So why do so many parents, especially mothers, insist on spending copious amounts of time and money on classes and consultations with chinuch advisers?
While it's true that even the best parent possesses some kind of blind spot (or even 10 blind spots) with regard to his or her children...but chinuch "experts" also have blind spots!
Furthermore, those blind spots are really for you as the parent to dig in and discover. Other people simply cannot help with that as much as is believed by the masses and the "experts."
And speaking of blind spots…
In private, chatty conversation with chinuch advisers, I’ve heard some very disturbing statements.
What do you think of a chinuch advisor who says:
“My husband isn’t so excited when I give birth to a girl. He’s a lot happier when I have a boy. And I understand him. I mean, with boys there are lots of mitzvot like the brit milah, learning Torah, and things like that. But really, what’s so special about a girl?”
(And before anyone starts crabbing about “Torah” attitudes toward women, the couple involved are from a highly educated secular Western background AND the Pele Yoetz, the Ben Ish Chai, the Chida, and Menekes Rivka all speak against that attitude as being NOT Jewish.)
And that’s just one example.
Do you think that such a person can transmit successful Jewish chinuch in the authentic Torah spirit?
Furthermore, I've either been told of or personally experienced so many incidents in which the "expert":
- insisted that the parent's evaluation of the situation was wrong when the parent was indeed right
- insisted that there was a specific problem, yet that "problem" didn't even exist for that particular family and was simply imagined by the "expert"
- identified the problem well enough, but recommended a solution that was all wrong
- treated earnest and desperate parents with disdain, condescension, or like aliens
- got way too controlling and involved past healthy limits
- displayed narrow thinking, like [THIS METHOD] is the "right" way and was unable to see when the parent has a different but equally good or even better way
- could not realistically understand the challenge of extenuating circumstances, like a difficult spouse, interfering family members, a problematic school, etc.
- seemed unable to offer chizuk or validation, but only condemnation and exhortations or, when pushed to the wall, a half-hearted, "Oh. Well, I guess that's okay...maybe..."
- seemed incapable of embracing different but equally good parenting styles and natures
- used cult-like scare tactics on the parents
- seemed unable to tell parents when they were doing something right, only when they were doing something wrong (or wrong in the "expert's" eyes, anyway...)
- projected too much of their own self into the method, i.e. if the "expert" is a highly energetic multi-tasker, than you must be too. Or if the "expert" easily disassociates and remains calm by nature, than you must also be that way. Or if the "expert" has an innately authoritative nature that makes children instinctively obey, then you must also, etc.
- WAY, WAY too much emphasis on fashionable theories and practical hishtadlut and techniques with only lip-service given to spiritual hishtadlut (This is the BIGGEST fault among chinuch people as far as I'm concerned)
Yes, of course a chinuch expert or course can help.
I have seen how much time and energy and good will chinuch people invest in helping parents and children.
But they only help. They aren't really able to do as much as believed.
Ironically, a lot of the time, the can harm or harm as much as they help, meaning that the harm and help run along in parallel lines.
Like a lot of people, I also used to leave a parenting class or book with the feeling that "NOW I know what to do! And I can do it!" And as long as I jumped exactly as impossibly high as the expert or book instructed, then yes, things often worked out well.
But if I missed an inch? Then...BAM! Splat.
Group Prejudice: Wow, Everyone is Really Screwed Up - Except MY Group!
(This is even often true of psychologists and other types of therapists.)
Many are incapable of seeing past a person cultural or ethnic background. In contrast, if you talk to a regular Jew like your neighbor, the young mother sitting with you on the park bench, or your shaitel macher, they will usually treat you like...you.
But if you speak to some kind of authority, they often cannot see you, but only your group.
Interestingly, they never stereotype their own group, but only everybody else’s.
Yes, this is inconsistent.
So that means that if you are American and they aren’t, they will cram you into whatever stereotype they have about Americans and never let you budge from there, no matter how unlike that stereotype you actually are—and no matter how untrue that stereotype may be.
And they do this with every group.
For example, I’ve had British friends tell me that American or Israeli advisers told them that the problem with the British mother’s mothering is that she is cold because she is British.
Now this is weird to my mind because I know so many warm and loving British mothers. In fact, I get kind of envious of British children because I also want a mummy who says to me in that lovely lilting British voice filled with warmth: “Come here, my darling little precious Dassie!”
(It just doesn’t sound the same with an American accent, does it?)
In contrast, haven't we all seen that there are cold American mothers and cold Israeli mothers?
So if a British mother is cold, it is likely not because she is British but because of whatever reason that causes any mother to be cold toward her own children.
