The Secret to Raising Children with Love: My Father’s Greatest Parenting Advice
Our children need to know that we are never too high to bend down and listen to their cries.
It’s funny but 26 years cannot erase the feel of my father’s hand holding mine.
Despite the passing years, I am still that little girl pining for her father. Out of my closet I take out a small box. Gingerly, I finger my father’s yarmulke, the one I put away for myself. I lift it up, inhale and take in my father’s familiar scent. I close my eyes and hear my father beside me again. I catch his laugh, his booming voice as we’d enter the house and he’d call out, “Gorgeous children! I’m so happy to see you!” My children would run into his outstretched arms and spend precious time playing together, sharing stories and hugs.
I wish I would have had the sense to ask him the many questions that pop into my mind today. “Abba, how did you lose all those you love in the flames of the Holocaust and still hold onto your fiery faith? How could you have gone through such suffering and pain and yet you gave us only love?”
I never heard my father raise his voice in anger. I realize now how extraordinary this is. My father had difficult days. He had to begin his life over again as an orphan in a new country. Being a community rabbi, teaching Hebrew school to kids who had no interest in being there, pioneering a traditional synagogue together with my mother in a spiritual wilderness while raising us – all this must have taken incredible mental strength and emotional energy. What was his secret?
The answer comes to me, wrapped in a moment in time that speaks to me today.
We were at a family celebration. The band was playing loudly, the room was packed with people. One of my children, a toddler at the time, was on the floor crying. I was feeling overwhelmed. My father walked over, scooped my child up and settled him onto his broad 6-foot-2 shoulders.
“Sheyafalah (sweet dear),” my father said to me with his magnificent smile, “Never be so high that you cannot bend down to hear the cry of a child.”
It took just a moment. But I realize now the wisdom that my father was trying to teach me. We grow tired. We are stressed or simply not in the mood to hear our children and deal with their tears. No matter their age, whether they express it or not, they need us. And if we are too removed, if we are too weary, we will find ourselves in a place where we have created a distance that makes it difficult to bend down and listen to the cries of our child.
We need to bend down, look into our children’s eyes and put our energy into raising each child up.
This is true especially now when our world is spinning out of control. Children are losing their emotional balance. They need parents who can extend to them a sense of spirit, the courage to live each day with strength despite the chaos that surrounds us. Instead of raising our hands in exasperation, we need to bend down, look into our children’s eyes and put our energy into raising each child up. This means that when our children show us through their actions or words that something is not right, that they are in turbulence or pain, we have the ability to connect to them.
I believe that my father was teaching me the truth of unconditional love. No matter what you’ve done, my child, no matter how hard the times are, know this for now and forever. I am your mother, I am your father. I am here for you. My love for you does not mean that I will always love your behavior or approve of your actions. But it does mean that we will show our love to you all the time.
Every child has another way of translating the definition of a parent’s love. Whether this means that we take the time to hear your voice, write an encouraging note, give a warm hug or spend more time together, know that we are here for you.
Let us remember that children will act like children. If we love them only when they please us and meet our expectations, they will not feel genuinely loved. They will come to feel they can never be good enough or smart enough for our hearts to be open to them. This does not mean that we do not discipline or give consequences when needed. It does mean that our children’s greatest emotional need is the knowledge that we are never too high to bend down and listen to their cries.
May these words be in the merit of my father’s neshamah: HaRav Meshulem halevi ben HaRav Asher Anschil zt’l, whose yahrzeit is this week.