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Amid Israel’s war in Gaza, there is talk of drafting yeshivah students into the army to bolster its ranks. On Shavuot, we celebrate the anniversary of receiving the Torah, so I want to write about the role of Torah in war. The Torah is not just a dusty old book …

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Home » Education, Featured, Shavuot

Shavuot: Ten Commandments of Parenting

Submitted by on June 1, 2019 – 10:55 pmNo Comment | 4,676 views

The ten commandments of parenting is an appropriate topic to discuss in the days leading up to Shavuot, the day we received the Ten Commandments.

On several occasions the Torah casts us as G-d’s children and G-d as our parent. It therefore stands to reason that by studying the Ten Commandments, the seminal point of connection between G-d and the Jewish people, we stand to learn much about parenting. My wife, Basie, recently gave a class titled ten commandments of parenting, and this essay is my attempt to convey some of her ideas.

I am the Lord your G-d, who took you out of Egypt.” With these words of greeting, G-d introduced Himself to His children. The message was succinct. You are my children, and I am responsible for you. And why? Because I took you out of Egypt. The prophet Ezekiel compared our exodus from Egypt to a birth—“A nation emerged from within a nation” as a fetus emerges from the womb. The exodus was our birth as a nation, and since G-d took us out of Egypt, He felt responsible for us. He became our Lord.

Similarly, as parents we brought our children into the world and are therefore responsible for them. We can’t resent our children keeping us up at night or preventing us from enjoying a leisurely meal at the restaurant. We can’t complain about needing to put our children ahead of ourselves. We are responsible for them. We brought them into the world. They didn’t ask to be born. We decided it for them.

You shall have no other gods, but me.” The second commandment tells us that G-d doesn’t want to be shared. He wants our exclusive attention. This commandment teaches us that parenting can’t be a side priority. It must command our exclusive attention. We can’t put off dinner with the children to take a client out to dinner. We can’t miss a child’s recital because it was a hectic day at the office.

Do not take my name in vain.” This commandment teaches us that our compliments and corrections must be well thought out and fully deserved. We can’t compliment children when they know they didn’t deserve it because they will stop valuing or even vying for our compliments. Similarly, we can’t correct or discipline children if we aren’t certain that they deserve it. We can’t call their names in vein.

Remember the Shabbat to sanctify it.” Shabbat is our day to unplug from the world. We turn off our phones and computers. We spend the time with the family. This teaches us that there should be a Shabbat moment in each day. This is the time that we spend with our children. When we are home in the evening or on weekends, our children need to feel that they are the most important thing on our minds. We must set aside the phone calls and the texts, the emails and the memes. It is Shabbat; our children time.

Honor your father and mother.” It is our task as parents to teach our children to respect us. If we won’t teach it, they won’t learn. We need to explain that it is inappropriate to interrupt or contradict a parent. We need to teach them the proper way to voice disagreement with a parent. We need to teach them not to address us by our given name. If we don’t teach them to respect, how can they be expected to learn it? And if they don’t learn to respect their parents, whom will they ever respect?

Thou shall not murder.” Our sages taught that shaming another is like spilling blood because we cause their blood to rush to their face. Parents should never shame their children. We can teach our children right from wrong without putting them down or making them feel stupid. We may certainly never call them derogatory names. If we do that, we might be guilty of murder; of killing off their self-esteem, their ability to love, or worst, their ability to trust.

Thou shall not commit adultery.” This refers to our children’s sexuality. As parents, we are responsible for ensuring that our children’s sexuality develops in a healthy and balanced way. Firstly, we must ensure that they learn about their sexuality at the right time, from the right person, and in the right way. We must guard against premature and inappropriate exposure. There is only one first time for our children to learn about their sexuality; we will never get a second chance to get it right.

It is also our responsibility as parents to guard our children from those who might abuse, molest, or otherwise destroy their wholesome and innocent sexuality. We must constantly be on the lookout and always err on the side of caution. If a nanny or babysitter seems to cross a line of propriety, we must investigate. If a friend or family member seems too close to our children, we must ensure that they are never alone with them. Our children’s sexuality will be a critical part of their adulthood and we must tend it and guard it carefully.

Thou shall not steal.” It is surprising, but true. Parents often steal from their children. When we promise our children a reward, but don’t give it, a vacation, but cancel it, special time with us, but never get around to it, we steal from our children. Not only does it show blatant disregard for their feelings because they had waited with anticipation and were told at the last minute that it would be withdrawn, but we steal their ability to trust and respect us.

The same is true when we threaten a consequence, but don’t deliver. If we tell our children that they will lose out on screen time because of misbehavior, we must follow through. If we don’t, we steal their ability to take direction from us. Henceforth, they won’t take our admonitions seriously, thinking that in the end we will either forget or forgive. If we promise a consequence, we must follow through, which is why we should never threaten a consequence or promise a reward that we either can’t or won’t deliver.

It also means that we must not behave in a way that steals their ability to love or trust. We must not behave in ways that robs them of confidence and self esteem. We mustn’t steal from anyone. Least of all, our children.

Thou shall not bear false witness.” Our children pay close attention to our words and even closer attention to our actions. If we talk inappropriately, they will echo it in their talk. If we behave inappropriately, they will reflect that in their behavior. We must make sure that we don’t bear false testimony as we model for our children. There are some discretions that we might overlook and allow ourselves as adults, but once we have children, we must avoid them. As a rule, anything that we consider inappropriate for a five-year-old, is inappropriate for the five-year old’s parents.

Another aspect is that children model our behavior even more than our words. If our children are screaming and we scream at them to stop screaming, they will hear our shouts, not our words. If we tell them to check for traffic before crossing the street, but don’t do it ourselves, they will learn from our actions, not our words. We may not bear false witness. What we say, we must do.

Thou shall not covet.” How often do parents compare their children to other people’s children? How often we wish that our children were more like our neighbor’s children. Firstly, be careful what you wish for because we have no idea what our neighbor’s children are really like. We only see them when they are modeling their best behavior, but what are they like when they are at home?

Secondly, our neighbor’s children are irrelevant to us. They were given to our neighbor. They are relevant to him. Not to us. Our children are the ones that G-d gave us. They are the only ones that are relevant to us. We don’t love them because they are good. We love them because they are ours; part of us. They are the air in our lungs, the blood in our veins; the apple of our eye.

Thirdly, and most importantly, consider how our children will feel when they overhear us, and make no mistake, they will overhear us. The message they will hear is that we don’t want them. They are not good enough for us. We would much rather have their friends down the block. Their very own parents don’t like or approve of them. And if they can’t impress their parents, who can they hope to impress?

These are the Ten Commandments of parenting. If we abide by them, we earn the right to pray for happy well-adjusted children.