A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter
Today, I’d like to take a look at the first unpopular stand a Jewish mother took. In Genesis 21, Sarah tells Abraham to banish Yishmael and Hagar from their home. We tend to think of this as a straightforward decision but the verse tells us that Abraham was deeply pained by Sarah’s stand. “And the matter was very bad in the eyes of Abraham…” (Gen. 21:11). He didn’t want to send his son Yishmael away. God stepped in and told Abraham that Sarah was right, but initially at least, Sarah’s decision was made despite the fact that it would cause pain and be uncomfortable. We aren’t told what young Isaac’s reaction was to losing his older half-brother, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that he may also have been disappointed and not enthusiastically happy the day Yishmael left!
Clearly though, Sarah was right. Banishing Hagar and Yishmael was necessary for Isaac’s growth and destiny. The lesson I’d like to look at today is simply that sometimes our job as mothers is to make unpopular decisions. I just read a fascinating book by Dr. Leonard Sax called The Collapse of Parenting. [Editor’s note: Yes, this is the same book that I previously recommended. Rebecca and I often share books and appreciate hearing each other’s input.] Over the last three decades as a family physician he witnessed the change in parents’ self-perceived job description. Parents used to see their role as training children to participate in and contribute to their culture and society. Now parents’ often stated goal is to make their children happy. This is a disturbing trend and I think it would be short-sighted to claim that this is only true in the general society, and not in Bible-centric homes. I think this shift is a reality today that we need to face.
Our job really isn’t to make our children happy. On the contrary, we need to know and accept that part and parcel of our job is making decisions that make our children unhappy. Sometimes, we see with our greater life experience and insight that something a child greatly desires is not best or that something painful is beneficial. Good parents do this all the time from enforcing bedtimes to limiting desserts, playtime, or technology.
What I’d like to point out today is that the benefits to our children when we say no and enforce limits is even greater than they may appear at first. In addition to the obvious value of getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy food, or whatever the other immediate benefit may be, is the emotional health that only comes from children coming to accept a parent’s decision that goes against their desires. Developmental psychologists understand the process of children being disappointed and coming to accept situations where they don’t get what they want as necessary and integral for emotional growth and development. A child who doesn’t experience sadness or doesn’t run up against a wall of parental futility can’t emotionally mature into a healthy adult.
For today, perhaps the lesson we can think about is a message from Sarah first difficult decision. Sometimes mothers are unpopular. If we are clear on our goals and values as parents we will know when and how to enforce limits, knowing that parenting is not a popularity contest, and that our children’s maturity and health depend on our ability to say no.