You Are Not a Cow

A short while 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 recently 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.

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.



43 thoughts on “You Are Not a Cow”

  1. I LOVE this post! In fact, I love all of your posts but this one in particular.
    I used to be one of these people who vowed never to have children. I thought that they were expensive, tedious, annoying, and that I’d lose my figure/worth/hobbies because of them. I used to be a veterinarian by day and fashion blogger by night, little did I realise what a superficial, vain and selfish existence I led, and how brain-washed I was by popular culture.
    But by the grace of God, He changed my mentality one day and I’m now a stay-at-home-mother of 3 who is even open to the idea of home-schooling!
    No ‘vocation’ has stretched, strengthened and shaped me as much as motherhood and parenting. I am finally beginning to realise that it’s in the very act of sacrificial serving that I derive the most fulfilment, enjoyment and contentment.
    Thank you Susan and Rabbi so much for sharing your insights. I thank God for you every day.

    1. Cecylia, I hope you can share your journey and story with young women. It is so important that, at the very least, a seed of doubt is planted that suggests that what they are being told isn’t the whole story. I’m so glad you realized there was another option to the culture’s message before it was too late.

  2. I have been blessed with two children and they have been the light of my life. I now have one very precious granddaughter. These are the greatest gifts God has given me and no matter what the world throws in my path in the way of hardship and struggle I can always come back to joy and centeredness with these three. My daughter has just experienced her second miscarriage trying to have a second child – heartbreaking. It’s hard to believe how attached and in love we all were with the thought of a new child coming – even at only 6 weeks and then 10 weeks of pregnancy. Children are such an amazing blessing and bringing one into this world should never be taken for granted. Thank you for all your teaching and for always bringing balance to my life through Thought Tools, Ask the Rabbi and your Musings. Blessings to you both.

    1. Oh, Janice, I’m so sorry about the miscarriage. You are right that we should never take the ability and blessing of bringing life into the world for granted.

  3. We have two daughters. The eldest was always a real ‘me-first-er:’ it was all about her, about her needs, her little opinions, her little feelings. We used to wince and grimace at the dinner table: perhaps it’s best that she not become a mother at all. The younger daughter was a sworn advocate of childless marriages; ‘Oh no, I’m never gonna have kids.’

    Now both have married and both provided us fine grandchildren. There is a quiet but powerful maternal hormone we call oxytocin, to ensure that a woman makes a transition into motherhood and responds to its demands. The eldest is an exemplary mother and dearly loves her kids. She says: ‘I can’t believe it all used to be about ME.’ The youngest is a true helicopter mom. Life has a way of working these things out. This is also a belated comment on the last ‘Ask the Rabbi’ question, but I am sure our daughters were influenced by their own parents, who have stayed together for over 40 years. I can only hope we taught them the right values.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      One of the best gifts that parents can bestow upon their children is having them grow up with two parents lovingly and passionately dedicated to one another and to their family. Provided they then marry wisely, their parents gave them a far higher chance of building successful marriages.

  4. Mrs. Lapin,

    Such a wonderful article, really appreciate everything about it! So true how when the vision for God’s “utopia” (more or less), or at least utopian standards in our souls, is sold short and cast by the wayside, such utterly uninspiring works of art come forth. Talented writers, poets, musicians, etc., who do not see through God’s eyes and are not anointed by His Spirit, seemingly can only produce works that reflect a falling-short world, and then the public at large can only chew on the cud of mediocrity and increasing separation from God. (As you pointed out through the subject matter in the book you were reviewing.) We are all just vessels when we get down to it – and when we look upwards and fill ourselves with God’s will, ways, and wonder, we can become a vessel that pours out Life to others. Pointing higher! But if we choose to fill our vessels with accepting the stagnant sludge around us that is portrayed as the “norm” – well, we become morasses and cisterns, don’t we – just floating around in the mire with everyone else, instead of contributing to, or at least pointing towards, the solution that will help everyone. Wonderful, wonderful musing as always, and thank God for Him creating you, equipping you with His giftings to bring forth the calling that you do, for your love for Him and all of His ways, and for your faithful service in pouring more and more about Him out to everyone who reads! (Of course the same goes for Rabbi Lapin of course!) You are always greatly loved and appreciated!!!

    1. Celesta, interestingly, many of these books are really good ones. But the dominant message is how messed up adults are. Sadly, many kids do have parents who aren’t role models or worthy of their trust. But, that is a sad message to promote unrelentingly.

