2 Sivan 5781 / Thursday, May 13, 2021 | Torah Reading: Bamidbar
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The Domestic Tyrant    

The Domestic Tyrant

So many of us have ridiculously high expectations that drag us down, but when people have high expectations of their kids, then it's torment for everyone involved…


Key factors that really weigh people down and rob them of their inner joy are their inflated expectations. The less expectations we have, the better it'll be for us in every area of our life. Who can be happy living in 300 sqm, when they expected to be living in double that? Who can be happy with a B+, when they expected straight A's? Who can be happy earning $100k a year, when they expected to be making a quarter of a million?


So many of us have ridiculously high expectations dragging us down all over the place, but when people have high expectations of their kids, to use a common “relationships” example, then it's torment for everyone involved. If your kids aren't living up to your expectations, lower them! Our expectations of our kids are our problem, and we shouldn't be putting our problems on our children. They are learning how to be human beings, and while that process is happening, we need to be shielding them and defending them from our worries, and from other issues like marital peace or money issues.


These are our problems, not theirs. And we'll be able to deal with our problems much better when we're in a proper, joyful, state of mind. Parents are the leaders of their families. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that “leading” equates to 'forcing', but that's not what leadership is really about. We're not talking about a tyrant, or a domestic Saddam Hussein, we're talking about someone who's inspired, and who has a vision that they really believe in. A genuine leader has values that they really believe in, and they are living those values. Regardless of our age or relationship to them, and when we're around people like that, it's very inspiring.


Now, let's translate that definition of leadership into good parenting terms. As a parent, it's our job to inspire our kids, which means accepting a higher standard of behavior for ourselves. A parent has to accept the responsibility for the family outcomes, and to accept that the outcome is primarily their responsibility, not their kids'. Kids are just kids.


Let's take the example of educating our kids about Torah and eternal truths. The “domestic tyrant” route would be to punish them for every minor infraction of Torah law: they didn't come to synagogue on time? They're in big trouble! They didn’t want to pray after the meal? They are going to sit at the table until they buckle down and do it! They didn't want to give a little speech at the table about what they learned in school? No dessert for them! That's not leadership: its boot camp and very few people come through religious boot camp with a genuine love for keeping G-d's rules.


If we want to parent with emuna and really lead our children towards choosing a Torah-observant lifestyle for themselves, even when they've left home and are beyond our direct jurisdiction, then we have to ask ourselves some very frank questions: "Can I really educate my children properly, if I don't really believe in what I'm teaching and telling them, myself? If I'm not inspired myself, is it credible that I'll be able to inspire them?"


If the answer is “no”, don't despair. You can believe that someday soon you will believe! Alternatively, you can pretend right now that you really believe in the values that you aspire to. Pretend that you have emuna and ask yourself: “If I really did have emuna, how would I think about this “problem” etc.” Or: “If I really believe in the World-to-Come, how would that effect my decision about how I’m going to use my free time tonight?” Tell G-d that you really want to believe that the world is simply a mirror, and you want to see how all the trouble that you're having with your relationships is simply one of the ways G-d is using to give you the cues you need to fix and improve yourself. Go for it! Little by little, day by day, it really does gets there.

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