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The Joy of Sadness

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

Ancient Jewish wisdom draws a connection between two months of the Jewish year that at first glance seem to stand in opposition to each other. We are told:  Just as when [the month of] Av enters, our joy is diminished, so too, when [the month of] Adar enters, our joy increases.

A connection and equality of sorts is made between the sadness of the month of Av, when both Temples were destroyed, and the joy of Adar, when the redemption of Purim took place.  Why?  I would like to share with you a thought I had on this.  Please know that I did not see a source for learning this lesson and I am not saying that this is what ancient Jewish wisdom is trying to teach us, simply, this is what came to my mind when thinking of this saying.

In the last month I have heard from several administrators in different schools that the line they hear most frequently from parents of their students is, “I just want my child to be happy.”  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Of course they want their children to be happy!  They’re not evil people!  But the truth is, if a parent’s goal is for his or her child to be happy, now, in their childhood, they’re  really not doing their best to align their child up for a lifetime of happiness.  In order to feel joy, we also need another part of our calendar cycle to instill in us the feelings of grief and sadness.  We can’t just experience happiness. To feel joy we also have to be open to feeling all the other emotions that are part of the human experience.

It isn’t easy to parent a child who is feeling grief, anxiety, fear, shame, or any other negative emotion, but it is important to let our children experience those feelings, to let them fall and fail but be there with them to help them get up again and process their feelings.  A child who is allowed to struggle and feel negative feelings, will be truly capable of feeling positive feelings of accomplishment, pride and joy.  Adar can’t exist without Av.  They’re related. We need to be capable of feeling each emotion at the right time, and we need to allow our children to experience all those emotions too, with our loving support.  It doesn’t work to say, “I just want my child to be happy!”

We also need to acknowledge how challenging it is on us as parents to help a child work through difficult feelings.  It can take a lot out of us and that’s normal and okay.  The important thing is not to dodge that responsibility because it is too hard or painful but to get ourselves the support we need while we parent unhappy children.  When a child of mine is going through something difficult, that may be when I need to make my life simpler, cut things out of my schedule, and ask for help because the reality is that parenting a child who is suffering is time-consuming, draining, and challenging.  But it is still necessary and valuable.  We have to help ourselves be able to help our children in their good times and their bad times, in the Adar of their lives and in the Av of their lives because we learn to live with joy by also feeling pain.

Memories or Remembrances

Fine restaurants pay as much attention to the way the food looks on the plate as they do to how it tastes. When you’re charging a lot for a meal, every aspect matters. At home, while I don’t glop food onto a plate in an unsightly mess, neither do I spend time creating radish spirals or decorating our supper plates with blackberry coulis.  We will be quite happy if the taste is fantastic.

On the other hand, you know those pictures of food in magazines that make you drool? The sight of melted chocolate dripping down the side of the cake tickles your salivary glands and the spoon caressing the whipped cream makes you want to dig right in? When it comes to food photography, you actually don’t want to taste the product. That frothy cappuccino may actually be composed of foaming hand soap and the rich syrup  on those pancakes might be made from motor oil. What you see isn’t what you want.

That lesson is incredibly relevant to parenting. Surprisingly often, we have to choose between a meaningful experience versus one that looks great but lacks substance. As a preschool teacher, my friend Hannah’s students’ projects never looked as good as those of other classes. That’s because her four-year-olds actually did the work themselves. She didn’t guide their hands as they glued and she didn’t touch up their drawings. If the owl’s beak ended up where its eye was intended to go, so be it. The finished projects meant for parents’ refrigerators may not have won awards, but the kids in her class loved being there and by the end of the year they had acquired important skills.

As we all have cameras and video machines readily available in our phones, school performances have lost much of their charm. Little children looking at the rows of parents perched at the back of the room don’t see their proud mothers’ smiles or their fathers’ loving gazes. Instead their parents’ faces are covered by machinery. And those machines are largely focused on them, sending the incorrect message that the other children with whom they’ve been practicing are unimportant and irrelevant. The fun of presenting the show is diminished for the sake of being able to show how wonderful it was.