  5. It often seems that the largest industry in our nation is the instilling of fear and the greatest occupation is gazing at one’s navel. Having children requires that the parents face down some fears and focus on someone other than themselves. It is easy not to become a parent, with the widespread acceptance of both pre-conception and post-conception birth control methods. It is easy to proffer excuses (e.g. “I am a victim of an alcoholic parent and am afraid I could never be the perfect parent my child needs.”) [Note the deliberate use of “my child”, not “our child”, for thinking in a shared mode might weaken the excuse.] No one has a perfect vision of the future. Waiting for a perfect vision of a perfect future results in paralysis based on fear. This is a waste of every blessing our Creator has granted us.

    1. All good points, Joe. I’m glad that you pointed out that instilling fear in people is a large part of what the country’s establishment does.

  6. Thank you for your insight it is always on point. If it weren’t for the ability to change my life would be hopeless and subsequently my children’s lives. I thank God for your ministry.

  7. I am one of those that said that some people shouldn’t become parents. I wasn’t referring to people that might be immature emotionally or financially, who aren’t Ward or June Cleaver out the gate, but hope to do what is right. I was mostly referring to people that are doing great damage to themselves, who don’t even take care of their own bodies, let alone their children. I know personally alcoholics and drug addicts who likely gave birth to children that were impaired because of their substance abuse, in addition to the expect bad environment in which the children would grow up. In each of these cases, the parents were not married nor a committed relationship. To be honest, these people are members of my extended family.

    But I do agree with Susan’s point in the context in which she was writing. I have also known people personally that “were not ready to be parents” grow into being great parents. They rose to the challenge successfully. In these instances, the parents were generally married. If they weren’t married at the time the child was born, they were in a committed relationship and eventually did get married. They were all motivated to do what is right.

    1. I’m so glad you chimed in, David. And we would certainly agree that someone with a drug or alcohol problem should not be having children. What a tragedy hen babies are born addicted and/or impaired because of damage in utero.

  8. Thank you for this and your other wonderful articles. I love them. I can echo so much of the previous comments, but raising my sons was an investment in myself as well. Thank you for the explanation of the Hebrew words translated be fruitful and multiply – love it!!

    1. We grow so much through our interactions with others, Marilee, and especially with our closest family members. Children are hard to ignore, which makes them great vehicles for our growth.

  9. Dear Susan, I distilled two wise nuggets from your post here:

    “The other is putting in the hard and often grueling work of consciously changing.”

    “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.”

    This ancient Jewish insight is exactly what I think that society misses. Judeo-Christian values have been watered down to resemble society’s desires rather than our Heavenly Creator’s desires for it.

    The book, “America’s Real War” by Rabbi Daniel Lapin comes to my mind.

    There are many churches across this great country that do not adhere to the Bible’s Ten Commandments, for example. Children are being taught to be confused about their sex.

    I was homeless at age 12 on the streets of Los Angeles, and then I ended up living with my mother’s parents thankfully. I had two daughters and a son but I made many mistakes with them, especially with our first-born and our younger two were home educated. The idea of lifelong learning has turned them into scholars without so-called formal education.

    I bring up this story here because I am grateful not only for my own hardships but also because I wanted to be able to give my own children a better upbringing than my own upbringing. I did not go in a good direction in the beginning because I repeated some of the things that got my own mother into trouble, and then I knew that I had to overcome my bad behaviors. It’s very difficult but not impossible to erase the bad teaching or training that one receives when he or she is a child. However, our society is now reinforcing the very bad things that were part of my sad childhood! It’s currently much harder for many people to discern right from wrong objectively, especially in schools and in their “Christian” churches.

    What is the source to learn the moral code of life? Our family prays and hopes that people will share eternal truths from the Bible. Our bodies are born and then they will perish.

    Will one find himself or herself on the road to a heavenly existence or one that resembles hell?

    1. LJ, I often think how many mistakes I would avoid if I was raising my children with the knowledge I have now, but naturally, a lot of that knowledge came through making mistakes. You are correct that sending a child to church or synagogue or to an affiliated religious school doesn’t at all mean that one can assume that correct ideas are being taught.

      We have regained the copyright to America’s Real War and are looking for funding and assistance to update and re-issue it. I think it would be a great book to have out there again.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear LJ–
      Thanks for mentioning America’s Real War. As Susan Lapin indicated, we are hoping to publish a new edition of this book, funding allowing, which will include new chapters on the role being played by Islam and it’s aggressive posture towards what I call Bible-based Western Civilization. In this new edition we will also explain the remarkable, and on the surface, inexplicable, alliance that has been forged between American and European Secular Fundamentalism and belligerent Islam as seen, for instance, on American university campuses. We pray to be able to put out this book soon.

