Communication is both verbal and nonverbal. We tell our children how to behave. We talk to them about midos (good character) and try to inspire them with stories of everyday heroes. We hope inspiration to act appropriately will come from examples of the behavior of our gedolim, as we surround our house with their pictures and fill our bookshelves with their teachings. All of this does have a profound impact on our children. But it is very important to remember whose example will influence our children more than any other and how that influence works.
Nonverbal communication (what we do instead of what we say) seems to have a much more powerful influence on those around us than verbal communication. This is not to negate anything mentioned above. Our children need many influences, verbal and nonverbal, from many sources. But it is vital to remember that a parent is perhaps the biggest influence in a child’s life at any age, and, parents’ behavior carries tremendous power. What they see us do influences them to a much greater degree than what we say.
This poem arrived on my computer from a friend. Once again, it was by that famous author, “Anonymous” whose works are so often sent from one computer to another. It so reflected what I feel, that I framed it and have it hanging in my kitchen and in my children’s homes.
When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw my first painting on the refrigerator and I wanted to paint another one.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat and I thought it was good to be kind.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you make my favorite cake, just for me, and I knew that little things are special things.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I heard you say a prayer and I believed in a G-d I could always talk to.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I felt you kiss me goodnight and I felt loved.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw a tear come to your eyes and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s alright to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw that you cared and I wanted to be everything that I wanted to be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked…and I wanted to say thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.
I’d like to change the poem to perhaps make some points about what, unfortunately, is common when raising children in our communities and what they are teaching our children.
Things That Would Horrify Us, If We Only Realized Their Effect
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you keep the change that was too much instead of returning it and I knew it was all right to keep what wasn’t yours.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I heard you tell the man asking for tzedakah that you had no money, and I knew it was all right to lie and not give charity.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you ask the carpenter what price it would be if you paid him cash, and I knew it was all right to cheat the government.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you buy a TV at the store so we could see the World Series and then return it right after and I knew it was all right to “rent at Walmart.”
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you transfer the macaroni with the hechsher we didn’t use into a package with the hechsher Daddy likes, and I knew it was all right to fool around with kashrus and lie to your spouse.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I heard you talking badly about our neighbor and I knew it was all right to speak lashon harah and gossip.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you pass by the blind man at the corner without offering to help and I knew that it was all right to ignore those that need us.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you ignore the needs of our sick neighbor and I knew bikur cholim (helping the sick) wasn’t important.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you didn’t dance with Yanky, my friend whose father was in a wheelchair and couldn’t dance with him, on Simchat Torah and I knew not to be sensitive to another’s needs.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw you not help Bubby and Zaidy on Yom Tov when we visited and I knew how to treat you when you get old.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw our neighbor sitting alone every Shabbos and Yom Tov and I knew that inviting guests was only for whom we like and not who needed the invitation.
We teach mostly by example. Our young children copy everything from how we walk, sigh and even cough, to how we speak to another (words, tone and all). If we want to raise children who care, we must show them by our example of caring for others to teach how it is done. Otherwise it’s just “do as I say and not how I do”. In that case, it may never get done.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail c/o the Jewish Press.
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