Last week, I touched upon parental responsibility. This week I’d like to do the same, addressing another aspect of it.
From a very early age, children observe and absorb even the tiniest details of their parents’ behavior. For parents to address one another in a friendly – not merely a civil – tone is, therefore, extremely important. It will impact the children, both in the short-run and in the long-run.
Which parent doesn’t wish to do the utmost for his or her children? But buying them the latest toy won’t bring them true happiness. The greatest gift parents can give children is an oasis of peace in the home – and, yes, sometimes that requires massive self-control.
The following story may sound shocking to some, but I believe it contains a strong message. I heard it from a kindergarten teacher, who was still quite shaken when she told it to me:
This teacher was telling her students about the greatness of Shabbos and the virtue of preparing to welcome the Shabbos Queen. Even the great Tanna’im in the time of the Gemara, she said, made a point of sharing in the mitzvah of preparing for the holy Shabbos. They cooked a dish or did some manual chore to highlight the sanctity of the day.
Excited by the teacher’s description, one of her students shared what her father did to prepare for Shabbos as candle-lighting time approached and things became hectic at home. Soon, all 30 children in the class were sitting around the teacher excitedly sharing what their father did to help on Friday.
Suddenly, one child’s voice broke through the commotion. “My father,” the child said, “does nothing to help welcome Shabbos – nothing at all.” The teacher was flustered and tried to focus on the other children. Eventually, though, she had to give the child, who kept repeating that her father did absolutely nothing to prepare for Shabbos, a turn to speak. Unsure how to proceed, she gently asked her whether her house was swept before Shabbos.
“Certainly,” said the little girl. “My father sweeps the floor.”
And the dishes?
“My father washes the dishes,” she said.
“The candles?” asked the teacher, confused.
The teacher did not know what to say. She then turned to the group of children and asked, “What do your Mommies do Erev Shabbos?” Immediately, the same child’s voice rang out: “My mother sits in a chair and says the same thing over and over again to my father, ‘You do nothing to help in the house.’”
Children live in a fantasy world, which makes it difficult at times for us to distinguish fact from fairy tale when they speak. It is hard to believe, though, that the story this girl related was made up whole cloth.
Children watch every one of our actions and reactions. Their ears hear, and their mouths retell. We underestimate how much children understand about the dynamics at home, and we are liable to be embarrassed when “private” family discussions or situations are revealed to others by innocent children. Much worse than these revelations, though, are the adverse effects domestic discord has on their neshamos and personalities. Our responsibility as parents should not be taken lightly.