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The Worried Parent Versus the Loving Parent - Rabbi Zamir Cohen

Worried parents pressure their children, whereas loving parents build their children, who then grow into psychologically healthy young adults who love to follow the path of truth

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There are many parents who invest heavily in their children’s education, and are then utterly shocked when their now adolescent child chooses a lifestyle directly opposed to the way they raised him. They don’t understand where they went wrong, and why other parents, who invested no more than they did in their children’s education, were successful.

There are two types of parents who invest in their children’s education: the worried parent and the loving parent. “Worried parents” pressure their children, and it is specifically their “investment” in their education that causes them to throw it away as soon as they’re able.

“Loving parents” build their children, who then grow into psychologically healthy young adults who love to follow the path of truth.

Excessive pressure with the good intention of educating, stinging insults hurled for the sake of getting the child to change, or any parental speech or behavior that leads the child to conclude that if even his parents consider him a failure, then why should he bother to try, is a proven prescription for turning a naturally good kid into a problematic child who awaits the day when he can toss aside all the values they have worked so hard to instill in him. No child is born bad. His parents made him like that.

As stated above, our Sages (Sanhedrin 107b) teach that in education “The left hand should distance him while the right hand draws him closer.” This is one of the greatest and most fundamental principles in successfully educating children.

Indeed, one of the main educational failures of our times is the imbalance between the “pushing away” of the left and the “drawing close” of the right.

Some parents, because they want so much to give to their child, end up pampering and spoiling him. This child grows up without recognizing any boundaries; he doesn’t know what’s permitted and what’s forbidden, and develops a sense of decadence, feeling like he can do anything that happens to cross his mind. There are also those who go to the opposite extreme: They pressure their child; they don’t allow him to express himself, to err and correct, to learn from his mistakes and grow from them. They end up “choking” him spiritually, out of concern for his future.

The Bird and the Spring

The founder of the mussar (ethical self-improvement) movement, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810-1883), of righteous memory, said that there are matters that are similar to holding a bird between one’s two palms — If it’s held too tightly, it suffocates; if it’s held too loosely, it escapes. Rather, it should be held gently, in accordance to its sturdiness. The same is true for raising children. And as the great Mashgiach (spiritual mentor) Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe was accustomed to say: “A child is like a metal spring. The harder you squash it and try to press it down, the more it’s going to spring back when released …”

But as long as the child is educated correctly from an early age, where his parents and educators are careful and balanced in their approach to his delicate inner self when teaching him what is permitted and forbidden, and correctly behave according to the rule that “The left hand should distance him while the right hand draws him closer,” he will grow to be spiritually and mentally healthy, the education he received will be internalized, and it will benefit him until his old age. 

Adapted from 'The Complete Guide to Successful Jewish Parenting' by Rabbi Zamir Cohen. Coming to you soon in English

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