You Are Not a Cow

While Susan is taking a few weeks break from writing new Susan’s Musings posts, we are pleased to bring you one of her past favorites (originally published in 2018). Enjoy!

A few years ago, my husband and I answered an ‘Ask the Rabbi’ question about whether deciding not to have children was acceptable. I was struck by the many reader comments we received that were variations of, “Better not to have children if you can’t be a good parent.”

At the same time, on the advice of someone I respect, I picked up a novel aimed at young teens which dealt with a boy overcoming an abusive home. You may remember that I wrote a book review recommending a historical fiction book for even slightly younger children that shared a similar premise.

While I saw how engaging this second book was, it troubled me.  There is something wrong in presenting a dysfunctional view of family and society as the norm even if the underlying message is that tribulation can be overcome.  When popular literature and entertainment repeatedly emphasize  a theme, much more than just the intended message can get absorbed.

While the Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best families are often derided for being unrepresentative of anything other than white, middle class homes of the 1950s and 1960s, they were also aspirational models of marriage and parenting. Even if your family didn’t look like theirs, millions of kids were being told that happy healthy and fulfilling family life does exist. Compare the list of more recent years of Newbery Medal winners with earlier decades. The emphasis has changed.

When people wrote to us saying that if you couldn’t be a good parent it would be better not to have children at all, I think their unspoken message was that so many people are so hopelessly flawed that it would be best for them not to have children at all.  Even more disturbingly, they are also saying  that there is no need, or perhaps no ability, to improve oneself. 

Obviously, neither my husband nor I encourage abusive parenting. And we recognize that most of us automatically tend to repeat the behavior we saw as children, even when our memories aren’t positive. In a vicious cycle, the bullied often become bullies and abused children often grow up to be abusers. We are already a number of generations down the road of youth in our society growing up with  parents (or a parent) who failed to provide them with a psychologically and spiritually healthy home. Not surprisingly, many fear replicating that scenario.

I don’t think there is a parent on this planet who hasn’t at one point or another stopped him or herself and said, “Oh my goodness, I sound just like my mother – or father.” Many times, that’s a positive thing as we belatedly recognize our parents’ wisdom. But, sometimes it is a scary realization as we find ourselves repeating behavior that we know is wrong.

In the latter case, there are two ways of breaking the cycle with future generations. One is by not having children. The other is putting in the hard and often grueling work of consciously changing.   I know that most people live lives filled with a struggle to earn a living. For many of us, the hard work of building and nurturing relationships seems to grow each day.  It certainly can be overwhelming to think of adding another area of life that will demand time, effort and money.

Yet, by avoiding the growth needed to become a great parent, either by not having children at all, or by blindly relying on so-called ‘experts’ or upon  the latest fads informing us how to raise them, we stunt our own growth. One of my husband’s favorite sentences is that a cow will always be a cow and a camel will always be a camel, but a human being has the ability to completely change his or her entire being. One of the bravest things anyone can do is to look in the mirror, recognize the need for change and commit to doing so.

One of my husband’s favorite sentences is that a cow will always be a cow and a camel will always be a camel, but a human being has the ability to completely change his or her entire being.

God’s very first message to mankind is usually translated as, “Be fruitful and multiply,” a poetic repetition of one idea. That isn’t what the Hebrew says. The first word in the Hebrew phrase “P’ru u’rvu,” does mean being fruitful and in fact, since P and F are the same letter in Hebrew, the English word fruit derives from the Hebrew. What does that mean? Well, when you plant apple seeds you do not shockingly find orange trees growing. When you plant corn, you don’t wake up to a field of wheat. Being a parent means passing on the genetic material that is there.

But God didn’t stop with one word. R’vu (the U’ of u’rvu means ‘and’) has a deeper implication than just multiplying. The word shares a root with ‘rabbi,’ a word that implies teaching, leadership and greatness. The implication is not only that we must teach and lead the next generation, but that in giving that command to man, God is telling us that becoming a parent means teaching and leading ourselves to become great people. We have the ability to transform whatever genetic, social, psychological and spiritual input we received as children and reach for greatness. Amazingly, our evolving understanding of epigenetics suggests that we can even change our genes themselves! Making the commitment to have children of our own is a most powerful fuel to drive that transformation.

