to Egypt. He also gave each of his 10 brothers 2 sets of clothing .He treated  full brother Binyamin differently by giving him  5 sets of clothing and 300 pieces of silver.  The Talmud asks how could Joseph ,a victim of jealousy  do such a thing. Joseph had been singled out by Jacob when he gave him the 'coat of many colors ', and  now he was adopting the same strategy that caused him so much suffering.  Because siblings vie for the love and attention of their parents, their anger is directed against the sibling who is being treated as the favorite child. The Talmud answers that Joseph was alluding to a future event when the descendant of Binyamin, Mordechai would in a triumphant way emerge from the presence of the King Ahasuerus wearing 5 royal garments.  The commentators ask how could  the brothers  know that the 5 sets of  clothes communicated this message and not a message of favoritism. The answer given is that the word for the sets of clothing given to Binyamin is written in the shortened form חליפת and not  in the long form חליפות indicating that the quality of Binyamin's present was of a much lesser quality. Thus the differences in the presents could not be ascribed to favoritism but to some other message. The 300 silver pieces could have been given in secret or as compensation for Binyamin's suffering.

  In general we should always try to attribute to people and especially children the best possible motives consistent with the facts.

The question I want to examine is why children who were parented in a controlling and conditional way - making love and attention conditional on how kids behave or perform in school and use love to leverage behavior,- as parents ,  do the same things to their kids. They use the same parenting that contributed to their needs not being met and that sometimes caused suffering to the point of physical and/or emotional abuse. We can also ask how teachers who were once pupils and were often treated disrespectfully by teachers who totally ignored their concerns or perspectives and controlled them with punishments and consequences adopt the same approach to discipline and learning as their teachers did. Even though parents were once kids and teachers were once pupils, they seem to totally have forgotten and are totally unaware of how kids and pupils experience the way they discipline and teach. In education it matters not what we think is the lesson we teach, but the message kids take home and how they experience what we do to them.

Parents will often justify a ' doing to approach ' rather than ' working with ' kids because this is how I was raised and I turned out OK.  For sure they have not turned out OK if they do not respect the dignity of kids, are controlling and love and accept them conditionally. The obvious answer is that kids learn how to parent the way they were parented and because it is the only way they know. And as a result of this, a cycle of aggression or even abuse that is intergenerational is created. According to Alice Miller kids who are emotionally abused have a natural tendency to deny or minimize the harmful nature of the parental abuse and blame themselves for being bad kids. This causes a variety of emotional and behavior problems. There is an unconscious need to believe that everything that our parents did for us, was really for our own good and was done out of love. It is too threatening for many kids to even entertain the possibility that our parents weren't well-meaning or even competent. In order to show what was done to them was not that bad and out of love, they do the same things to their own children that their parents did to them.

Another simpler reason is that because of various fears and weaknesses ,  parents have a need for control and therefore adopt  a ' doing to ' approach that  trumps the needs of the kids for love , attention, guidance and unconditional acceptance. These needs can only be addressed by adopting a ' working with' approach. A  ' doing to' approach is also so much easier. It is often mindless, relying on power , status and position and does not take into account how the child experiences what is being done to them. However this ' bad discipline' works, at least in getting temporarily compliance. So because a ' doing to ' approach is easier and ' works' (works for what? = temporary compliance),  it is so easy to parent this way and fall back on these ways even when one has adopted a working with approach. 

 Working with kids and supporting their autonomy is much harder and takes a lot of thought and patience. It is giving up control so that you gain influence and can inspire kids to connect to their inner souls and give expression to who they are and develop a love of learning and a love of people. When we attribute to kids the best motives consistent with the facts, and believe children do well if they can and not children do well if they want to, we will be more inclined to work with them and find out what is getting in their way. We will also put our relationship first and try to see the world through their eyes, the eyes of kids as we collaborate with them to solve problems and grow together with them to make a better world.

If we focus on the long term goals for our kids and not our need for control and compliance we will be able to ask ourselves if what we just did to kids had more to do with our upbringing, our needs and fears and is not in the best interests of our kids. 

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