A Your Mother’s Guidance post by Rebecca Masinter.
An age-old question asks how God can punish Pharaoh with further plagues when God is the one hardening his heart so as not to let the Jewish people go? How can he be punished when he had no choice? This is a classic question and we’ve all heard various answers. I’d like to consider one basic answer Maimonides teaches us and its ramifications for mothers.
Maimonides says that in the beginning, of course Pharaoh had free will. In fact, during the first five plagues the Torah doesn’t say Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh hardened his own heart. It’s only after multiple hardening of his own heart that he moved far enough into evil that God took over the job and began hardening his heart for him. Pharaoh began with free will, but through his actions evolved into someone who lost his power of choice.
How is this relevant to us?
Well, on a much smaller scale than Pharaoh, I know that there are actions I take, sometimes willingly, sometimes not, that can lead me into situations where I have less control over the way I act. For example, after a sleepless night, after skipping a healthy meal, I sometimes don’t have the wherewithal to respond to tough situations the way I would ideally choose to do so.
If that is how I feel sometimes, how much closer are my children to that state of no free will. Sometimes when I go to the store late at night and see mothers dragging a screaming toddler around at 10:30 PM, I feel pity for the child who truly has no control over her behavior at that time. It’s just too late and she’s too tired. She’s lost her free will.
With some thought we can identify for each of our children what are the factors that lead up to them losing their free will. I don’t think it’s the same for each person, and certainly some children get to that point of loss of control much more easily than others. Once we’ve identified what stressors contribute to our children reaching the point of no self-control, we can try to limit those and when they’re unavoidable, build in ways for our child to rest or recoup as early as possible.
One last point that I have found helpful to remember: when a child has lost control, you cannot reason with them, consequences or punishments will often have no effect, and no parenting can effectively take place at that time. What we can do is provide stability, unwavering love, support, and calmness, while we try to give them time and space to get back in control of themselves.