Sunday, July 12, 2009

Changed by a decade of Parenting

[This week’s Haveil Havalim is here!]

Our oldest turned 10 this past Thursday, the 17th of Tammuz, and the milestone set me to thinking about what a decade of fatherhood has tried to teach me.

The following will be old-hat to parents who are ahead of me on the chronological curve, as well as to many who simply figured things out long before I did, but it’s a short list of ways that parenting can mature us:

Parenting forces total responsibility.
This is beyond being reliable; I’m talking about something greater here. I’m talking about changing your life around in order to fill a responsibility. I’m talking about taking full responsibility for others’ actions and for the events of their lives, the buck stopping here.

If your six-year-old stuffs a ball down the bathtub drain and the plumber charges you $70 to get it out, you can't take it out of his allowance. If your two-year-old ruins something, there is no recourse. It's all on your head.

Parenting forces flexibility.
I can honestly say that I am more flexible now, by several orders of magnitude, than I was ten years ago. I don’t get as upset about the foiling of plans, or about not knowing what’s happening until the last minute; it’s a natural part of life with children.

I learned this especially in shul, regarding davening. When my rebbitzen was expecting our second, and the first was still under 2 years old, I brought him to shul on many occasions. As a rule, I ended up standing outside and doing the bare minimum of davening. I wasn't used to that, but he taught me.

I’m not sure people who share my life think I’m that flexible, but I feel the difference between what was and what is.

Parenting tries to teach us that we don’t need to stand out.
Anyone who survives a dozen years in the rabbinate must harbor an element that appreciates the spotlight (even if you’re nervous about being center-stage), but being a parent often means turning the spotlight to your child.

Having your child perform on stage or play a game or write a story is a great way to learn to stay in the background and keep your ideas to yourself. Balancing being visible enough to be a role model, while not so visible as to be intimidating, is real work.

Parenting makes us feel ignorant, which is not the same thing as being able to admit ignorance to others.

When I say, ‘feeling ignorant,’ I mean being willing to hear and embrace an entirely foreign point of view, recognizing that we know nothing. Trying to raise a child and recognizing you know nothing at all about how to do it was a good learning experience.

Telling a laughing pediatrician that you don't know how to get medicine into your stubborn child ("There are two of you and one of him, and you're bigger than him!"), or studying an off-colored diaper and wondering whether the weird shade of green means anything, is a good way to realize just how much you don't know.

The above is just a short list; much more could be said.

I wouldn’t say I’ve absorbed any of the above ideals 100%, but I’m definitely a world different now from the way I was in the Labor and Delivery room in 1999. I cringe to think about the person I once was… and I can’t wait to see what I will become in the next ten years, Gd-willing…


  1. As a parent well into my fourth decade of parenthood (but really it's not about years but generations, I'm a grandma now and those two year olds now have kids in school) I will volunteer that the next significant 'ahaa' moment will be when you see your own kids in the role of parent.

    You have been there, done that and yet here you know that no matter how much you want to that change that you, Rabbi Torczyner, describe can't be taught. Neither can most of the other lessons I learned along the road. I can only recount them and hope the moral of the story helps. (I am the משל and I only hope my adult children get the נמשל ).

  2. Happy birthday to your bechor!

    "Parenting tries to teach us that we don’t need to stand out."
    I would take this even further: Parenting teaches us that it's not always about us. (One simple, mundane example: Do you let your 3-year old express his/her creativity and independence by wearing a striped shirt with polka dot pants? Or do you worry that the neighbors will think that YOU have no fashion sense? Etc.)

  3. Risa-
    Very true, and I like the mashal/nimshal mashal.

    Mrs. S.-
    Agreed, but why couldn't anyone wear a striped shirt with polka dot pants? (I really don't have fashion sense.)

  4. I also offer my congratulations on reaching this milestone!

    Here's what I would add (as I look back on almost a quarter-century of parenting):
    * Parenting required me to make choices that helped me better understand and (sometimes) reexamine my values. (I've sometimes found that I have had to choose between two things that I thought were equally important to me, as a result of children being part of the equation.)

    * Parenting made me more grateful and appreciative of my own parents.

  5. that Risa knows a lot!

    fwiw realize that you are a guide but that your kids must each find their own way back to the garden (parents need to leave the helicopter home).

    Joel rich

  6. Joel-
    Agreed... except when I don't agree. There are exceptions to that rule, I believe.

  7. This post made me smile any number of times. I too am more flexible than I once was. And I'd like to think more patient.

    It is a good way of being taught what we don't know exceeds what we know.