In one scenario, the mother allowed her teenage daughter to pour out her heart and thoughts with no restraint. The daughter discussed her perceptions of other people using their names and any other identifying information without a second thought. Both the mother and the daughter viewed their relationship as “close” and one of sharing.
Yet Rebbetzin Heller noted that a relationship based on lashon hara doesn’t possess genuine intimacy.
In contrast, she described a relationship in which the mother and daughter felt close to each other, but the mother allowed the daughter to discuss others only when necessary and without names or any other identifying details (unless there was a to’elet—a beneficial purpose—in revealing these details).
This revolutionary (for me at that time) idea struck me because I hadn’t considered that placing boundaries on a child’s conversation could still facilitate a close relationship with that child. My own children were still young at that time and Hashem led me to read this column before I needed to—which was great preparation for my future relationship with them.
Yes, sometimes names and identifying details need to be revealed, but not usually. And even when the child can’t avoid telling you who’s bothering them, the other laws of lashon hara l’to’elet need to be observed.
There are no hard-and-fast rules about this. Age, for example, can be a deciding factor. Child-parent discussions involving lashon hara l’to’elet occur at the parents’ discretion and since it’s impossible to be perfect about this, you just give it your best shot based on whatever knowledge you have of the situation and the halacha.
But I’d grown up with the modern child psychology that children need all their feelings validated and that any lashon hara they spoke was automatically l’to’elet because a child “needs” that outlet in the parent.
However, one thing that Judaism (and Rebbetzin Heller’s column) emphasizes is how the home is really training ground to bring out your child’s soul-potential.
Our job as parents is to train the child to be the best he or she can be and consequently earn the best Olam Haba possible.
The only way to do this is to do the following:
- First, as parents, work on our own middot.
- Secondly, to train our children to adhere to halacha.
And while I knew that “being friends” with one’s child is not good for them, I had a harder time breaking away from the idea that children need to be happy and a parent needs to build a child’s self-esteem. It didn’t help that many very well-meaning chinuch “experts” opined that a happy child-parent relationship was necessary to prevent children from going off the derech. The child needed to feel loved and also love the parents.
It sounds so nice and logical. What could be the problem with it?
Doing What's REALLY Best for Your Child
A parent must focus on doing what’s best for the child, regardless of how hard that is for the parent or how much the child dislikes it. Determining parental success or failure by how the child feels about the parent creates a recipe for disaster.
(You can see more details about that exchange in Allowing Others Their Own Life Journey.)
Also, what I didn't realize back then was that self-esteem cannot be given, it can only be earned by a person through making moral choices and taking the higher road (even if it's only a tad higher than the road everyone else is taking).
In other words, parents can teach their children how to earn & cultivate their own self-esteem, but parents cannot give their children self-esteem.
And yeah, I'm still cleaning up the mess from having gone with the child psychology of the 80s & 90s.
(Fortunately, Hashem helps.)
Furthermore, it's not hard to notice that many children with seemingly close & friendly relationships with their parents grew distant or even angry at their parents later while many strictly raised children ended up becoming close and appreciative of their parents later.
Yes, parents whose strictness is based on being control-freaks or who are too lazy to say yes when saying no is easier have given firm boundaries & high expectations a bad reputation. But those parents aren’t doing what’s best for the child; they are simply indulging their own bad middot and ignoring their children’s feelings for their own convenience while pretending they are being responsible parents.
What is BEST for my child?
Not what makes me, the parent, happier. And not what makes the child happier. But is BEST?
This actually takes enormous self-discipline, self-honesty, and most of all:
And it is the real challenge of parenthood.
May we all succeed in raising our children according to their derech and may both we and Hashem receive a lot of nachat d'kedushah from them.