Advice From YidParenting
By Rabbi Yitzie Ross
Since writing the first two parts of this “off the derech” series, I have once again spent a good portion of my week reading some interesting e‑mails and comments sent to me by a wide range of readers. I’ve noticed a fascinating pattern when it comes to these e‑mails. Therefore, before beginning the third part of this series, I would like to reply to the most common responses. I’m sure that many of you won’t like what I have to say—you’ve been warned. Next week, I will iy’H continue with Part III.
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First, in many instances, when a parent of an OTD child e‑mails me, they shift the blame onto their spouse. Many of the e‑mails I received contained phrases like “I tried warning him this would happen,” or “She would get so frustrated about the most insignificant things.” I’m not that knowledgeable in couples’ therapy, but it seems that blaming your spouse means there are more deeply seated problems. You and your spouse are on the same team. Although you can disagree about things, when it comes to raising your children you need to be on the same page.
Second, when children, or even adults, who are currently OTD e‑mail me, many of them insist that no matter what their parents did or didn’t do, they would have stopped being religious either way. As one person put it, “It’s in my DNA.” Many of these people who are OTD truly believe that it had nothing to do with the way they were raised.
My response is always silence. It’s not worth discussing it with such people. However, it’s simply not true. It might not be solely because of your upbringing, and yes, certain children are inherently born with stronger desires. Nonetheless, I don’t believe any of you are correct. You might think you’ve identified the reason(s), but, for lack of a better term, you’re way off base. I know many amazing people who have raised all types of children. We’re talking about children who questioned everything and always hung out with the “wrong” crowd. They still did an amazing parenting job and all their children remained happily frum.
This doesn’t mean that any particular method of raising children is foolproof. It just bears noting that many OTD stories of regret could have been avoided. One father who discussed this with me was initially defensive. He felt that I was accusing him and his wife of not doing all they could. That’s not at all what I was implying. Raising children today is very difficult, and it’s constantly evolving with the changing times. We, as a klal, need to work together and learn from our collective mistakes. If a family has a child go OTD, we need to use that as a learning experience so we can improve our methods.
Lastly, many people have commented regarding what I said about a rebbe or teacher not causing children to go OTD. I would like to clarify that statement. I have spoken to many people who are currently OTD, and they insisted that their rebbe or teacher was the sole cause of them either going OTD or having serious doubts about Yiddishkeit. I completely understand. I don’t even disagree with them.
I do believe that one negative teacher or rebbe can affect a child, but I also know that good parenting can, and will, rise up to the challenge. As a general rule, there will unfortunately always be rebbeim who are rotten (I certainly had my share of them growing up), rabbanim who betray our trust, and even role models who are dishonest. I wish that parents recognized that their role is not to live vicariously through their children, but rather to be their last line of defense. We need to be there when our children are hurt or confused, and guide them or defend them as necessary. We need to create stable homes in which children know that they are loved and respected, so their self-esteem will withstand the bad apples.
Therefore, when I say that a rebbe or teacher can’t be the sole cause of a child going OTD, it’s because good parents will overcome that obstacle and win the battle. They will rebuild their child and help them get past it. They will defend their child at any cost, and show their child that no one is as important as he or she is. This will become a bonding moment, and if you play your cards right, it can even become a maturing opportunity.
Obviously, this isn’t true all the time, since every case is different. If your child is more sensitive, or if this particular “educator” was just plain horrible, the result might be worse. Nonetheless, I truly believe that, in most cases, good parenting will prevail.
If you’re unsure what to do as a parent, please see the article I wrote a while back about having a rebbe who doesn’t like your child (http://www.yidparenting.com/blog/my-sons-rebbe-doesnt-like-him). Alternatively, you can always speak to your rav for guidance.
As always, I look forward to your comments and e‑mails.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, you can visit www.yidparenting.com.