Dear Morah Esther,
This is a hard letter to write, as all of my feelings are right at the surface. My husband and I have been religious for the last 15 years and had always dreamed of raising children who would embrace the values with which we founded our home. Unfortunately, things haven’t turned out the way we had wished. It’s hard to know exactly what triggered what, but at this point our 12 year old son has no interest in living the lifestyle we have selected. He has refused to attend our local day-school and is currently in a public school. Of course, he now acts similar to his peers, and his siblings have followed suit as well. What can I do to bring back the spark and to give my children the love for Yiddishkeit that I wish for.
All fizzled out
As a mother who has raised five children myself, my heart goes out to you. All parents wish that their children will follow the path that they hold dear, and there can be no deeper pain than to see a child reject the values so precious to them. On a positive note however, your child is actually more similar to you than you think; just as you rejected the trail that you were taught and blazed your own, so too, your child is discovering his own path and it’s not too late for that path to be a Torah one.
The saying goes, “An accurate diagnosis is half the cure.” As parents, we need to be truly introspective and make an unbiased analysis as to the root of our children’s turmoil: are they rebelling against our values, or is it a reaction against our parenting?
While both situations are extremely painful, the response to each is different. All children try to assert their own independence and find their own way in life. Many times as children do this, they experiment with different values, accepting some and rebelling against others. Often times, they are trying to discover which ideals are theirs and which ones they follow only because they are pressured into doing so.
Our children are diverse, and each child needs to be raised in a different manner. While one child may blossom under a firm hand, another may resent it. I believe that your child has shown you that the way they need to be raised is through a gentler, more “hands-off” approach, rather than a heavy and forceful one.
The good news is that your situation is not too late to fix. Your eldest child is only twelve years old and still impressionable. Through gentle guidance he and each of your children can be led to follow the life values that are found in the Torah, and discover the beauty that you yourself found.
While every situation is different, with countless factors to take into consideration depending on the specific scenario, here are some points that may be helpful in your situation.
Relationship, relationship, relationship. The most important thing in passing down values to our children is not through frontal education or laying down rules, but through establishing a warm and loving home that they are encouraged to emulate.
Our children learn more from what they see us doing, than from what we tell them to do. If davening is a value for you, show them by modeling it—even if it means davening at home. If learning and growing as an individual is something that matters to you, show your children. Join a study group. Make your home a place of learning and growing.
You did not indicate whether or not you are tied to the community in which you find yourself. Maybe it’s time for a fresh start. Seek out a community that will have the facilities that could support your family—a new day-school for your children, a shul with a children’s program on Shabbos, a community with classes for you and your husband, and a warm and welcoming environment for the entire family. (If a move is not feasible for you, it is still possible to make a somewhat fresh start in the community that you find yourself in now, through establishing new routines for yourself, and for the rest of your family.)
In order for the “fresh start” to be successful, however, it has to indeed be a fresh start. In other words, with the move must come a renewed commitment to the values you hold so dear in every facet of your life. Without this, you will simply be moving your family from one location to another and the issues which plagued you in the old community will follow you in your new one as well.
May you find the inner spark within yourself and transmit that spark not only to your immediate family, but to all with whom you come in contact.
Morah Esther Markel is an educator par excellence. Over the past 35 years of her teaching career she has taught the full educational gamut. She has served as an educator on all levels—beginning as a nursery school teacher and director, after which she continued on to teach every single grade of elementary school, from pre-K to eighth grade. She currently serves as the Judaic principal of the Conejo Jewish Day School (CJDS).Greatly loved by all who know her, she is affectionately referred to as “Morah Esther” by her thousands of students. She is passionate about instilling strong Jewish values and a love for Torah in all her “children.”