Credit and Blame in Parenting

January 21, 2018

3 min read


Like it or not, your children have free will.

“Having sweet children wouldn’t mean I’m a good mother,” said a woman named Miri in an article in Mishpacha magazine. “It would mean I’m a blessed mother.”

What exactly is she saying and why did I stop and cut that quote out of the magazine before consigning the rest of the periodical to the recycling bin?

I think the point she succinctly makes is very important, and also very difficult for us to hear. We tend to reap all the glory and shoulder all the blame when it comes to our children. Long after the discrediting of Freud, we are quick to blame parents, especially mothers for the failings of their children. And we are too quick to accept that responsibility.

And yet it can’t be true. In every other area of life, we fall back on the cornerstone of Jewish thought that the effort is on our hands and the outcome is in the Almighty’s. We work hard to get into that college, to get that job, to earn that promotion – but there are many factors outside of our control that affect whether we achieve these goals, the most crucial being what the Almighty wants and determines.

Parenting is no exception. We put a tremendous amount of effort into raising our children. We read books and attend classes and stop sleeping for at least 20 years. We pray and we pray and we pray. But we can’t force the outcome. It is ultimately outside of our control.

Despite our stellar character and perfect modeling(!) our children have free will and, for reasons we may or may not understand, for reasons they may or may not understand, they may end up making choices different than or even antithetical to ours. Does that mean we are bad parents? Emphatically no. It is playing out exactly as it’s supposed to, even if it’s not as we would like.

Once we come to this important recognition – that we can’t control the outcome (I know you parents of young children haven’t accepted this yet!) and that if it turns out not as we would have hoped it is not our fault, then we must also accept the corresponding proposition.

If they turn out well, we don’t get the credit. It is just another gift from the Almighty, yet another undeserved kindness He is extending to us. And we need to acknowledge this and express our gratitude, recognize the blessing.

This is not a contradiction to the age-old Jewish desire of schepping nachas from our children. Nachas means (I believe) taking pleasure in their good, enjoying their joys and accomplishments, kvelling over the grandchildren, and marveling at the treasures the Almighty has given us. What nachas does NOT mean is taking credit, patting ourselves on the back, puffing out our chests or in any way asserting that this was our doing.

All outcomes are out of our hands. We try our best and leave the rest up to the Almighty. And when good comes (as it does to everyone along with the challenges), we say, like Miri, that we are not smart, talented, wise, or particularly well-read when it comes to parenting tomes, rather we are blessed.

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