Sometimes, we just have to choose between creating real memories or building contrived remembrances. The picture snapped of the child we forced into what we thought was an adorable outfit even though he hated wearing it (yes, I have one of those pictures), the smile that came out only because we bribed our daughter with a candy if she pretended to be having fun, the precious moments we missed as we focused on freezing them for eternity may all look wonderful but in actuality be a breathtaking looking but completely inedible feast.

The Young, the Elite and the Ignorant

My father-in-law, of blessed memory, used to say that people aren’t balance sheets. You can’t tout up a subjective view of a person’s good and bad points, do a quick mathematical computation and emerge with a ranking. Say someone always shoveled his elderly neighbors’ drives (+3), gave 15% of his income to charity (+3) and was meticulously honest in business (+4) but had an explosive temper with his wife and children (-4) and indulged in an affair (-4).  Do the arithmetic: 3 + 3 + 4 – 4 -4 = 2.  This does not mean that you can say that he was a  +2 type of guy. God will make his own calculations, but we human beings can only say that he was a complicated person, doing both outstanding and horrible actions.

The lens of history reveals John Adams, second president of the United States, as a complicated man. Undoubtedly brilliant and deeply involved in the founding of this country, as president he also signed into legislation the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts and was unpopular enough not to earn a second term in office.

Among his greatest moments, in my opinion, was his defense of the British soldiers accused of murder in the misnamed Boston Massacre of 1770, one of the events that led to America’s declaring independence. Although Adams was already favoring breaking with England, he set a precedent that made America different from Europe by establishing that everyone, even those who are unpopular or hold unpopular views, deserve honest representation before the law. He famously said,  “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they can not alter the state of facts and evidence.” 

Though he was a graduate of Harvard, I think John Adams would be less horrified at the lies, bribes and schemes of parents wanting to get their children into supposedly superior universities than at a far greater scandal currently unfolding at his alma mater.

What would truly horrify him would be the call by Harvard students to punish one faculty dean, Ronald Sullivan, for joining Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. These supposedly ‘cream of the crop’ students have no understanding of the concept of a fair trial or the basics of America’s ethical and legal system. Whether of not Mr. Weinstein’s general lifetime behavior ranks him as a +1 or a -7, he is being accused of a legal violation. Lawyers defend horrible people all the time and the behavior of horrible people doesn’t always cross a legal line. If the court of public opinion mandated to the justice system that some people (perhaps those in the offense-of-the-month club) were not worthy of being defended, our legal system would collapse. Even worse, rather than rebuking and educating the students, the administration is treating their childish complaints seriously.

Adams had no illusions about the innate goodness of man, recognizing that humans are eminently corruptible. He understood the lure of lying, bribing and cheating to gain benefit. For that reason he saw the need not only for a Constitution but also for an underlying religious and moral system.

However, when Adams said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people,” I don’t think he foresaw that the ignorant people he was referencing would be students at Harvard. Perhaps the true scandal in the admissions cheating matter is that any  parent would want their child in an elite university where ignorance and indoctrination have replaced a love of learning and a serious liberal arts education.

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Am I Destined to Be a Domestic Drudge?

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

I’ve been married for 9  years to a pretty great guy.   We have two boys and a girl, also a dog.  I have a full time job and I also take care of most of the inside-the-house chores and organize all the activities for the kids and family. 

My husband and I have had several discussions and sometimes arguments about sharing the household workload. We make new agreements about duties that my husband can take on, but within a week these agreements have fizzled out. When I ask him to take on tasks with our children, such as bedtime or supervising homework, it generally devolves into screaming matches between him and the kids.

My resentment is starting to affect my sexual desire for him. I feel less like he’s my partner and more like he’s another child.  I go all day from the time I wake up at 5:45 a.m. until I collapse into bed at 10 p.m.

