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Guest Post - by Hirshel’s buddy
For anyone who has been following Jewish developments on internet blogs and Facebook pages, it should come as no surprise that there are numerous opportunities for one to gather first-person information and insight into the current realities facing the present and future of our communities. The number of individuals who have opted out of Yiddishkeit is ever-growing, and they have a viable support network and are vocal about their experiences, thoughts and feelings. For those who are interested, the personal experiences that they share are an excellent resource, a virtual text-book, for what not to do if you are a parent facing a son or daughter that has developed – as normal adolescents generally do – a desire to experiment and seek out their individuality and wish to find their own way. I’m not a Rabbi, family counselor or social worker, but I can observe developments as they happen. The fact is that we need to keep sight of our goals as parents, and, yes, that can be easier said than done. I can’t stress enough that our job description and goal is not to create robots or clones, rather, we should be trying to develop mentally and emotionally healthy, decent, productive members of society. Unfortunately, our yeshivos and communities often run counter to that effort, and this creates the other half of the problem. So, to state the problem simply: 1) Us as parents 2) Educators and communities.
Why do I say these are problems? Read or listen to what the no-longer-on-the-derech individuals say, and weep.
Here’s our scenario: A student feels stifled, unhappy, interested in other things than those which they are forced to be engaged in – this is normal behavior and I imagine that most of us have felt that at some point and maybe still do – and perhaps they question information that they have been given by us parents or their teachers. This simple and normal situation develops – sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly – and places the student in an adversarial relationship between themselves and those who seek to instruct them. The next move by the instructors is what will determine how this story will end, and, more often than not, it ends badly for the instructors: 1) Because they misplay their side of the chess match, and 2) Because they are at an inherent disadvantage that they refuse to recognize.
I’ll start with the second first because it’s the more interesting element. It is a simple fact of life that in any relationship, the side with less invested in the outcome has more power. If I have less to lose, I am freer to act as I wish, or as they say “I’m playing with the house’s money,” while if I need there to be a specific outcome, I am at an extreme disadvantage – thus, us dads, moms, teachers and rabbis, we must know that we are automatically “behind the eight ball.” Know this first before you act – you have been warned. Your son, daughter or student does not need a specific outcome – you do – and they are the ones who will determine what the outcome will be. They have the power; you had better act cautiously and thoughtfully.
Which brings us to the first element I mentioned before: your next move is crucial, don’t blow it – you might not get a chance to fix it later. When you said “Baruch Shepitarani” at your boy’s Bar-Mitzvah, it wasn’t just a nice ritual that occurs when you dump more responsibility and guilt trips on the kid – it’s a statement of fact: you are now less responsible. You must now begin to step away from the situation and mutate from instructor to his assistant and guidance counselor. Yes, that means you must begin to disinvest and allow the next generation to find their way. You love them (I would certainly hope), but they aren’t you, they are they. Help them, encourage them, advise them to the best of your ability, but we had better not fall into the lectures, the anger, the insults, the ultimatums and all those emotionally charged reactions to signs that they may be rejecting our beliefs. They are the ones in power here, not you and not me.
If you play it wrong, you are virtually guaranteed to lose. Period. If you play it right, there’s no telling what the final result will be, but it will be healthier and happier, and we elders will learn something in the process…and that’s more in-line with our job description.