Parshas Noach - Raising Children

By BJLife/Rabbi Dovid Fink
Posted on 10/07/21

The Torah’s account of the most prominent siblings in early civilization is not a pretty picture.  Kayin kills Hevel and Noach’s sons’ differences spawn the 70 nations.  Indeed, most Mepharshim understand the “world is not big enough for all of us” was a prevalent attitude among some of the early brothers.  They did not feel they should have to “share” the world with their brothers.  Moreover, by the time of Noach, one of his sons saw no reason to give any deference to his father, even though it was in his father’s zchus that the world and his sons were saved. 

While no one has all the answers and the world is a constantly changing place, I have been asked repeatedly for my insights into raising children in todays environment.  It is a daunting task but we all can benefit from brainstorming with each other about what has and has not worked.   First and foremost, I would most strongly stress that raising children cannot be a one size fits all approach.  Each child is different than his or her sibling and even different from their identical twin.  Nevertheless, there are some general rules which seem to apply to nearly all children.

First, children need love.  Unconditional love. That does not mean that there is not a place for appropriate guidance and discipline, but your child must know that they are loved by their parents.  That is why when I counsel divorced couples I always make them promise that neither will ever utter a negative word about their former spouse in front of their children.  Children perceive that they are part from their mother and part from their father. When you demean a child’s parent you are necessarily insulting the child in the child’s eyes.  Second, children need to feel secure.  Not that they have a million-dollar trust fund, but that their needs are being taken care of.  Children who constantly hear their parents struggling with the finances worry, and that is not healthy.  Children must be able to focus on learning, growing, and social development.  They cannot advance in those areas when they are concerned about whether they are safe.  I readily understand the financial strains that often come with tuition etc. but discussing those strains in front of your children will only add more things onto your platter of concerns.  Children can be taught about choices, affordability and responsibility and still be reassured that their needs are being taken care of and that they are safe at home.

Third, being a parent is a non-delegable duty.  You can pay people to baby sit or teach your children but that does not change the fact that it is your job.  Hachnosos Ohrchim is a mitzvah.  But who you bring into your home and ensuring that they are appropriately supervised around your children is your responsibility.  The same is true for schools.  Your job does not end at the carpool door or the school house steps.  You must be actively involved and listen to your child about their concerns at school.  Your child has no advocate other than you and even the best teachers can make mistakes.  You know your child better than anyone.  As an aside, schooling may be necessary but absent the rarest of circumstances, sending your son to a dormitory Yeshiva for his teenage years is usually a mistake, sometimes a very big one.  Dormitories are largely unsupervised and in todays day and age, your child will be exposed to some of the most damaging and inappropriate things imaginable.  And you sent him there. Don’t.

Fourth, children learn much more from what they see than what they hear.  If you value Torah, make sure your children see you learn and quote from it, particularly at the Shabbos table.  Most of all, take time to learn with your children.  Your children will be challenged to be good spouses, siblings and friends if you do not set the example.  Your children observe how you talk about others.  Let them see you look out for other people and allocate monies for Tzedaka.  Make time to spend with your children.  Play games, study and just talk with them.  Let them see that they are important to you.  A child who sees you keep a Seder may learn that you value Torah but a child who you learn Torah with learns that Torah binds people together.

Fifth, teenagers often find less than good things to do with their time.  In todays world of Smart Phones and Social media, parents must be ever more vigilant of who their kids spend their time with.  You may not give your child a smart phone at age 12 but other parents do.  Speak to your kids about the dangers that are at many people’s fingertips as soon as appropriate.  Let them know they can come to you with questions about anything.  Remember, anything your children don’t learn from you they will probably learn from a school friend who may or may not know what they are talking about and almost certainly will not know the proper context to place things in.  There was a time when some parents chose to avoid this responsibility by raising their children in a “bubble”.  Maybe that made sense for some a generation ago but newsflash – there is no bubble anymore.  Don’t be fooled into thinking your child won’t be exposed.  You will spend thousands and thousands of dollars to educate your children.  Spend some of that money to create a fun home where your children can play with their friends under your supervision. 

Sixth, if your teenage son enjoys sports, encourage it at every turn.  It is one of the few healthy outlets for their burgeoning masculinity.  Aside from being a healthy distraction, it promotes teamwork, healthy competition and physical fitness – all parts of a healthy Torah life. 

Finally, avoid the biggest mistake that most parents make.  Most parents view children as miniature versions of themselves.  THEY ARE NOT!! Even if they look like you they may have the skills and talents of their maternal Grandmother.  Genetics are a funny thing.  Trying to guide and steer your children to be more like you can be devastating and is wholly inconsistent with your mission as parents.  You may have the head for Science and Math but your child who looks exactly like you may be more talented in areas of music or art.  Your job is to help your child maximize the talents which Hashem gave them, hopefully to benefit the Klal.  Everyone can learn Torah and be Shomrei Torah and Mitzvos but telling your musically gifted child that he should stop playing because you want him to spend more time developing skills which you were given naturally, will not work and will cause struggling and frustration.  One last suggestion which amplifies and compliments all of these ideas – marry a great partner.  Discuss your thoughts on parenting before you marry and when the unexpected comes up, discuss it again and again and speak with one voice.

Sefer Bereishis spends an inordinate amount of time documenting the difficulties which siblings had in the earliest days and later.  After Noach there was Yitzchak and Yishamael, Yaakov and Eisav. The Shevatim had numerous difficulties in their relationships.   There can be little question that Mechiras Yoseph, Yaakov’s purchase of the Bechora and everything that led up to those incidents are painstakingly detailed so we can learn from them.  It has never been easy to raise good children and while the challenges have changed, today poses its own unique ones.  While the above is a good starting point, it’s just that, a starting point.  May we be zoche to raise the Nesahmos we have been entrusted with k’darchei Hashem.