This weeks' JLI Parenting class discussed parental authority, or what to do with the 'why' question our children constantly ask.
It started out with a story by Rabbi Yosef Titschak Schneersohn, one of the Chasidic rebbe's which told the story about how he learned to do the motions to the Modeh Ani prayer. In the story his father tells him when he asks why that we do as we are told without asking. Then his father called over an elder man and asked him if he knew why. The older man answered 'because that is how I was taught to do it- that's what my father taught me.' Rabbi Yosef's father went on to say that before him was Moses, then Abraham. Sometimes we need to do without asking why.
When we first discussed this story, it seemed a bit strange. We can't always rely on the 'Moses and Abraham did it' or 'Sarah and Leah did it' response to our children's questions. But underneath the answer is the real truth- sometimes we need to do without asking why. Sometimes we just need to listen.
Do your children listen? Or do they ask why?
Of course, we want our children to ask why on some level. It means they have cognitive thinking, that they are exploring their world, especially if they are the age of EG. She literally didn't know that the bathtub had what's called a faucet and handles- she was calling them wheels in the bathtub. So, she asks why not because she wants to change my mind or argue her case, but because she doesn't know. Eventually, however, our kids start turning why into a challenge.
The class goes on to explain how we need good authority from which to make our rules and decisions. That we need our rules to come from a higher sense of our values, our beliefs and what we want for our children. And that sometimes it's in the best interest of our children not to give an answer to 'why.' That's not to say we should answer with 'because I said so', but rather sometimes it's important for our children to learn that not all requests have a why. Or that sometimes you don't get to ask (say your boss, etc.)
For me the most moving part of the whole class was when we discussed a 'Jewish advantage.' I'll go so far as to say that all people who hold G-d up in their hearts and minds probably have this advantage.
In order to share the advantage, we need to establish a few ideas first. We need to agree that our children learn best by our modeling the behavior we expect to see. We speak nicely, they speak nicely, etc. We need to agree that there are fundamental things that are right and wrong. Cheating, stealing, etc. Whether those examples work for you is irrelevant, it's important to say that sometimes you speak from the perspective of 'because this is what's right.' We also need to agree that our goals for our children are to teach them these morals and values that we hold dear.
Assuming all these things jive well with you as a parent, then here's the Jewish secret advantage. Each time you, as a parent, do something solely because G-d told you to (aka, light Shabbat candles, not use your phone on Shabbat, pray before a meal, not mix milk & meat, buy kosher candy, etc.) you are role modeling the subordinate behavior we are expecting from our children.
It's rare in 'regular' life that our children see us responding to requests and fulfilling them just because we were asked to. They don't follow us to the office, nor do they see us in submissive roles to a higher power.
Therein lies the secret advantage of leading a Jewish lifestyle. Each time we freely choose to submit to G-d's commandments and accept them as a foundation of our way of life and value system we show our children our ability to do as we want them to do. When we do it with joy, we show them that they can do it too. In a way it's like we're saying that the hierarchy of our family is them, us, then G-d and Torah. That we don't just make things up or create demands based upon a whim - that all things come from a higher place.
As I said earlier, I'm fairly sure that those with faith have this advantage- regardless of the faith you subscribe to. Going to church on Sundays, choosing to pray before meals, etc. all shows dedication to something we can't always understand- just like we want our children to listen and respond to us even if they don't understand.
The other big take away for me from the class was this sentence: Exodus 24: 7
"The people responded, "All that G-d spoke we will do and we will understand.'
Now perhaps this is the Jewish advantage, because according to BibleHub, there is no Christian verse that contains the context of 'understanding.' Which to me is the whole crux of the issue.
First we will do, then we will understand. We're not saying that our children don't need to understand. We're saying that sometimes they need to DO first, then perhaps they can understand. Sometimes we need them to DO (not run into the street after a ball) before we know that they will really UNDERSTAND the consequences (run over by a car/death)
This time, tonight, as you light your Shabbat candles remember that you are showing your children how to answer to a higher authority. That sometimes we DO, even when we don't know why.