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12 thoughts on “You Are Not a Cow”

  1. I’m in the “if you can’t raise them don’t have them” camp, largely because many of my clients are too emotionally and intellectually immature to take care of themselves, let alone manage the responsibilities that come with child-rearing. It seems as though the idea that “children are a choice” pushed by the pro-abort crowd has evolved into “children are no more than two-legged house pets that you feed on one end and clean on the other.” Never-married Mama still believes it’s her “right” to go out partying, dating with no end game of marriage in mind, etc. The kids will adjust to 16 hours of day care or being shoved off on (also never married) granny. What passes in too many homes today as a “normal lifestyle” amounts to child abuse, pure and simple.

    1. Jean, I have a feeling we’re on the same page and both think that your clients would be healthier and happier if they had been encouraged to grow spiritually and emotionally before they had children. Somehow, we have stopped giving a message of growth and responsibility for oneself, one’s family, and one’s community to children, teens, and young adults and are reaping the results of that.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      You’re exactly right, Jean,
      The only thing you say with which I disagree is your last sentence dismissing this vast panorama of family dysfunctionality as ‘child abuse’. My problem with that term is how undefined it is. I have heard women talk of how their husbands abused them. This covered the range of physical violence on one end to budgetary restraint on the other. The term abuse is too subjective. In these pages I once responded light heartedly to a letter very critical of me by saying, “Constructive criticism I welcome but what you delivered was verbal abuse”. The writer wrote back horrified that I was calling her abusive. One person’s criticism is another’s abuse. So I think that what is being done to millions of children who will never know a normal family is far worse than abuse.

  2. I can think of childless people I know who include admired award-winning teachers who have helped many young people, beloved amazing aunts and uncles, generous friends and mentors, and very good people in general. It would take a very large amount of gall on my part to say to any of them “Very sorry, but by deciding not to have children, you have stunted your growth.”

    1. Anne, we too, know many who were not blessed with children who lived their lives in ways that helped countless others. As is always the case, societal policies and thought need to be approached on the level of society. When we reduce it to individuals we end up with skewed ideas. I would never say to an individual that they stunted their growth – that would be cruel, pointless, and in many cases incorrect. However, as a society, I think it is important to have the concept that having children is a growth-oriented and noble undertaking. So many young people are afraid to have children – they think that they are destined to repeat their parents’ mistakes or that their own lives will be limited by children. Encouraging them to see that they can grow beyond the limitations of their circumstances is a positive step.

  3. I am reminded of the movie Auntie Mame.
    She was a middle aged lady who loved to party. A young boy was forced upon her and it took a while but her life was ever so changed for the better with this young child in her life and as the years went by there was a off spring to keep the enjoyment going.

  4. Marion Hennenfent

    very encouraging for us to need to change and do better…knowing we can gives me the start I need.
    Thank you.

  5. ” no need, or perhaps no ability, to improve oneself. ”
    The American Dream. Immoral.
    English class. All those brilliant writers praised by ? the wise and noble souls who make such decisions. That quote from Susan’s article is exactly what is taught in some schools. The brilliantly insightful point of so many novels. A point made clear repeatedly. Some years ago. Catholic schools also. Assuming the situation has not improved. Though the layers of deception are no doubt more intricate and politically correct. The seeds of the leftist’s agenda were planted long ago.

  6. Dear Susan,

    How timely this writing is, that you mentioned your husbands favorite line, as I just reread that specific Thought Tool in your first addition of “Thought Tools”.

    If I may add, one thing that I realize from my own experience of parenting is that I am constantly pinching myself wondering “is this for real?!”, “God is really trusting me with these beautiful children?!”, “am I really equipped for this?!”

    Yet, every day is a new lesson and growth experience, as I find out things about myself when a parenting situation requires change. Parenting is a learning curve.

    You simply don’t stay the same your entire life.

  7. Your husband is absolutely correct. What is projected in mainstream media, as well as portrayals on television and movies these days, has very little bearing on the reality of family life. Such propaganda is purposely interjected into young minds, as a controlling mechanism to further a false agenda which ultimately is designed to erode traditional family values. Godly principles of reason, logic, and common sense will dispel much of what is passing today as the ‘normal’ home setting. What I see are people that have a conscience, or lack one. It’s the ability to discern the good from the bad, that determines whether a pattern will be repeated or not. God warns us in His Holy Word about the pitfalls of going astray. While we are given ‘free choice’, we also have our journeys and destinies planned. It’s best to choose wisely.

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