As parents know only too well, not every child fulfills the hopes and dreams of his parents. The parent is then faced with a challenge: How do I relate to the son or daughter who has not lived up to my expectations? How do I love such a child? As a first step toward a solution, we would do well to examine the role of the parent correctly. Once we gain an insight as to the significance of parenthood, it will be easier to love our child fully.
Judaism views education as a task, a challenge, and a purpose. Heaven tailors the circumstances of each individual according to the specific task assigned to him. The child we are given is a major part of that “environment.” Thus, parenting should be viewed as yet another aspect of the lifelong challenge which Heaven sets before each of us. Every individual is born with the potential talents, strengths, and resources that he will need in order to fulfill his mission in this world. The children Heaven bestows on each set of parents are also a part of the “equipment” allotted to us in keeping with the role assigned to him. Our child is also an integral part of the Creator's Master Plan for His universe.
No two individuals – even identical twins – are exactly the same. And no two sets of parents raise their children under exactly the same circumstances. If we were blessed with a hyperactive child, that is our individual, custom-made challenge. Meeting that challenge is a part of the task which Heaven has assigned us for our own benefit.
Viewing life with this in mind helps us to keep perspective on our situation. It reminds us that parenting means accompanying the child along his own, individual path in life, keeping in mind his unique character and needs. As we advance along his life-path together with him, our goal as parents should be to build him and equip him for his future as an adult.
How do we meet the challenge each child represents? At times it may seem too much for us. However, Heaven does not demand perfection of us, but only that we do the best we can with the tools and resources available to us at the time. This is our mission as parents. It would be a mistake to measure our success by the results of our efforts at parenting, because the fruits of our efforts are never absolutely perfect. In short, our children are not an indication of our measure of success as parents.
Almost every parent has preconceived ideas as to how he would like his children to develop and grow. Most fathers and mothers know exactly what kind of child they want their son or daughter to be. Sometimes, a parent is so preoccupied with fitting his child into the mold he has prepared for him that he fails to perceive the actual strengths and gifts with which Heaven has endowed the child. This parent has no motivation to observe his child's inclinations and take note of his talents. He is too preoccupied with his regret – and perhaps, resentment – that his youngster is not the “ideal child” he dreamed of on the way to the hospital's delivery room.
The parent must remember: He and his child are not the same person. A parent who acknowledges that he and his child are not one and the same, will feel far less pressured to make his child conform to his own personal standards. He does not feel compelled to control the child's actions and mold his future in keeping with his own preferences and aspirations. Instead, he acknowledges that his task is to recognize the child as an individual in his own right. He will not force him to follow his own path as he makes his way along the highways and byways of his own life.
A parent who tries to mold the child into a miniature replica of himself denies his offspring the opportunity become aware of his own strengths. If we stubbornly persist in shaping the child's future according to our own plans, we prevent him from recognizing his own, inborn talents, and learning to rely on them. He will not be able to fulfill his own role in life, using that which Heaven bestowed on him and him alone. For the child, this is a great loss; for the parent, it constitutes a failure to fulfill the role Heaven assigned to him from the day he was first blessed with a child.
In Psalms, we read: "Educate the youth according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not stray from it" (Proverbs 22:6). Explains Rabbi Meir Leibush Weiser, the nineteenth century preacher and Bible commentator popularly known as the Malbim: "It is a holy commandment to teach the child in the way that is suited for him, since each individual, by his very nature, has different capabilities."
Judaism teaches us to view the child in the light of his own character. The child is an independent, unique individual, and should be respected and loved as such, because of his specialties and unique characteristics, and not despite them. It is not enough to “give in” and to allow him to pursue his individual interests, amidst the feeling that we have no other choice. The role of the parent goes much further; he must believe in his child, admire his individual strengths and talents, and truly respect him for what he is.
It is incumbent upon the parents to realize that the child is not their personal springboard to social success. Judaism is oriented to actions; it tells us what to do “here and now.” If we concern ourselves primarily with our child's rating on the ladder of social or academic success, we have failed our primary mission in life.
In contrast to the attitude of the constant competitor, for whom rank and esteem are bestowed only on those who prove themselves successful, our lives are an ongoing process of growth and development. The path is long, with many opportunities to fail and to fall. Each of us has been given his own, unique “tools” for his journey along that path, and he is expected to follow his own calling. There is no sense in comparing our lot with that of others; it would be foolish to envy the tools granted to another, just as we would not wish to appropriate his prescription lenses for our own pair of eyeglasses. There is no point in comparing, for each of us has been assigned his own destination. Likewise, it is a mistake to set up a single, specific example of success as a universal goal for one and all. Mr. So-and-So was blessed with the equipment for his task, but chances are that we were given a different set of tools. It is pointless to uphold the example of our neighbors and their offspring as a guide; the neighbor's task in life is to scale a different peak than the one Heaven has sent us here to climb. May each of us succeed in conquering his own, personal mountain.