But life doesn’t happen that way. And I do know that. I really do. But still, I think I have been mistakenly putting a tiny bit of blame on the baker, and forgetting that the Chef runs the kitchen.
We seem to judge others, consciously or not, by how our life works. If my baby sleeps through the night, I must be doing something right. If your baby cries all night long, you must be doing something wrong. Simple as that. I mean, after all, your baby must be cold or hot or hungry or too full or something fixable. You just haven’t figured out what is wrong.
Yeah, well, that logic worked well with my first, who did sleep through the night. But it threw me for a loop with my second, who had colic and cried, no matter what, all night long. And then I was the one receiving those snarky looks from others who would hear my baby scream, as they wondered just how long it would take me to figure out what I needed to fix.
And as our children grow, it is oh so easy to continue along that trend. The toddler having the temper tantrum in the supermarket aisle must need a nap, or is spoiled rotten. I mean, why else would a kid be throwing such a fit? And then in school, if a child isn’t behaving or able to concentrate, it is because either the teacher or the parent is doing something wrong.
Now, I do believe that nurture has a significant impact on how a child grows up. And I also don’t believe that nature is set in stone. People can change, and there is neuroplasticity, proving that with the right effort we can shift—if not transform—our nature. Judaism teaches us that we are constantly struggling between our yetzer tov (positive, healthy inclination) and our yetzer hara (negative, unhealthy inclination). Everything we do is a choice. And the better prepared we are for that choice, the easier it will be to make the right one.
But as my children grow into young adults, I have reached a new conclusion about parenting. And that is the following: Being a good parent does not mean that your child will not have problems. It means that you will be better prepared to deal with those problem when they arise.
I have watched some of my friends face devastating situations with their children. Children who were raised with love, support, kindness, morality and stability. The ingredients were there. They were mixed properly. But sometimes along the way, things happen that we can’t predict and from which we can’t protect ourselves or our children. The “bad” parent is not the one whose child ends up doing the wrong thing. The “bad” parent is the one who doesn’t intervene, react, and try to change the situation once it happens.
The only thing worse than watching someone you love suffer as her child falls to a terrible place, is watching those around you judge the one you love. Perhaps when we judge others and assume there is some fix, some ingredient that was missing, something she could have done differently or better to avoid that situation, we don’t need to consider that this could happen to us. But it can. And nothing we do will change that. The only variable remaining is how we will respond if it does.
Recently, I went to my doctor for my annual well visit. When my blood results came back, it showed that I have high cholesterol. The first thing my doctor did was discuss with me what I could change to get my cholesterol on track. She told me what to eat. I responded that I already eat those foods. She told me what not to eat. But I already don’t eat them. She told me to begin exercising. I explained that I have been going to the gym three times a week for the past year. And then she told me that cholesterol is also genetic. That I am doing all the right things. That while I can strive to improve, it may not ever be enough. I made need intervention. I may need medication. After all, there is only so much I can control.
My doctor was great. There was no guilt. No blame. No telling me that something was my fault when it was pretty clear it wasn’t. Not to say that it couldn’t have been. If I smoked, drank, was obese, never exercised and ate heavy saturated fat products . . . yeah, that could lead to high cholesterol. Then again, I could do all of that and have my cholesterol in range. No givens. No guarantees. We do what we can, and then we pray for the best.
If only we granted other parents the same respect and understanding. Why are we so quick to assume that they are doing something wrong? Why do we automatically suppose that any issue their child is facing is a result of their action or inaction? It might be. But it could very likely not be. After all, having a child is not addition. It is not 1 + 1 = 2, where the child is only a result of what the parents put into it. Procreation is multiplication. The mitzvah is pru u’revu, “to be fruitful andmultiply.” Multiplication is greater than the sum of the parts. Yes, there is the mother and the father. But the end result is more than that. And something we ultimately have little, if any, control over.
Recognizing that I am not in control is something I inherently know and yet struggle with. I get that I don’t run this world. I get that there is so much that makes no sense and that I cannot understand. And I do really, truly believe that there is a plan and a reason for everything, even if I don’t have a clue what that is. But that doesn’t mean I like it when things pop up to remind me that my hard work may not pay off in the way I want it to.
Yet I also believe that every good thing we do, every kind word, every positive action, every step in the right direction, absolutely changes things. Everything counts. Not always how we intend, but when we deposit into our spiritual, physical or emotional bank account, sooner or later we will be able to withdraw.
After all, what makes a good patient or a good parent is not being able to avoid all illness or challenge in life, but being willing and able to deal with it. And the more resources in that account, the easier it will be.