I received a painful phone call yesterday from a father about his child and his reckless behavior. This father lives in constant worry and fear for his child’s physical safety. I can’t begin to imagine the pain that this couple and so many other couples endure on a daily basis. We should never experience such pain, but we definitely need to understand what it means for parents to carry the pain of a struggling child.
How do we feel when we receive a phone call from a school or another parent complaining about our child’s behavior? Not very good. It is painful to hear negative reports about our child. It is painful to hear that someone carries negative feelings toward our child.
We are not alone in our sentiments. We are emulating Hashem. As the Chofetz Chaim elaborates (Shemiras Halashon, Shaar Hazechirah, Perek Bais), Hashem, kevayachol, cannot stand when people speak lashon hara about His beloved children. The great novi Yeshaya was punished for calling Klal Yisroel a nation of impure lips, despite the fact that he referred to himself the same way.
As mechanchim and community members, we have to be ever so careful about how we approach parents of a child who has issues that need to be addressed. Saying, “Do you know what your child did?” casts blame on the parents, as if it is all their fault for not raising him properly. As much as I have seen a direct correlation between parenting skills and children’s emotional health, I have also seen great parents with children who, for many other reasons, really struggle. I have also seen parents with subpar skills who have children who do quite well. Outsiders have no right to blame parents, and those who do were clearly granted easier children.
We must demonstrate immense sensitivity when we speak to parents about their child’s weaknesses and challenges. We must be careful in our choice of words and the feelings and attitude we give off. We may need to wait until the matter is no longer personal and riling us up.
As we are at the beginning of another school year, I will reiterate a pet peeve of mine. How about calling parents with good reports? Why do we need to wait until there is something negative to say? Often, if we “catch” children doing well and recognize them for it, they will be propelled to continue and avoid falling into the negative cycle often inadvertently created by negative feedback. How good does it feel when someone has something nice to say about our child? This is of particular importance for parents of children who are not earning high grades and accolades.
Let us heighten our sensitivity for those around us. Instead of sitting back and badmouthing children or parents, let us get out there and reach these children in any way we can.
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Rabbi Kestenbaum works with children, teens, and parents. He now has offices in Passaic, NJ. and Cedarhurst, NY. He can be contacted at email@example.com for private appointments or parenting workshops. His shiurim and past articles can be found at heartofparenting.com and waterburyyeshiva.org.
Rabbi Kestenbaum is the author of “Olam Hamiddos,” “Olam Ha’avodah,” “Run After the Right Kavod,” and “The Heart of Parenting.”
Outsiders have no right to blame parents, and those who do were clearly granted easier children.