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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 10/14/10

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Dear Rachel,

I was impressed with Debbie’s spunk and overcome with emotion at the predicament she found herself in at such a tender age. (See Interview series – Chronicles 8-27, 9-3, 9-10). None of us can possibly fathom why her birth mother felt compelled to give her away; nonetheless, even if we assume there was good reason for her to separate herself from her child, imagine an eight-year old leaving her mother’s warm embrace only to find herself at the mercy of a frosty authoritarian couple!

When Debbie talks of suffering “consequences” while growing up in her adoptive household, we can only imagine what punishment she was made to endure.

And let’s suppose that she was a handful (she herself says that she became defiant when she could not measure up to her new sister). Are “consequences” really the effective way to deal with a child who acts up?

I am reminded of two recent episodes that received media coverage. In the first which occurred in mid-August, a mother slapped her crying baby on an airplane – midflight. An intuitive and courageous stewardess took quick action by taking the child away from the mother. (The child was returned to the parents at the end of the flight.)

The second incident happened in a high-school classroom in New Jersey in September, when a gym teacher grabbed an insolent student by the ear and ejected him from the room. The unlucky teacher got a 90-day jail sentence and was probably suspended.

In case people don’t get it, physical assault in the name of discipline is no longer a viable option for parents or for teachers. Hitting is abuse – plain and simple. And it doesn’t have to be a stranger doing the abuse; parents are equally culpable.

Just sign me

Hitting is for cowards

Dear Hitting,

A wise old lady I once had the privilege of knowing was fond of saying that anything taken to an extreme is unhealthy.

To put it bluntly, a very young child can rarely be reasoned with, simply because their power of reasoning is not yet developed. But they are capable of understanding a symbol of “no, or it will hurt” – conveyed via a light slap (a patch in Yiddish) on the tush or on the hand (as when they insist on poking their fingers into an electrical outlet or insist on picking up stones outdoors and placing them in their mouths).

The unhealthy “extreme”: losing your cool and letting your anger out on the child that tests your mettle. Using a child as your punching bag in the name of discipline will only end up evoking rebelliousness on the object of your frustration and you will have garnered the opposite of your intended effect.

In general, children are in the habit of emulating their parents’ behavior. Talking to them and treating them like little people will not only serve as a lesson on how to treat others but will also gain you their respect. As a result, when faced with the prospect of letting you down, they will be disinclined to risk losing your trust in them.

To my way of thinking, the stewardess who took the baby away from its mother was way out of line. Unless the mother was caught up in a beating frenzy, all that was required was a gentle diffusion of the situation: The stewardess could have offered to hold the baby for a few minutes and calm the harried mom and child in the process. But to make off with someone else’s child – that’s taking it too far.

As for the teacher, one must admire his pertinacity under the maddening circumstance. Goodness knows the foul-mouthed student deserved what he got and more. Yet, given the teacher’s professional standing, he should have controlled his raging instinct for physical censure and resorted to a verbal dressing-down instead.

Had this student’s parents cared enough to discipline him when he was still wet behind his ears, he may not have gotten to the point of provoking the ire of his elders to begin with. This is the meaning behind Shlomo HaMelech’s “Chosech shivto sonei b’noi – one who withholds his stick (does not hit his child) is his child’s enemy” (see Mishlei 13:24). The stick referred to is not necessarily meant to be a physical instrument but is rather a reference to proper supervision and guidance, as when a shepherd uses his stick, his staff, to guide his flock.

Thank you for reading and taking the time to weigh in with your comment.

* * * * *

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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