Is this simply the reality of being a working mother? Do I have to abandon my  dreams of sharing the child care and household duties?

Do I accept that my husband is doing his best and perhaps is limited by his parenting and organizational skills? Do I swallow my anger, do I fight for more or do I just walk away?

Domestic Drudge

Dear D.D.,

We got lost between the, “I’ve been married for 9 years to a pretty great guy,” and the rest of your letter. If, as you say, your husband is a great guy, something is off-kilter. Exhaustion, resentment and anger are pretty awful things to drag around in a marriage so we do think this is urgent to deal with. It isn’t surprising that with so much negativity, the sexual and companionship side of your marriage is suffering.

If we told 1000 people that we received a letter that began with “I’ve been married for nine years to a pretty great guy” and concluded with “Do I swallow my anger, do I fight for more or do I just walk away?” we doubt that even one would guess the content of the intervening eleven sentences. 

There’s another sentence in your letter that is setting off our alarm bells.  You asked, “Do I have to abandon my dreams of sharing the child care and household duties?”

Here’s how we would have expected that question to read: Do I have to abandon my dreams of a tranquil and loving home in which  my husband and I work together to build a joyous family?

Instead, your wording strongly suggests that you are trying to implement a social psychology professor’s view of egalitarian marriage; one in which all duties and responsibilities are shared equally and identically between both spouses. (We hope we’re wrong – as we said, we can only work with the information and vibes we get from your letter.) 

In other words, is your concern that those things get done or that it has to be your husband doing them?

We have ten more questions to ask.  Some of them may hit home and be useful while others may be way off the mark.

  1. Is your husband limited by poor parenting and organizational skills?
  2. Do the two of you agree on the answer to question #1?

If you both agree that your husband doesn’t know how to help the children with homework or put them to bed, then there is no point in making an agreement for him to do so. There are lots of books, videos and workshops that provide practical advice for working with children. Rather than ask him to do something at which he feels incompetent, we would suggest working through a program together and deciding on techniques that you can both apply.

We think it possible, however, that your husband doesn’t deal with the children the way you think he should and that you criticize him when he does help out. Do the children know that if they make a fuss, you will step in and take over? While screaming at kids is notoriously ineffective and setting a bad example to boot, is there anything in your behavior that sets up an antagonistic relationship between your husband and the kids? Does he disapprove of some of your methods? For example, if you allow the kids to have screen time before bed and he is opposed to that, the two of you need to get on the same page before you can take turns at bedtime.

3) Are you on the same page in terms of your work? Are you bringing in income that you both agree is needed? Would your husband prefer you work fewer hours but were able to deal with the home front with less exhaustion and more patience? Would you prefer that?

4) Do your jobs contribute financially equally or does one job bring in substantially more than the other? Does your economic plan need a shake-up?

5) Have you discussed the idea of hiring household help? Is your need truly for help or, as we queried above, are you more focused on the idea that specifically your husband must help? 

6)  Is your husband working long hours or doing other things that benefit the family or is he on the couch channel surfing while you are taking care of the kids and home? The answer to this question is terribly important.

7) Why are you working from 5:45 a.m. until 10 p.m. at night? Do you and your husband agree on what it takes to run the home? Is one of you insisting on home-cooked meals and a spotless house while the other would be fine with getting a pizza once a week and using disposable dishes?

8)  Is having a dog really what a tense family and a troubled marriage needs, or is it the straw that breaks the camel’s back?  (And I really like dogs—RDL)

9) Have you taken a moment to think of any things that you automatically expect your husband to do. This might include bill paying, lawn work, taking out the garbage, picking up the dry cleaning, driving the kids to sports or lots of other items. Is it at all possible that that you take for granted some of that which he reliably does do?

10) Are you possibly being influenced by friends’ posting on social media, by harmful articles in magazines or by other input that leads you to count your grievances rather than your blessings?  Perhaps it is time to review the social contacts that shape each of your lives as individuals as well as a couple.

