I think the following statement captures the essence of love: "If it's
important to you, it's important to me." When your three-year-old
daughter flies through the door and babbles excitedly about the
earthshaking incident that took place in nursery school that day, take
time out to listen, for her world was indeed shaken. Don't tell her
you're busy. Listen. It's important to her! If you can't listen right
then, set up a time for it later on -- but do it. Granted, your child
must realize that you cannot listen all day long -- but make time to
hear what’s important to her...
There is another extremely important thing for parents to remember:
Children want to love and respect their parents. I have often counseled
children who, despite parental mistreatment (real or imagined), wanted
to respect and love their parents. We all know that our love for our
children is inviolate; yet we tend to forget that a child's love for
his parents, while not necessarily as intense as parental love, is also
natural and an important part of his self-image.
So remember: God imbues both parents and children with love for one
another. Even when the going gets rough, we mustn't think we have no
bond with our children. We are far likelier to succeed than we think...
Advice for Busy Parents
If you claim that you haven't got time for your children, you're not
alone. Others, too, have this problem and feel helpless to solve it.
Busy parents are not necessarily irresponsible parents. They may simply
be too busy with their jobs, community projects and benefiting the
Jewish people, or simply have large families and find it difficult to
give each child the time and resources which he deserves.
Be partially consoled by the fact that, by age eight or so, your child
has probably realized you are busy, and that will make him treasure the
time you can spare. Beyond that, try taking your child along with you
to share a busy day. You'll be surprised at the opportunities for
private time -- even during such a day. What's more, your child will
get a better picture of your day and feel closer to you, even when he's
not there to share it.
This point is so important that I want to make a potentially
controversial statement: taking your child with you can be so
beneficial to your relationship that it sometimes justifies taking him
out of school for a day or a weekend. Don't fret over missed
schoolwork; your child will be more than happy to make it up. Hire a
tutor if necessary. A parent-child "getaway" doesn't have to be done
often, but do it.
Building Trust in Advance
Most relationships have their tough moments, especially when the
interaction involved is frequent and intense. When you see someone
often, and your relationship is highly emotional, difficulties are more
likely to occur, both because of the amount of time you spend together
and the emotional nature of the relationship.
Our ability to weather these "storms" generally depends upon our
investment -- quantitative and qualitative -- in the relationship
beforehand. When a relationship is solid, any inevitable
misunderstandings or conflicts become less serious.
The most important element of this investment involves building trust.
When I trust your motivations and your attitude toward me, I can more
easily deal with any emotional "squalls" which may arise.
Trust is largely based upon honesty. Children particularly are hurt by
even a minor breach of promise, often blowing it way out of proportion.
Even a minor promise is major to a child.
I therefore strongly recommend striking the words "I promise” from your
vocabulary when speaking with your children. Then, in an unusual
situation, "I promise" can make a major impact, as is shown by the
following poignant episode.
Seven-year-old Chaya just had a spat with her 12-year-old brother. As a
parting shot, the boy taunted his sister by telling her she was
adopted. The girl, believing her brother, ran to her room, buried her
head in her pillow, and began to cry. Chaya's father entered his
daughter's room and explained that, although being adopted was nothing
to be ashamed of, he and her mother were in fact Chaya's biological
parents. She continued to sob. Her father then asked, "Have I ever told
you, 'I promise'?" His daughter shook her head. "Well," continued her
father, I promise that you aren't adopted." The girl immediately
stopped crying, realizing that her older brother had merely taunted her.
Had this father used the words "I promise" in non-emergencies, this
incident would not have been so quickly resolved. Build trust by
saying, "I will try," and following through, but don't promise. The
Talmud (Succah 46b) itself warns against breaking promises made to
children. In addition, to be totally honest with your children you must
role-model this by never breaking a promise to them.
A promise is like a shout: Use it sparingly, if ever, in order that it
be effective in the rare situation where it is appropriate.
Your Most Important Guest
Another good piece of advice is to "schedule" your child in your
datebook. After all, he is at least as important as your other
appointments. Small chunks of time can be used to plan longer sessions,
which of course can also be scheduled.
The following true story brings this idea into focus:
Well-known, busy Rabbi N. was once sitting and talking with his son
Shmuel when an unexpected visitor arrived to see him. Rabbi N. replied,
within earshot of his child, that he was busy. As he escorted his guest
to the door, the rabbi quietly thanked his visitor for the opportunity
to show Shmuel how important he was to his father.
Everyone agrees that guests deserve special consideration.
Consequently, we are attentive, responsive, and accommodating toward
them. Let us remember that our children are essentially our guests, for
after 20 years or so, they'll be moving out. Although we certainly
don't want to spoil them, and indeed many guests love to feel like "one
of the family,” and not be treated too royally, we want our children to
enjoy their stay in our home -- especially since, as someone once
mentioned to me, we hope one day to be invited into their homes! So
give your children your attention and make them feel welcome and