When our child is struggling, whether it is at home, in yeshiva or with his Yiddishkeit, a unique opportunity presents itself, one that may never present itself again.
No experience breaks our children more than that of rejection. When a child feels rejected by his parents or yeshiva, it is devastating. Some children never test the waters. But others do, and the hurtful reaction to their behavior is life-altering. It is not about condoning the child’s behavior; it is about not withholding our love for our child due to his behavior.
There are boys and girls who have stepped out of line and been rejected by their parents. The love and support of their parents ebbed away as their bad behavior progressed. This sends them a terrible message – that they are only loved as long as they follow their parents’ wishes. Now, even when these boys and girls begin to turn around, they may never fully restore their relationship with their parents, for they know that it’s only now that they are being “good” that their parents are accepting them back.
In fact, many teens have a tremendous pull not to change their behavior precisely because they don’t want their parents to only accept them now. They know that once they change, their parents will never have that opportunity to show them the unconditional love they so badly crave. They pertinaciously cling to their bad behavior with the desperate hope they can receive this love and acceptance prior to their upward swing.
This opportunity to embrace our child when he struggles is not limited to extreme situations. It happens the first time our child gets into a little trouble in school or disobeys and disrespects us. The child wants to know: Are we going to reject him now or are we going to continue to love him the same despite the fact that he is not listening to us?
Is it too late for us to repair the damage once our child has self corrected and overcome his own challenges? First of all, there will likely be smaller opportunities in the future to love and support him unconditionally. Moreover, I feel that if we have made mistakes as parents – which invariably we have – we need to speak to our children and apologize if we weren’t there for them when they needed us most. If we hurled hurtful words at them in earlier times out of frustration and anger, we need to own up to this and express our remorse.
I can’t tell you how powerful and meaningful it is for children to hear their parent’s apology for something they felt hurt by. It is literally a life-changer and can really undo much of the anger a child has bottled up against his parents. It is therapeutic and validating for the child. Children are generally eager to forgive their parents and mend the relationship.
Parents are afraid to apologize, for they believe that this might validate the child’s negative feelings. As well, they might think the child will lose respect for them. This is not the case. If the child has hard feelings, they don’t go away by being ignored, and if they don’t have hard feelings, then it is very unlikely that having the conversation will cause harm. In terms of respect, the child only increases his respect for his parent, as he is taken by their honesty and humility.
Our children’s challenging behavior presents us the opportunity to display our unconditional love and respect for then. This is something we cannot afford to pass up on.