Top Ten Gifts for Children.
The greatest gift we can give our children is to recognize their unique light they can bring to the world.
When the car skids out of control, I press on the brakes. They don’t work, but I keep pressing down on them anyway. I desperately pull the steering wheel in the other direction, fighting against the slide. The car goes flying into the curb, bounces off and finally stops just in front of a steep hill.
My head is racing. I have forgotten all the rules about driving on black ice. I am afraid to move, but I know I need to find a way to keep driving. The ice feels like it is everywhere, but I need to drive, so I remind myself of the two critical rules my dad taught me about driving on ice. Release your brakes and turn into the slide.
It is frightening to let go of the brakes, to turn the steering wheel in a direction that seems to be pulling me further out of control. Let go, let go, I tell myself. Turn it where it wants to go, and it will work.
Later at home I am filled with gratitude to God for stopping my car just inches before it would have gone barreling down a steep slope. How do I give Him thanks?
Holding my son’s hand as we recite the Shema that night, I suddenly see that God is giving me hundreds of chances to give, to use the gratitude that envelops me. I feel the warmth of my son’s tiny fingers wrapped around mine, and I hear the whisper of the words that I sing to him each night echoing off the walls and rising into the night. It strikes me that I am the only one who can hold this child’s hand just like this and guide him with the fierceness of a mother’s love. And I think about how parenting is so often like trying to control that steering wheel on black ice. How I can’t use sudden brakes in my children’s lives when they are sliding. It won’t work. I have to go slowly. Let go of the brakes. Turn my efforts into the direction of where the child’s own nature is pulling him.
The Hebrew word for raising children is “chinuch” which is also the root of the word Chanukah; it means to begin a child on the path towards his ultimate purpose. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe ztz”l teaches that parents often don’t recognize their children’s natures. They try to turn the steering wheel the opposite way. They are given an apple tree, and instead they care for it as if it is a banana tree. Then the tree can’t grow bananas or apples. It has nothing to give because no one gave it what it needed. So we need to “educate a child according to his way.” (Proverbs 22:6) Not our way. Not the direction we think we should turn the steering wheel. Build them according to who they are. Help them begin the unique tasks that they are meant to accomplish in their lives.
On Chanukah, as we light our menorahs, it is a special time to pray for our children, to ask God to help us turn towards the precious soul of each of our children and give him exactly what he needs to grow. Here are ten gifts we can give to our children this Chanukah:
1. Attention. Listen when they speak. Focus on what interests them. Ask specific questions about their thoughts and try to see the world through their eyes.
2. Unconditional love. No one else can give our children unconditional love. From an early age, children learn that the world appreciates them for what they do. But only we can love them for who they are, no matter what happens. We loved them even before they were born. We love them today. And we will always love them. We need to tell them this. It is something they can’t hear or feel enough.
3. Safety. Make your home into a source of comfort and security for your child. A place where he can expect warmth and peace and kindness. Create structure and a set of rules that give your child the sense that the walls in your house aren’t flimsy. That no one can push them down. Create these walls with your spouse. A healthy, loving marriage, enduring values, meaningful rituals and routines that your children can count on.
4. Wisdom. Give your child the opportunity to learn Torah. Teach him the precious wisdom of our ancestors. Share with him the stories and the struggles that have formed our nation and our families. Help him build an internal foundation of knowledge that he can rely upon as he grows.
5. Optimism. Model a positive attitude for your child by looking for the good in every situation. Show him how to focus on hope instead of despair. Teach him that we fall so that we have the opportunity to get up again. Help him transform failures into chances to grow.
6. Health. Teach your child to eat nutritious foods, to sleep well and to exercise. Instill within him a healthy respect for his body and for the gift of each of our five senses. Imbue within him a sense of responsibility for caring for and protecting his body so that he can use it to accomplish his other goals in life.
7. Support. Be a source of encouragement and support for your child. Be the one that he can talk to at the end of a hard day without worrying about judgment and criticism. Help him develop his interests. Nurture his talents. Be there to cheer him on and to renew his courage.
8. Curiosity. Teach your child to be curious about the world. Encourage him to ask questions about anything and everything. Ignite within him a passion for searching and learning. Help him to think with an open mind and with a perspective full of wonder.
9. Grit. Show your child how to persevere when things are hard. Teach him to rebuild his towers when they fall. Encourage him to get up no matter how many times he fails. Reward him when he toils at a task that is difficult for him. Give him strategies to build his own resilience.
10. Competence. Give your child the tools to function independently in life. Teach him how to plan, how to acquire skills and how to take action. Teach him the value of building competence in a range of different areas but emphasize the areas where he is strongest.
On Chanukah we look into the tiny flames of the menorah and see the fire that has kept our nation alive for thousands of years. Look carefully into your children’s eyes. The fire is there too. The treasure that your child is meant to bring to the world is waiting to be ignited and nurtured. The greatest gift that we can give our children is to recognize their unique light and to start them on their journey to bring that light into the world.