Saturday, July 17, 2010

Honor your father and your mother

Let's face it. It is a big one. It made the top five. There are even people who point out the parent-like qualities of G-d and believe that this commandment applies to both G-d and Mom and Dad. Both need to be honored. It is required.

But what do you do when one of the parents start acting like a slub and you are having a hard time keeping up with that commandment?

Do you still have to honor your father if he walks all over you? If he treats you like you are worthless and is rude to you every time you speak to him? At what point does this contract dissolve? At what point do you, as the child, have permission to stop honoring your parent? Or do you?

I have always tried to be a good daughter. And some day, I hope to achieve that status. But right now, in this moment, I dont' think I fit the bill.

I started writing this post about three days ago. I was angry with my father because I thought he had changed in his behavior towards me, and I was hurt. But, after visiting with my father for several days, I have discovered something. It isn't my father who has changed. It is me. I am sad, depressed, and feeling unworthy of just about everything.

My father didn't change his behaviors, he has always been this way with me. He has always been a bit of an extremist in his reactions and conversations. The ultimate pessimist, to be sure. And I have always known this and I don't fault him for that. It was just easier to deal with his extreme behaviors when my mom was alive.

During my visit, it occurred to me that my father was not acting any differently than he always has, but I was reacting differently. I realized during this visit, that the buffer is completely gone. And I realized exactly when it started.

Most people would expect me to say that it started the day that my mom passed away, but it didn't. There was too much numbness, followed by too much grief. But, as we began to work our way back to the surface after her passing, I realized that it was Mom who made it easier to deal with my father's extremisms. It was Mom who was able to see the humor and make Dad see the ridiculousness of his words. She was always able to bring him down to the necessary level of normal reactions.

After Mom passed, I still brought the kids to visit with my dad. I thought, and do think, that it is extremely important to encourage a relationship between my children and my father. (And, for what it is worth, I do the same thing with my in-law's but that is a different post altogether.) On one of the very first visits after Mom passed, I tried to talk to my father about my feelings and how I missed Mom..

He yelled at me. He belittled me. He told me that I wasn't "allowed" to be feeling what I was feeling. He hurt me tremendously.

It was at that moment that I started to "notice" his behavior towards me had changed. He was ruder and harsher in his words with me. He treated me less and less like an adult. He tried to make me feel badly for my choices in my adult life. In the end, even after he told me how foolish I was behaving, he would come around and tell me that I knew what was best for my family and my life. It just took him longer than it had in the past. Mom was the one who always showed him that I was a grown up. She was the one who helped him to see that if I were going to make a mistake, it needed to be my mistake. Mom was the one who was always able to talk reason into Dad. I didn't have that ability and I didn't have the ability to separate the hurtful words from the extreme reactions.

And so, after my visit with my father this time, I realized that I am the one who needs to change my reactions. Dad has not changed. There is no need to excuse his behavior, it is the same as it has always been. What needs to happen is that I need to separate his immediate reactions from his words and wait for him to come around to reason. He always does. And he doesn't mean to hurt me when he says the things he says.

It is my duty as a daughter to honor my father. To treat him with respect in all situations. I know that my feelings are true and real for me, and no one, not even my father has the ability to take them away or make them less than I feel that they are. But, that doesn't mean that I can be disrespectful to my father. Instead, I will honor him with my words, and with my actions.

And through that, I will also be honoring my mom, may she rest in peace.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Peace in the home.

Traditionally, in Judaism, Shalom Bayit refers to a marriage; to peace being kept between husband and wife. I wonder if it is the only interpretation? What about peace between siblings? And what is my role as a mother in keeping that peace?

I have four children ranging in age from nearly 11 to nearly 3. Generally speaking, these are very good children and I consider myself both lucky and blessed that they were given to me to nurture. They really do fill my heart with warmth and love and most of the time they make me very happy. But then, they fight.

Of course, children are children and fighting is part of learning one's way in the family. Problem solving is an important skill for children to have and once they have mastered this skill, they will always be grateful for it. But, when is it a parent's duty to intervene in a sibling fight?