      1. I look forward to reading your updated book!

        I am an editor/writer and self-published two books through Amazon that were labors of love. If you would like someone who is a (grounded) Catholic Christian to review your work, I offer my editing services.

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Thank you, Susan,
          That is so thoughtful of you. As soon as we have secured funding, we’ll start strategizing the job.

  10. Susan, Thanks for this important article. You state,

    “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!”

    What implications do you see this having on those who struggle with same gender attraction?

    Mike Harris

    1. That is a poignant question, Mr. Harris. I wouldn’t begin to answer it here, but while I am not a neurologist I think that we can affect our brain chemistry by our actions. To what degree can we do that and in what areas we can do that are all subjects to explore.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Mike,
      That different people experience different levels of attraction towards different activities is certain. What is equally certain is that yielding to any such attraction weakens future ability to resist and impacts the brain. In other words, it’s much easier to spot brain changes in someone who gambles compulsively than in someone with a terrible tug towards gambling but who has never indulged.

  11. Whoa! Thanks for that profound insight on being fruitful and multiplying. People generally think that verse only means having as many kids as possible. Yet I believe your saying that quality and substance counts just as much as quantity here.

    1. There is no such thing as overpopulation when each individual adds more to the world than he or she takes from it, Lisa. As parents, those are the children we are obligated to raise and we need to work on ourselves to be such people as well.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Yes, Lisa,
      That’s exactly what we’re saying. Additional implications of the Hebrew text relate to the quality of the physical relationship between the “Adam” and his “Eve” regardless of whether or not a child results. But that discussion is for another teaching.

  12. Grew up in a very abusive home. With the help of HaShem, caring teachers, and later, professional help and the work you speak of, I became the parent I aspired to be. Two daughters, 6 successful adult grandchildren and two greatgrands. All with loving, healthy families and all with lives centering around our loving, redemptive God.
    In a sense, we honor our flawed parents by seeking to undo their damage and becoming better parents. It is difficult to find a way to honor abusive parents, but, we are commanded to do so. By becoming a successful, loving parent and person, I have set my parents free of the responsibility of ruining my life. That is freeing and redemptive for all.

    1. Shira, this is such a lovely idea. Honoring parents does continue after they are no longer alive, as well, and the way we do that is through living our lives well. Thank you for expressing how we can redeem ourselves as well as our ancestors.

    2. Shira,
      Your comment is such a refreshing message and thought! I had a difficult relationship with my mother, but the idea that I can benefit my self and her by being a good parent fills a hole in my heart! God is good, loving and forgiving and I can be also!

      Thank you so much,
      Sue Perry

  13. Thoughtful insight Mrs. Lapin. I’ve notice through my own experience, that having children completely changed my life. Even though I had no personal examples of what a healthy marriage looked like, I made a decision to maintain a healthy marriage with my husband and become a dedicated, loving parent. You can break the cycle if you actively work at it!

    1. Andrea, we know so many wonderful parents who did not have wonderful examples. Kudos to you and your husband for breaking a negative pattern.

    1. Thank you, Don. I love hearing from readers rather than just seeing anonymous numbers showing me the Musing has been read.

      1. Vallerie Fletcher

        Susan, on the lighter side, I am grateful that technology allows you to know that your thoughts, expressed in precise writing style of yours that so many enjoy HAVE been read – when I read yours, I hope that you just go ahead and correctly assume that I always say, “Wow. Exactly!” or “That is really interesting!” at any rate, something affirmative. Thank you – as for my “house”, I have 3 young adults who would love to find a spouse, however, they are having a hard time doing so. My daughter tells me that too many young, single men have their “faces in their phones” and do not even look up when a young lady enters the room. Hummm… strange ways our culture is going, indeed! I long for marriages and grandchildren – and I have hope that my prayers will be answered as I am a young potential grandmother (born somewhere in the sixties)! Sincerely, Val

        1. Your daughter’s assessment, sadly, sounds true, Vallerie. Thank you for your validation of my writings. I will picture just that!

  14. Why is nothing ever really taught on maturity. The difference between childishness and adult is maturity, not age. However, our society has completely abandoned maturing into adulthood as a goal/purpose/reason/requirement for perpetuating human greatness. Childish petulance in adults is the problem. Having children is not the problem, adults remaining childish is the problem. As the Rabbi says, we can grow and achieve greatness in ourselves, however, we must be taught/led to understand the responsibility lies with me alone to mature.

    1. That is such an important point, Thomas. We can’t change how we were raised, but we have the responsibility to control how we are now and that will affect the future.

    2. Thank you for your thoughts. I needed them. Many of our grandchildren are making plans without children in the picture.

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