Mrs. Yehudis Wolvovsky, shlucha to Glastonbury, CT and mother of a beautiful brood ka”h, reflects on the twists and turns her perspective on chinuch has taken over the years.
A conversation with Mrs. Yehudis Wolvovsky / Anash.org Magazine
I used to think that raising children was a simple equation. I would put in the work, teach the values and they would turn out as I wished. I used to think that parenting was about controlling my children’s behavior. If I made sure they behaved as I expected, then they would be good kids.
Then I heard a quote of Mrs. Sara Kaplan, a veteran mechaneches from Tzfas, that changed my mindset. “We talk about raising chassidishe children,” she said. “This is a mistake. Our goal is to raise chassidishe adults.”
I find that as parents, we feel too much responsibility. We believe that our children’s relationship with yiddishkeit is solely in our hands. This outlook can shift our focus from laying a strong, healthy foundation to trying to exert control over our children’s actions. And most children, especially teenagers, don’t respond well to such attempts.
When we believe that we are completely responsible for our children’s choices, we parent out of fear. Our mission becomes implementing and enforcing increasingly rigid rules, hoping that by being firm and consistent, we can guarantee that they will choose the path we have laid out for them.
But moral standards can’t be forced on others. Most of us don’t blindly accept a value system simply because we are expected to; we shop for values by looking to the people we like and respect, and seeing what’s important to them. When we have a strong connection with someone, they have a greater influence on us.
Torah doesn’t have to be forced – it is the best we have to offer! We don’t need to push it so hard, or obsess over whether or not our children will choose this path. We simply need to make it available, relevant and positive while nurturing them in a safe and loving environment. Yiddishkeit is good; if they are able to, they will take it.
When we adopt this mindset, it transforms our approach. We place our emphasis on creating a warm, chassidishe environment in which our kids can learn to love yiddishkeit. We work on modeling an authentic relationship with Hashem and the Rebbe, and adherence to halacha as a lifestyle. We create clear boundaries, and recognize where our rules are effective and when they are doing more harm than good. We open judgement-free lines of communication so that our children are comfortable telling us anything.
Then, we let go of control, and daven to Hashem to do the rest. Our job as parents is to invest in our children’s chinuch; the outcome is not in our hands. We must let go of the illusion that a carefully considered formula will ensure success. Every neshama has its own path, and our job is to nurture and facilitate its growth. When we recognize this, we become truly liberated and empowered.
This doesn’t come easy. It took years of trial and error for me to come to this understanding. It’s something I still work on every day! I went through the usual parenting fears – fear that my children wouldn’t follow the ‘right path’, that I would be judged by their choices. Looking back, I see that fear is the emotion most damaging to chinuch. We make our worst decisions when we are afraid.
For example, we might become hung up on our girls’ tznius. Are they following the rules? Do they embody a ‘chassidishe look’? Can I be proud of the way they are dressed when they walk down the street? Our children can sense when we are thinking this way. If they come downstairs in the morning and our eyes automatically travel to their knees before looking at their faces, they will feel it. Are we seeing them, or their neckline? Are we connecting to their neshama or simply looking for compliance?
As a parent, it’s important to take the long view of our children’s behaviors. When they do challenge our rules or struggle with yiddishkeit, it is not a reason to panic. As children mature and explore their identity, there are many stages. This is only one little pocket of time, not the sign of an entire life ahead. With this in mind, we can breathe, smile and enjoy our child’s company.
As chassidim, we believe that when we ‘tracht gut, vet zein gut.’ I heard someone remark that this concept doesn’t only apply to our circumstances, it is true with people, too. When we appreciate our children’s strengths and believe they can utilize the tools we have given them, they will astound us!
It’s not easy – we are deeply bound up with our children, and it’s normal to worry about their future. The fear of being judged by their behavior is real, too. This is an essential avodah of parenting – recognizing that sometimes, even our legitimate thoughts and feelings must take a back seat so that we can be mechanech our children in a relaxed, loving and positive way. There is no perfect parenting, only thoughtful parenting. Let’s not be so afraid of messing up! Let’s focus on doing the best we can with the tools that we have.
If we want our children’s relationship with Hashem to be personal and lasting, we need to give them space to be who they are. We can let them know that we are open to any question in the world; nothing should freak us out. Your child says they don’t believe in Hashem? Okay, let’s talk about it. Tell me more. Be curious, listen to what they have to say, and try to understand. Offer your perspective without trying to convince them; they must come to believe on their own.
It is hard to be in our children’s shoes! The social pressures they face are stronger than those we experienced at their age, and things that seem easy to us can be difficult for them. We need to be supportive and understanding, even while sticking to our boundaries. They need to figure things out for themselves, and that’s a hard and sometimes painful process.
Encourage your children to reach out to role models for guidance and perspective. Pressuring them to find a mashpia may backfire, so let it happen organically. When a situation comes up and they need advice, ask them, “Who is someone you might be able to ask about this?” If they have a shayla, let them call the rav themselves – you are giving them a powerful tool for life.
Your kids were born with some wonderful tools of their own – their natural qualities and talents. Point them in the direction of opportunities to serve Hashem with these gifts. Let them be on the giving end – as they teach and inspire others, they may strengthen and clarify their own values and beliefs.
From your end, be honest and genuine. What you hope to see in your children, you must cultivate in yourself. You are expecting your child to work hard, you must be an oved, too! Don’t try to hide your own challenges; instead, model what it looks like to struggle with temptation and resist it. “I just want to curl up with a good book right now, but I haven’t learned in a while.” “This dress is gorgeous, but it’s a bit tight.” Admit that it’s hard to put it back on the rack, even for you.
As you continue on this wonderful journey we call parenting, remember that ultimately, your children’s commitment to Torah and the Rebbe’s horaos must be their own.
Because we are not raising children. We are nurturing tomorrow’s adults.