Celebrating SUKKOT 5780

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By: Margaret Benhamu

One night several years ago, I was having dinner with two of my former classmates, and we were talking about our lives and generally catching up. One friend, who was still single at the time, was listening to me express the difficult time I was having with one of my children. I felt like I was always making mistakes and losing my cool with that child. My friend, Chana, said the words that would echo in my ears over the next ten years or so, “I feel like the most important thing is to just love your kids and everything else will be okay.” I almost scoffed at her at the time. She didn't have kids yet. She wasn't waking up at night with screaming babies, or was responsible for their well-being every single day. Her words were overly simplistic. Love – how cliché. Andyet…

I began to ask myself how I was showing love to my kids. Was I focusing on discipline too much? Was I balancing criticism with loving acts so that they knew deep down that ultimately felt about them?

The Bank Account of  Love

Over the course of time and in speaking with many parents, I have learned about love and the actions required to show that love. Relationships between any loving parties need to be looked at as a bank account. “Deposits” are the actions and words we use toshow the other person that we value them and appreciate them for the people that they are. “Deposits” are the acts of love and kindness. “Withdrawals” are the hard discussions, the criticism, the yelling, the fighting, and the disappointments we may feel towards the other person. Here is the thing – we will ALL have to make withdrawals with our children and loved ones at some point. Often, many times a day, we will have to tell our children what they are doing wrong and why we are upset with them. Often, many times a day, we will not be in the mood to be a “good” mom or dad. We will tell that child to leave us alone or that we are very stressed out from them. We may even say hurtful words and do actions that are wrong and painful.

Parenting is a hard, long-term battle that we are engaged in twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It is hard to be positive and calm for all of those hours. However, in this bank account where we need to make a lot of withdrawals, we have to first make sure that we have “money” in the bank. We have to make deposits in order to be able to make withdrawals and keep the relationship healthy. Deposits come in the form of encouragement, bedtime stories, hugs and kisses, loving actions, unexpected words of praise, and recognizing their strengths publicly or privately. Deposits must be made in order for there to be a counterbalance for the withdrawals. In order to counterbalance our human nature. In order to counterbalance the times we are feeling cold and not loving. Like my friendChana so wisely told me so long ago - we just have to give them enough love and everything else will be okay.

An Example of What Not to Do

While running a parenting workshop on instilling values in the home, I came across a couple that never hesitated to speak ill of their children. They had four kids and it seemed as if all four of them were difficult, to say the least. They would tell us how their kids were “bad” and “obnoxious.” They had a hard time offering praise for any of them. It reached a point where the other parents in the workshop became uncomfortable.

It was at that point I decided to speak with them in private and I realized that this was a very serious problem. The children’s actions did not seem to warrant the type of vitriol the parents were expressing. The parents did not realize how their constant stream of negative words and actions were impacting their family life as well as the self-esteem of their children. The mother felt like her children were inherently bad. She would constantly compare them to other people’s children and felt they fell short. The father was a stern and critical man who recognized his role as disciplinarian and not much else. As time went on, the cracks began to show and some of their children were suffering majorbehavioral problems. Many of their issues were the after effects of a childhood without enough deposits of love. There was an imbalance at home in terms of love and criticism. The parents, in their own way, had a very hard time exhibiting pride in their family and in their children. In turn, the children had a hard time feeling pride in themselves. In fact, what they mostly heard was criticism. Of course, the problems ran deeper than I have space to write about.

Parents can fall short and be critical, as long as they make more “deposits” in the bank account then withdrawals. They can point out weaknesses, so long as they also recognize and praise their strengths much more. Parents can (and must) discipline and enforce rules so long as they also offer hugs and an ear when that child experiences pain and disappointment. And of course, outward communication of love and pride in whatever way possible is vital for a child to believe in the idea of unconditional love. The parents in the scenario above may still be able to prevent some of the damage that their kids have experienced. It sounds too simple to be true – but it is that simple!

Love is the Key

Love is the oxygen in any relationship. Without exhibiting that love and helping our kids to inhale it, the relationship may suffocate. In this highly self-centered world, people speak about the “burden” of having children. It is a lot of extra work in life to raise kids. But when we feel healthy ourselves, and we raise kids with the love they have a right to expect from their parents, then we can succeed in making them feel like the blessings that they are to this world. When we give them love they feel powerful and good. The deposits of love that we make, even in the hardest of times, are extremely powerful. They are the anchors that our children hold fast to when they have to weather their own storms. That parental love is strengthening and sustaining. In its absence, a child does not feel whole and complete. When there is a lack of love from the two people who naturally should love a child unconditionally, that child is set up for a lifetime of self-loathing.

Check your Checklist

We cannot “spoil” our children with too much love. Our checklist of the things we must provide for our children, such as a strong Jewish education, clothing, shelter, medical attention when needed, and all the things we provide for them physically, must include the most important checkbox: expressions of love. Even if we think our children “know” that we do love them deep down, we can empower our children to be self-confident individuals with solid self-esteem if we conscientiously make those “deposits” I mentioned earlier. Let us commit to doing this for our children, and b’ezrat Hashemwe will see the fruits of our investment not only in our own children, but also in the generations to come.