We are all aware of (inadvertent) mistakes we make when we are upset with our children for not following our directions or expectations. What about when we see our children are finally starting to cooperate? Is it possible that even in those circumstances we adults find ourselves saying things that are counterproductive to our goals?
Consider the following scenario from this week’s Parsha. Moshe Rabbeinu had been unsuccessful in getting Pharoah to comply with his demand to let the Jewish People go. Despite all the Makos and the obvious doom and destruction that hung over Egypt, Pharoah did not heed Moshe’s words. Finally, at the brink of the plague of locusts, Pharoah relentsand lets Moshe and Aharon know that the Jews may go.
What happened? How did Pharoah arrive at this decision? Rabbeinu Bachya, commenting on the words “and he (Moshe) turned and he departed from Pharoah,” (Shemos 10:6) states the following idea: Moshe, with wisdom and strategy, left as soon as he delivered the warning in order to give Pharoah and his advisors an opportunity to discuss the idea of letting the Jews go. The Medrash Rabba (13:4) states that Moshe took note of the fact that they were turning to each other and were giving consideration to what Moshe had been warning about. Moshe left so they could take counsel from each other in order to do Teshuva.
Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg points out (Al Pi Darko, p. 85) that had Moshe been like a typically frustrated parent or teacher, he might have said something like: “Good, I see you are finally coming to your senses. I see you have finally chosen to listen to me, since I know better than you. Finally, I might get a little Nachas from you!” Instead, Moshe took a chance and left Pharoah alone to allow him the dignity of exercising his freedom to choose what’s right, in the privacy of his own mind.
Let’s consider our reaction in just such a situation. Do we accord children the dignity Moshe showed Pharoah – to allow them to think for themselves, to respect their own decision making process, thereby enabling them to learn to make value judgments for themselves? Perhaps, we are overbearing and judgmental, thereby cutting off the children’s ability to form and value their own opinions. Berating our children in such a circumstance is counterproductive and possibly destructive.
On the other hand, one may argue that giving children the freedom to make their own decisions may end up in occasional bad choices. Given our role as parents, it is far better to suffer an occasional error and help grow a human being who can exercise personal freedom in making decisions. It is extremely constructive for a child to learn from experiencing the consequence of a poor choice. We inadvertently cause our children to be unable to choose for themselves, when we don’t validate and respect their decisions. If we incessantly challenge our child’s choices and then even undermine a good choice with critical, demeaning words, we are crippling our child’s confidence in making decisions, large or small.
Our words carry great weight, especially with our children. By staying focused on our goal of building children who will commit to a life of Torah and Mitzvos through their own free will because it is meaningful and truthful to them, not just to please or appease their parents, we will be able to remember to use words that build, not words that undermine.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
Rabbi Kalman Baumann