Let me explain something. I am using the term "fight" in a more generic sense. To say that my children are having disagreements is not strong enough, yet most times, there is no real physical contact and so the term "fight" might be deemed too strong. Of course I would be quick to intervene if physical harm were imminent. Even I know that kind of fighting has taken it too far. (Not to mention the numerous examples in the Torah of how physical fighting can lead to extremely bad things.)

So, back to my children. How long should I let the children engage in their "fight" before I step in? I can't solve their problems for them, and they need to learn to work and play together. Yet, there are times when all I want is peace in the home. Complete and total peace. I listen to their language and I cringe. The mean things that come out of their mouths makes me sad. I thought, or rather I hoped, that I had taught them to be more respectful of each other and of themselves.When and where did they learn to be this nasty?

I am not perfect. I don't even think I am great. But, I treat my children with respect and show them love in every situation. Is it just normal for siblings to go through these stages of fighting and could it be a sign of maturity when the ten year old gets into a verbal argument with the two-year old? Is it normal for them to scream at each other and shoot words full of venom at one another? Is it all just a part of growing up?

Each of my children has a distinct personality and I can see each of them trying to find their way in the family. I have always tried to encourage them to be the best that they can be, not making life with siblings into a competition. But I have to wonder, how much does the concept of peace in the home fall squarely on my shoulders? Even if the argument is theirs, is it not my responsibility to make sure that everyone under the roof of my home is happy? Is it unrealistic to expect happiness one hundred percent of the time? And is it unrealistic to assume that lack of happiness is my fault?

I don't have the answers to these questions, nor do I know where to find the answers. I know that my role is to be there for each of my children and that is what I plan to do. As for their fighting, and keeping the peace in my home, I suppose we will have to let that play itself out.

Friday, July 09, 2010


A blog I read recently, "Fully Present" by Milk Musings, mentioned that spirituality can be all around you, no matter where you are, so long as you are fully present in the moment. This is something that I need to be reminded of frequently. To be IN the moment. Instead of answering my children's questions halfway with my eyes and mind somewhere else, every interaction with them should be complete and with my whole being.

And you know what? When I do interact completely, it IS very spiritual. It is amazing the differences between the reaction I give, not get, but give to my children when I am completely there. I hear the tinkling of the baby's laugh, but more than hearing it, I feel it. Deep in my soul in that place I try to find during private prayer and meditation.

I was prepared today to post a lengthy discussion almost criticizing the patriarchs for their parenting techniques. I was going to use Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as a study of how not to parent. Favoritism was rampant in these families, and on more than one occasion behavior (or lack of behavior) nearly led to the death of one of the children. I was going to discuss how "parenting biblically" was really not the best way to parent and, while I am by no means an ultimate expert, it just seemed that following their examples in child-rearing would be counter-productive. It seemed that these biblical examples were more of a what-not-to-do scenario than a follow-to-the-letter scenario.

But, rather than go into how the patriarchs were poor fathers, perhaps it is better to look at it in a different way. Perhaps in the time it took Abraham to prepare the sacrifice grounds for his beloved son, he was fully present in the moment. He was blindly faithful and trusted in G-d. Perhaps that interaction with his grown son was one of the most spiritual experiences Abraham had. And maybe those moments taught Isaac how to be a spiritual person as well.

It makes sense to me that Abraham would have been able to be fully present in that moment, because he did love his son. He had to have been torn apart with the desire to please G-d and do as he was told because of his faith, and the love and devotion he had for his son. To have been fully present in that moment with Isaac, could only have been an extremely spiritual time for both men.

This doesn't mean that they weren't spiritual at other times. Of course the patriarchs were spiritual men. But, it seems to me that there had to have been defining moments where they found that personal peace, that place of intense spirituality.

Rather than look away from the biblical parents, perhaps we can learn a thing or two from them. Perhaps we are to look at their situations and rather than see the faults, see how they were able to fully engross themselves in every moment as parents. Perhaps it is our task to see that even when the situation appeared to be a negative one, the patriarchs made their parenting choices and were fully present, and completely engulfed in spirituality.

Perhaps that is what we are to emulate when we decide to "parent biblically."