What is the difference between a child who is treated kindly and generously, and one who is spoiled? Who is responsible for creating a spoiled child – is it the parent or the child? Is there a clear line between healthy giving to a child and giving that causes `spoiling’? Does giving in to a child’s (repeated) requests automatically result in a spoiled child?
Let’s ask ourselves these questions and be completely honest. What are we thinking when we give and give in? What are our motivations? Is it for the convenience of the moment? It would seem that spoiling a child is the result of giving and giving in to the child in order to keep the child from getting angry. The parent or grandparent is looking for the ease of the moment – let’s keep this occasion pleasant by making sure little Moishele doesn’t get upset. Since we know he gets upset if he doesn’t get his favorite dessert/toy/ride/turn and he’ll make a fuss, let’s take the easy way out and give in. That’s not generous, that’s selfish! The long-term needs of the child are being ignored for the convenience of the adult at the moment. True Chesed is determining the needs of the other person and providing them, rather than doing what’s convenient for you, or doing something nice but not truly helpful, that will make you popular with that person.
In Eliezer’s encounter with Rivka at the well, recounted at great length in this week’s Parsha, the Pasuk tells us that Rivka first gave Eliezer to drink. When that was accomplished, she gave the camels to drink. The Ohr HaChaim (Commentary on the Chumash) provides a detailed account of what took place. Generous, compassionate Rivka, out of concern that Eliezer might drink more than was healthy for him, (since people who have a great thirst as a result of a long, hot journey tend to overdrink when finally reaching water,) limited the amount of water she gave him. The Pasuk uses the words – Vat’chal L’Hashkosa – she finished giving him, even though he (may have) wanted to drink more, says the Ohr HaChaim. This was true Chesed. Even though she risked Eliezer getting annoyed with her – she did what she felt was right for him, not what would make her popular in his eyes.
Parents and grandparents – listen and pay heed! When we spoil a child we’re doing it for our sake, not for the child’s sake. When we truly have the child’s best interests in mind, we might need to make the unpopular decision, we don’t indulge their every whim. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of planning and forethought. Just as we all know to remove a vial of pills from the hands of a protesting toddler, we need to know that doing what is right and best for the child rarely depends on the child’s opinion. Indeed, we need to be kind and generous, but for our child’s genuine best interest, not for our sake.
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann