Meriting A Reward For Helping Parents
Dear Dr Yael:
I loved your answer to Confused Mom (“Should Children Voluntarily Help Their Parents,” August 23).
It was a bit unrealistic of the writer to expect her children to do things voluntarily for her and her husband. Even my husband, a good and loving man, does not do anything unless I ask him to, several times. I have spoken to my friends, and this seems to be the norm. This woman is blessed with an amazing marriage, but her daughter is correct: al pi halacha a child gets more sechar if he or she is asked by a parent to do something and then fulfills the request.
I am fortunate that my children fulfill my requests (more than my husband), but I have always asked them in a nice way.
Parents should ask their children to do things for them from the time they’re young and praise them for their efforts. This will build their self-confidence and encourage them to have derech eretz. It will also make them feel good about having done something for their parents.
Thank you for your letter. When we were producing “Chutpah is Muktzah 2,” I reviewed and studied the halachos of kibud av va’em. You are correct that one receives more sechar for doing things upon their parents’ request.
A story is told about a great rebbe whose father came for a visit. When he requested some water; the rebbe’s students immediately ran to get it for him. But the rebbe’s father told the students that he wanted his son to bring the water to him so that he could get a reward for serving his father.
I agree that this woman is blessed to have an unusually positive marriage. After all, most of us are happy if we ask our spouse to do something and they eventually do it. Children, even older and married ones, generally need to be asked to do things. This should not be seen as inappropriate, since most children are busy with their own lives and do not spend time anticipating their parents’ needs.
Even in marriage, the fantasy that our spouse will know what we want and need without us having told them is unrealistic. Most of us who have been married for a while know that this wish (to know what the spouse wants) is generally the wish of a newlywed couple. While some people are zocheh to have this wish fulfilled, most of us are not. I wonder how many marriages suffer from the belief that “If he or she loves me, he or she will know what I need without my having to say it.” Unhappiness is often bred when your spouse cannot read your mind.
Even children who should be leading their own lives and not be absorbed with anticipating their parents’ needs should be asked to do things on a regular basis. And they should be verbally rewarded when they do. One should remember that children who are constantly thinking of ways to please their parents and become consumed with guilt when not doing so are generally not healthy children. But children who feel that their parents will request what they want and need and are then grateful for the opportunity to assist end up being healthier, happier individuals. They will ultimately want to do things for their parents.
I often see children, even older ones, who try to fulfill every need of their elderly parent but then resent the lack of consideration for them displayed by the parent. There are many children whose elderly parents are so demanding that they abuse them emotionally by making them feel guilty for never doing enough to help them. In this scenario, the children are likely to harbor much anger and resentment. As a result, these parents make the act of fulfilling the mitzvah of kibud av va’em extremely challenging.
Here are a few additional thoughts:
1) Parents should not make the mitzvah of kibud av va’em too challenging for their children, especially when the children get older and the parents may become dependent on them.
2) Parents should give their young children ample opportunities to do things for them. And more importantly, praise them when they do, as this is a great source of chizuk to the children. As parents get older, their children will then enjoy doing things for them and the mitzvah of kibud av va’em will be gratifying.
3) To continually show their love, parents must instill self-esteem in their children, solidifying the parent/child relationship. This will ultimately lead to a mutually loving, healthy, respectful parent/child relationship whereby the children will want to do things that show respect to their parents.
As the New Year approaches and we focus on our Yamim Noraim tefillos, I urge readers to think of ways to improve their middos. We should all remember that in the Beis Din Shel Ma’alah, we will be asked how we treated our spouse, parents and children. Remember that chesed begins at home. Thus, while it is nice to do chesed for those outside our family, it is the chesed that we perform for those near and dear to us that will merit us a sechar in Olam Haba.
I wish everyone gefen, gezunt, parnassah and nachas in the New Year. May we all merit a healthy and happy New Year, and may all of our tefillos be answered l’tovah.
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