Whenever I would go to my parents for Shabbos and my infant would wake up in middle of the night, I would wander into the kitchen. I would find my father sitting at the kitchen table, Gemara open, humming softly as he learned. “Sheyfalah,” my father would say, “Do you know why Hashem has babies wake up in middle of the night?” My father would laugh. “The baby’s telling me to wake up and learn throughout the night. You go to sleep and leave the baby with me.” I recall hearing my father’s sweet voice of Torah as he rocked the baby.
I share these memories with you because with time, we realize that the greatest gifts we’ve been given as we raise our children is the presence of those we love in our life. Especially in today’s world, bringing up our children is a most arduous responsibility. The pandemic has turned our world upside down. Many are suffering with fear of the unknown, anxiety, and loneliness. We can draw upon the strength of those who forged a path before us and find the wisdom of Torah to guide us.
When we are stressed and under pressure, we often parent out of emotion. We just want to get through the moment and forget the long term goal of raising children with soul. How do we transmit middos, values, and character while we are grappling ourselves?
One of the most important qualities we can focus on is the ability to listen to our children. When children feel heard, they feel secure and loved. This doesn’t mean that we always agree with what they have to say or that we will give them what they desire, but at least they know that we have taken the time to stop whatever we are doing and we are hearing them.
There is an art to listening. We learn the secret from the Shema. “Shema” means to hear, and as we recite the Shema we cover our eyes. We do not want to have any distractions take us away from our mission, kabbalas ol malchus shamayim. The legacy given to us is clear. In order to listen, we cannot be busy paying attention to other things.
When those we love are speaking and we want to show that their words are important to us, we cannot be looking down at our screens or scrolling through our phones. This wisdom has been passed down for generations. It is up to us to open up our hearts to the chochmah.
Think how it feels to be speaking to someone, seeing their eyes focused on their device. A child told me that whenever she speaks to her parents and they are on their phones, it makes her feel small and unimportant. Perhaps we do not realize the impact but it is real.
A grandmother relayed to me that when she visits with her infant grandchildren she sees them trying hard to coo and communicate with their parents. But they’re busy looking at their phones, even during a feeding. She now finds silence. The baby has simply given up.
As children grow, we may not always understand what they are feeling. This is true especially when we are stressed out and under pressure. The few moments it takes to hear a child may make all the difference.
One of my eye opening moments as a parent was on a freezing, snowy day. School had been canceled and we had already gone through the hot cocoa and marshmallows, play dough and coloring activities. I bundled up my kids and sent them outside to build forts and have fun in the snow. It was just me and my toddler inside. It had been a long day.
There was a knock at my door and there, standing like an angel in the snow, was my father. He was covered with white flakes and I know it must’ve been a difficult trip for him to make. We went into the kitchen and for some reason, my 2-year-old did not stop crying. Nothing I did made a difference.
My father asked me for a large pot and serving spoon. I couldn’t understand what my father was doing, as he put on his hat and coat and went out into the cold.
“Lay out a big towel on the floor,” my father said, “I will be right back.”
Then magic happened.
My father brought in the pot filled with snow. He placed my son beside him on the towel and in a moment the tears were replaced with shrieks of laughter.
“You just need to get into their heads, shayfalah,” my father laughed. “He sees the whole gang outside and he wants to be a part of the fun.”
That day taught me one of my greatest parenting lessons. I have tried to hold onto my father’s wisdom. Throughout the different ages and stages, we don’t always comprehend what our children are relaying. Emotions can be left unsaid. Actions can be confusing. Sometimes there are silent tears or glistening eyes we don’t get. Or our children are unable to express what they are feeling. Maybe they don’t even know themselves.
But if we can at least begin with the message of the Shema and put aside distractions to show that there is no one more important to me now than you, my child, then we have succeeded in communicating love. And then, if we could find the patience to put ourselves in our child’s mind, we can forge a bond that will take us through the moments of both darkness and light that life brings.