- The "pre-Sixties" mentality that expressed a deep fear of "spoiling" a child combined with the belief that a child's core essence is manipulative and attention-seeking, and so anything they do that is remotely distasteful to parents or teachers is rooted in their innate inclination to be a gremlin. (This is the pre-Sixties "ideal" that some people wish to return to; you can see the post The Past 200 Years of Chinuch: The Non Jewish World for more information.)
- The post-Sixties mentality popularized by Eighties pop-psychology, which is wishy-washy, overindulgent, unrealistic, and facilitates emotional immaturity and stunts emotional and spiritual growth.
It's really frustrating because there doesn't seem to be a middle ground of solid common sense, although one indeed exists.
Furthermore, taking God out of the whole picture just messes everything up. The pre-Sixties model developed from secular (and in one case, eugenicist) minds, which then imposed the ideas on a mostly religious populace.
Because Christianity believes that all people are born in sin, the idea of children as motivated by a need for manipulation and attention helped the mostly religious American populace to accepted these ideas (including the government-promoted opposition to physical affection and soothing babies & children), likely because it all seemed to fit right in with their religious beliefs.
This model was also accompanied by copious smirks and sarcasm. If you ever encounter people from this generation who hold by this method, they treat children with contempt as if even a very young child is consciously plotting any negative behavior (or behavior merely perceived as negative by the adult) with exquisite sophistication. And even when that child stops the behavior or proves their innocence, the adult continues to smirk because the adult "knows" that the child is still up to no good and still intends to do something impish, in line with his innate gremlinhood.
In other words, the child can never win. The child can never be good enough.
But when young people got fed up with being treated like demons in child-disguise, and older people with painful memories of being treated the same started writing books and speaking out, society heaved over in the other direction, but still left God out of the picture, which was equally (if not more) harmful.
Seeking the Torah Way
So while I searched for the authentic Torah way of raising children, I merely kept running into one of the above attitudes, neither of which are based on Jewish sources, no matter how much their proponents insist they are.
(And drawing a bull's eye around a landed arrow AFTER it has been shot doesn't count as hitting the bull's eye, if you know what I mean.)
Reading Rav Arush's Garden of Education gave me so much that I tossed out all my other chinuch books. (And I'm toward the end of his Yeladim Mutzlachim/Successful Children, which has also been a tremendous help.)
More recently, a caring reader alerted me to the existence of Dr. Sara Yaroslawitz and her "Hands Full Chinuch" series available as both CDs and books. After reading a couple of articles about her and listening to a couple of free classes available on her site, I'm looking forward to obtaining her book to see if it's a good companion to Rav Arush's material. Her samples sounded right up my alley.
But what I still struggle with is finding that elusive path when it's not in me to do so. Meaning, I need to look for something I've never seen.
For me, parenting constantly feels like shooting in the dark.
The Fabric Softener Challenge
So I asked him if he could do it, and he made a reluctant face while insisting that he didn't know how to buy it. He made lots of elaborate gestures and asked rhetorical questions to "prove" his incompetence in face of the task.
I started to give in as per the Eighties mentality and some chinuch classes.
(After all, I don't want him to resent going shopping or suffer fabric softener aversion for the rest of his life due to the trauma he suffered upon being forced to buy fabric softener when it was beyond his capabilities! And I don't want him going off the derech because he feels like Judaism is all about forcing your kids to do things they don't want to do and don't feel capable of doing. *sarc* See? The pop psychology mentality makes you overthink everything until you're neurotic.)
But then I thought it might be good for him to do something he didn't want to do. It's usually good for children to get accustomed to doing things they don't feel like doing and then enjoying their victory over their yetzer hara (which is what actually builds self-esteem).
Also, I thought he could recognize fabric softener at the supermarket because it's been around the home his whole life and even if he never noticed the specific bottles of fabric softener near the washing machine, they do display the words "fabric softener" on the label at the supermarket.
Finally, I figured the worst thing that could happen is that he'd buy a super expensive kind, buy something else (stain remover, for example), or return empty-handed. Really, that would probably the worst thing. He likely wouldn't suffer life-long resentment or go off the derech from it.
(Actually, I feared the "return empty-handed" option A LOT because it would only reinforce negatives and also leave me flummoxed as the best way to respond when I was already over my head with getting him to do it in the first place.)
So I pleasantly (pleadingly?) insisted that he would indeed go buy it and gave him a lengthy explanation of exactly how to find and recognize it.
Of course, I prayed for a positive outcome.
(Yes, God cares about us so much that He even wants us to contact Him regarding these little things too.)
When my son came home all smiles bearing the new bottle of fabric softener, I saw that he even bought exactly the brand and scent I'd wanted.
But how to respond?
- Eighties: Tons of gushing & infantalizing praise.
- Pre-Sixties: Tons of smirks and comments like, "See, silly? You made a mountain out of a molehill. Don't try to get away with copping out again." Laugh.
They're both inappropriate.
Then I remembered that the whole point of chinuch is to help children achieve their full potential. We want our children to achieve their complete rectification in this lifetime and merit a wonderful Eternity. I also remember that he possesses a shining soul that is all good and any behavior otherwise is just a klippah of the yetzer hara.
"Thank you SO MUCH," I said.
(The core essence of a Jew is gratitude and expressing gratitude.)
"This really helps me. I really needed this."
(Your contribution is meaningful. I assigned you a task for a meaningful reason and not simply because I like to torture you.)
Then I emphasized his success in doing something that he didn't know how to do and didn't think he could do, yet not only did he do it, he did it exactly right.
So he can see himself as a competent individual whose existence is meaningful and can take risks because his proven competence in the face of a new task renders him liable to succeed.
He doesn't need rivers of praise for completing the task, nor does he need to be mocked or put down for his initial attitude toward the task.
The above leads to infantilization and inadequacy (either of which eventually lead to despair and a "why bother?" attitude or a hamster-wheel attitude where a person is always pushing but never really feeling good enough).
But he does need to know that his actions are meaningful and that his abilities are real.
An admittedly trivial example, but the adults who develop from such children are built from such trivial events. A big part of raising children is knowing that the small matters influence the big matters later.
So that was a positive example, I guess.
But mostly, I continuously feel inadequate to the task, like I'm raising my children blindfolded with one arm tied behind my back.
And that's why I end up leaning on Hashem so hard (which is apparently what He wants in the first place).
Are Your Hands Full? by Dr. Sara Yaroslawitz
Sample audio preview by Dr. Sara Yaroslawitz
Garden of Education by Rav Shalom Arush
Yeladim Mutzlachim by Rav Shalom Arush (Hebrew)