Over the long stretch of Yom Tov, I spent a lot of time in the park (in three different states) while enjoying the antics – some of them hair-raising – of my grandchildren as they swung, slid, jumped and hid. As you can imagine, the park was full of heimishe men, women and children, happy for the opportunity, after three days of being indoors at shul and at the dining room table, to work off excess calories (the adults) and excess energy (the kids).
It was very gratifying to see three, and sometimes even four, generations of a family enjoying each other’s company and creating bonds and memories that will transcend time and distance.
As pleasant as these family outings no doubt were to everyone involved, the joyful atmosphere was at times marred by some of the reactions and interactions that I witnessed by parents who, I felt, could be better at incorporating the principle of “putting oneself in the other person’s shoes” when it came to their young children. One little girl, about two-years-old, had spilled some fruit punch on her pretty, and no doubt pricey Shabbat outfit, and her mother loudly scolded her. Another parent yelled at her toddler for stepping into a small puddle and getting his new shoes muddied. Another was annoyed that his child had misplaced his glasses, again. The children’s bright faces were darkened by their parent’s criticism; their joy deflated by the anger and belittling that rained on them.
Getting dirty, messing things up or losing or breaking toys and other possessions go hand and hand with being a normal, healthy child. It’s part of the process of growing up, or becoming self-reliant and independent. There are many parents who would give everything they have – and more – to have their child able to feed him or herself (and yes, spill and dribble on their yom tov outfits) and to run and jump and tear their pants, and lose their baseball mitts, etc.
Without question, it is very aggravating when kids ruin, lose or break items that need to be replaced. After all, dollars are not like leaves – they do not grow on trees, and it is stressful to see one’s hard-earned money go out the window due to what is perceived as a child’s carelessness or indifference. But what is crucial for the parent to understand is that their child is not a “little adult.” There is nothing adult about them. Adults are aware of how “the world works”- what is right, wrong or socially acceptable. Kids, on the other hand, learn life’s lessons the hard way – by doing things that get their mommies and daddies really, really mad. The wise parent will show his/her child the correct path with gentle words and actions seeped in softness and patience.
Below is a poem I wrote years ago based on a situation that I can say without hesitation, every parent has experienced, at least once in their child-rearing career – when a wall becomes a child’s canvas.
A Second Look
My little boy messed up the wall,
But what he did didn’t make me mad at all,
Instead of anger I felt rather proud
That this miniature person,
Who laughs aloud,
Is growing up.
Toddled over and grabbed it by himself,
And while I was chatting on the kitchen phone,
He wandered happily on his own