It sounds to us like the two of you skipped a stage of sitting down and sharing a vision of what your home should look like. What worked in the early years of marriage and certainly before children doesn’t keep working as life happens. Before tackling the nitty-gritty of how and what each of you should be doing, we feel that you would benefit immensely from a rejuvenating weekend away at a marriage seminar which will facilitate communication between you. It will also provide enjoyable time together that you seem to badly need. It’s possible that one or both of  your views of marriage have substantially changed during the past decade.  If things you agreed upon when you got married are no longer part of your marriage road map, considerable conversation is necessary.

Something is broken in your relationship and you are not only suffering yourself but you are also harming your children. They deserve a mother who doesn’t carry herself like a martyr and a responsible and loving father. They need to see affection and respect between the two of you rather than the resentment they now see you beaming at their father.  We know you are far too smart not to know that they are seeing this. We’re not seeing your facial expressions or body language but feel resentment oozing from you just from the label ‘domestic drudge.”

We’d throw out all three of your suggested choices—swallowing anger, fighting for more or walking away.  None of them sounds like someone who appreciates the great guy she’s been married to for nine years. 

Swallowing anger doesn’t work. Fighting for more? Fighting? Really?  This is a marriage not an adversarial corporate merger. Fighting will only intensify the antagonism.  And finally, your “Do I just walk away?”  From whom? That great guy you’ve been married to for nine years?  In order to get the extra time and tranquility that divorced single moms are so envied for?   

We would recommend reminding yourself of your husband’s great qualities, analyzing your own strengths and weaknesses and finding a way to remind both of you that you are on the same team. Make the effort to improve what you have with this pretty great guy and see it as your priority.

Finally, you ask if you must accept your husband’s limitations.  We don’t doubt that like all human beings he has his limitations.  But we advise you, in the quiet of nighttime solitude, to look deeply into your own limitations and the efforts you might make to transcend them. You and your husband can certainly both grow and learn to function better as a team. But thinking of  changing anyone is usually unproductive. You’d be amazed, though, at how changing yourself will lead others to change themselves too.

Establishing a loving marriage and providing a loving home for children is a battle worth fighting.  We look forward to hearing that soon you both feel enormous gratitude for the gift of your spouse. 

Each with our own loving limitations,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

What  has played out in the lands of Israel, Persia, Germany
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THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Are You a Pious Pushover? March 19, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin- Anyone who spends any time in neighborhoods populated by Bible-believing, religiously inclined people, knows that, for the most part, such people are kinder, gentler, more empathetic and more compassionate than the general population.  Sometimes, however, unselfish behavior can morph into unwarranted meekness and timidity. Here are five questions that might help determine if you have… Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • Am I Destined to Be a Domestic Drudge? March 20, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin- Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan, I’ve been married for 9  years to a pretty great guy.   We have two boys and a girl, also a dog.  I have a full time job and I also take care of most of the inside-the-house chores and organize all the activities for the kids and family.  My husband and… Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • The Young, the Elite and the Ignorant March 21, 2019 by Susan Lapin- My father-in-law, of blessed memory, used to say that people aren’t balance sheets. You can’t tout up a subjective view of a person’s good and bad points, do a quick mathematical computation and emerge with a ranking. Say someone always shoveled his elderly neighbors’ drives (+3), gave 15% of his income to charity (+3) and… Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • On California’s Radical Policies March 7, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin- We loved this line from Professor Charles R. Kesler in the Wall Street Journal and thought you would enjoy it too: "Karl Marx called his kind of socialism "scientific," as opposed to his predecessors' "utopian" fantasies. California appears to be pioneering a third kind, which might be called "infantile."  Our Democrats strongly suspect their programs… Read More

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About Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America’s Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, popular international speaker and best-selling author. He hosts the Rabbi Daniel Lapin podcast as well as co-hosting the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show on the TCT network with his wife, Susan. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner, thus improving peoples’ finances, family and community life  has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths.

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