I can tell you a lot about this “group sinat chinam” phenomenon because my husband is frum from birth (non-chareidi frum) and I am not, my husband is Israeli and I’m American, my husband is Sephardi and I’m Ashkenazi, my husband is male and I’m female. (You think I’m just joking with the last, right? Nope. Sadly, there are rabbis and rosh yeshivahs who don’t much like women and rebbetzins who don’t much like men.)
So between the two of us, we’ve gotten whapped with stereotyping from all sides.
At this point, I don’t consult with ANYBODY in official capacity about ANYTHING. And I haven’t for years.
The last time I tried was over a decade ago and it was over the phone with a chinuch guy. One of the first questions he asked me was whether my husband was Sephardi and then he started stereotyping, and I realized that this guy would not be able to hear me or help me, so I politely got off the phone. Lucky for him it was over the phone, because at that point I was so fed up with this type of thing, I wanted to throttle him.
If I have a halachic question, I either call a qualified rav and speak with total anonymity omitting even the most superficial personal information (although I can’t hide my accent or gender) or my husband asks a qualified rav he knows who has the ability to see people as individuals even outside that rav’s own group.
But I digress.
Extenuating Circumstances – Yes, They Matter
Because of Western psychology and feminism, the mother’s role is seen as the be-all end-all in chinuch. However, reading Torah-based texts written by real tzaddikim shows that rabbinical Sages do not express this opinion.
In fact, they stress the importance of the father’s role.
Furthermore, the child’s school can have a greater impact on the child’s spiritual state (for better or for worse) than the parents, no matter how good (or bad) the parents are.
Other factors, like your child’s community (if problematic for that child), a traumatic experience, the family's financial situation, or a dysfunctional parent can also hurt the child’s attitude toward Torah.
For example, there are ex-spouses who are so nasty and abusive, the family suffers as much or more than when the parents were still married.
This means that if you’re a mother whose husband does not do what he should as a father and husband, if your school does not give your child a genuine Torah chinuch (regardless of how “frum” the school is considered), and if your community is not good with person-to-person mitzvot, then you can be the most amazing mother on this side of the universe, and you can still have serious problems with your kids.
Most mothers hate to hear this. People have so little control over extenuating factors that many mothers cling to the false belief that if only they parent their children “right,” they can overcome all the other negative influences in their child’s life.
(They believe this because they've been fed a skewed populist interpretation of what the Gemara means when it refers to a woman as "ikeret habayit/mainstay of the home.")
It’s just not true. (Not necessarily, anyway. It CAN be true, but often isn’t.)
However, PRAYER can make all the difference. And by prayer, I mean self-introspective, heartfelt prayer in your own words. (Of course, you can say Tehillim, do 40 days of Perek Shira, and all the rest. It is all very helpful. But in serious situations, you also need to add cheshbon hanefesh and personal prayer in your own words.)
Prayer can transform an impossible situation into a successful situation.
Again, there are no guarantees. I'm not promising anything.
It's really all up to Hashem and what He has in mind for you as far as your soul rectifications go.
But Hashem slings trials our way to get us to turn to Him. Insisting on finding just the "right" shitah/method or just the "right" adviser runs contrary to turning to Hashem and is the opposite of what He wants and why He sent you the hardship in the first place.
And yes, chinuch “experts” do encourage parents to pray and engage in time-honored segulot. But at the same time, they also tend to scrutinize what the parents are doing “wrong” as far as their derech hateva hishtadlut and place enormous emphasis on methodology and practical “doing” (including medication, which is playing with fire, especially when you’re talking about children who are still developing).
There is NO Despair, No Matter What Experts and Studies Say
There are many different kinds of marriages. Regarding shalom bayit problems, you have the following:
- One parent is very good and the other is very problematic
- One parent is kind of problematic and the other is very problematic
- Both parents are kind of problematic
- Both parents are very problematic.
So it’s like this:
IF a person is very problematic, no amount of counseling and theories and advice will get them to change.
And just telling one spouse that as long as they shut up and go along with the problematic spouse does not create shalom bayit, NOR is that a united front.
(It is, however, a good way to ensure that at least half the kids grow to resent and even hate that passive spouse.)
That is a cold peace, like what America had with the USSR, it's not shalom.
And according to today’s chinuch theories, any child growing up in the above situations is likely condemned to going off the derech.
Whichever spouse (usually the mother) is most pliable will be pressurized to perform heroic feats of parenting (as defined by whatever chinuch expert she consults) while at the same time constantly hear a message of despair, that no matter how hard she tries, her children just won’t turn out well.
Only it’s not true.
Hashem decides, not us.
And not chinuch people.
That’s why I’m very, very pro turning all those efforts toward spiritual hishtadlut, like personal prayer and a self-accounting using your child’s undesirable behavior as your guide.
God can turn around even the worst, most hopeless situation.
And that's the truth.