Hidden among the shouts of joy and expressions of anguish heard from the millions of American voters this week, a very profound and positive message can be gleaned, that contains within it a very important lesson to us in how we raise our children.
We have studiously avoided discussion of this year’s election with our children, given the preponderance of nastiness, references to immorality and criminality that was constant throughout the candidate’s speeches and reporters’ presentations. Passions have run very high these past 18 months, with each side confidently predicting the disaster that would ensue were the other side victorious. The country seems to have lost much of the cohesion that was always a hallmark of the United States of America.
And yet, something really remarkable happened this week, and it is so taken for granted that no one seemed to notice. Once the results of the voting were made clear, that one side had clearly won the contest according to the rules of American elections, everyone accepted it as final. Why is that? Over 50 million people felt the country would be headed for ruination were this to be the outcome, and yet, it’s over. In truth, the explanation is simple, and it applies to all people and all situations. There is a red line that we are all conditioned and trained to accept. In the case of American elections, we have a system, a tradition, rule of law and commitment that we abide by the results of elections. That is a red line we simply don’t cross. With all the talk, analysis and hand-wringing that flooded the media since the elections, disputing or ignoring the results is simply not part of the conversation. Whether people admit it or not, there is a profound psychological satisfaction being felt that at least we know where we stand. Our country is not in chaos, it is still strong and stable.
This is a fundamental principle in raising children. When children are raised and trained to have red lines they don’t cross, they not only abide by them, they profoundly benefit by achieving an inner peace. There is structure and clarity in their world and that gives them a tremendous psychological advantage. Turbulence caused by unclear rules, inconsistent enforcement or wishy-washy values are very damaging to a child’s inner sense of strength and self-confidence.
Every family has different red lines. For some it’s not crossing a street without holding an adult’s hand, for others it’s not calling a parent by first name. For some it’s not entering the parents’ room without permission, for others, it’s not getting into a car without buckling up. For all of our families, it’s keeping the laws of Shabbos and Kashrus. Your personal red lines are up to you, but you need to be aware that even the most lay-back parents have some red lines that are effective – because they are serious about consistently enforcing the children’s compliance with them.
This awareness that children do follow rules when they are laid out firmly, consistently reinforced and never allowed to slide, is key to understanding why some parents seem to be more successful than others in raising compliant, calm and cheerful children. A red line is like a brick wall. Everyone learns how to manage living with a brick wall. Even an infant knows to move in a different direction when confronted by a wall. He may cry the first time or even the second time about it. After several times of dealing with the same non-moveable reality, the baby moves on, without getting angry or frustrated by the wall. It is reality, and humans are conditioned to accept reality and proceed.
Raising healthy, self-assured, intact children can sometimes seem as challenging as holding a fractious democracy together. In this regard – the methods to achieve success are the same. Hold certain truths or rules to be inviolate, and the citizens/children will comply as if its second nature.
Have a wonderful, peaceful Shabbos,