Are You A Guilty Parent?

Do you worry that you're not spending enough time with your children? Is guilt getting in the way of your healthy parenting?

If so, it's time to let go of this debilitating emotion - for your own sake as well as that of your children.

Many years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a very wise man. Well-known and respected in his community, this Hasidic Rabbi was no ordinary man. His long beard, old spectacles, and the large hat he wore created an aura of sacred authority about him. Even the most mischievous child would not dare to misbehave in his presence.

He did not speak much, but when he wanted to be heard he spoke in a soft, pleasant voice that always got his message across. As a rebellious teenager, I was constantly challenging adults and getting into worthless arguments and debates. In his presence, however, I walked on eggshells and kept my mouth shut.

Rabbi had 12 children. I visited his house often, and couldn't help noticing how well behaved all the children were. The older siblings took care of the younger ones without resentment, yet they still managed to do all the things that other kids do. What amazed me most was how much they loved and respected their father.

Time passed and I moved away. I went from a rebellious teen to a wife and finally a mother. When my first child was born, I often thought of the Rabbi, his peaceful home and well-behaved kids. I often wished that I could see him again and get some of his sage parenting advice.

After the birth of my second child, the Power of Attraction manifested itself and I bumped into the Rabbi in an airport. He was rushing to get on a flight to New York and I was on my way to Brazil for vacation. We exchanged pleasantries and chatted briefly. I wanted to ask him about his secret recipe for successful parenting, but didn't know how to bring up the subject. Knowing that he was in a hurry, I decided to postpone my question until another time.

He wished me well, gave his regards to my family and then handed me a small piece of paper. "I think you want to ask me something," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "I get home in two weeks. Please come and see me, I'll be happy to help." He tipped his hat, turned, and walked towards his gate. Looking down at the piece of paper, I saw it had his phone number written on it.

I spent the next two weeks anticipating our discussion. At 24 I was a mother of two, but still felt like a child myself. On the day of our meeting I sat across his desk from him, feeling a bit nervous. He looked at me and asked in a soothing voice, "What's the question of the day?" I instantly felt myself relax. Rabbi had a unique way of making people feel special, and at that moment I knew that no one else mattered but me.

I told the Rabbi that working long working hours and having a hectic life while trying to raise two kids was wearing me down. I worried that I wasn't spending enough time with my children, and I feared that I would not be a good mother.

rabbi
He sat in silence for a few moments and then spoke in a voice that was almost a whisper. "First of all," he said, "if you're wondering whether you're doing a good job, you probably are. It's okay to question our actions as parents, and it's okay to make mistakes. Remember that there are no perfect parents, only perfect children."

He smiled and continued. "If I was to guess what is really going on inside of you, I would say guilt. As parents, we are easily swayed by guilt. However, it is a useless feeling that produces no good results. When we discipline our children and feel guilty, we are more likely to give in into their temptation, to make the wrong choices and not remain consistent with our original punishment. Instead of wallowing in your guilt and worrying about how you can be a better parent, take charge of your actions and your kids."

"How do I do that?" I asked.

"Spend time with your children, separately," he suggested. Seeing my confusion, he continued, "I have 12 children, and every other week one of them gets special time with me. I take one child and dedicate all of my energy, attention and love to him or her. This is a very precious time for me as well as the child, and I let nothing get in the way of our scheduled time with each other. One or two hours alone with each child produces a foundation on which we can both build."

When I said that it sounded weird to have appointments with your own children, he replied, "Weird is when parents do not pay enough attention to their kids. Weird is when children get into trouble with drugs. Weird is when a child wants to leave home at 18 and never come back. Weird is many things, my dear, but spending one - on - one time with your children - even if it has to be written in your agenda - is not one of them."

The Rabbi went on to mention the importance of sibling bonds, family dinners, spending holidays together, and consistently talking about the difference between right and wrong. When he finished, I thanked him and left his house with a newfound sense of peace. For the first time in a long time, I didn't feel guilty. Somehow I knew that my children would be okay, and that I would not only survive the challenges of parenthood but would successfully conquer them.

Based on that conversation, I tried to live by these principles while parenting my children:

• Stay consistent.

• Spend time with each child one-on-one at least once a week.

• Constantly reiterate right from wrong.

• Focus on what's important.

• Have family dinners nightly (even when my husband traveled and couldn't make it to dinner, we still had them).

• Demonstrate the importance of family by being there for your parents/grandparents and other family members.

• Don't allow yourself to feel guilty.

• Never try to make your children feel guilty.

My children are almost all adults, now, and I can proudly say that I did a good job of raising them.

Did I succeed in all aspects of the game? No, but I think I came pretty darn close. Did I feel guilty some of the time? Yes, but not most of the time. Did I pass the guilt to my children? Here's where I think I failed the most.

Jewish guilt really works, and sometimes when I wanted them to play that extra hour of piano or study extra hard for that test, I passed the guilt torch to them. However, as adults they don't wallow in guilt. When anyone (including me) even hints at a "guilting attempt," they stand back and say, "Don't give me the guilt!"

As the Rabbi said, guilt is a useless feeling that produces no positive results. As parents, we need to continually question our actions and assess our progress while keeping in mind that there is no such a thing as a bad child.

By learning to let go of guilt, we do our children and ourselves a huge favor. And we become much parents in the process.

All the best,

Yana



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