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arly in my career, while working at a foster-care agency, I was assigned to a case of three frum orphans, all under seven years old, whose mother had recently succumbed to a terminal illness. The father was struggling to earn a living and could not care for his children at the same time. As a result, the children were placed in foster care in the homes of extended family, which were then certified by the agency. Part of my job was to visit the foster homes, meet with the foster parents and children to insure that the physical and emotional needs of the children were being properly met, and maintain contact with the biological parent(s).

When I came to the oldest child’s home, her foster mother could not locate the child. The girl had been there when I arrived and I had even caught a glimpse of her when I walked in the door. When it came time for me to speak with her, however, the girl was nowhere to be found.

“What had she been told of her mother’s petirah?” I asked the foster mother, the girl’s aunt.

“Oh, I never discussed that with her,” she replied.

“What was she told by her father?” I probed further.

“You’ll have to ask him,” she said. “I don’t know anything about that.”

It took some time until I could catch up with the harried, overworked father. When I finally met with him three months after he lost his wife, he told me he gets a mazel tov.

“Mazel tov,” I replied. “What is the mazel tov for?”

“I just got engaged,” he explained with a smile. “With three small children, I needed to find a mother for them as soon as possible.”

After validating his need to remarry, I clarified my role in working with his children. Then I asked him how he had processed his wife’s petirah with his children.

“I didn’t say anything to them,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Then how did they find out?”

“They came into my room after I received the news from the hospital, and they saw me crying.”

“But when did you give them an opportunity to express their feelings?”

“Express their feelings?” he repeated incredulously. “Life has to go on, you know? Look at me. I’m not dwelling on the past. I’m engaged to be married. They have to move on, too.”

“Of course,” I agreed. “But you said yourself that you cried. Children also need to express their feelings. But they can’t do that unless they are encouraged to do so by adults.”

With a faraway look in his eyes, he said, “There seems to be this newfangled idea going around these days that you have to speak with your children. When I grew up it wasn’t like that at all. If a boy jumped on the rebbi’s desk, he got a smack and was sent back to his seat. Nowadays, you’re supposed to talk to children.” He shook his head in disbelief, leaving me speechless.

I cannot say whether this is a newfangled idea or not, but children certainly do need to talk with their parents. And it is only through these conversations that parents and children can create the bonds that are so necessary for the children’s healthy development. It is not the money we spend on our children that makes them feel loved. It is the time we spend listening.

Here is how children spell the word “love”: t-i-m-e.

Years ago, a landmark study on the effectiveness of child therapy found that the greatest indicator for successful therapy was not the discipline of the therapist, his training, or his years of experience, but the distance from the child’s home to the therapist’s office. The farther the distance, the more effective the treatment turned out to be. The explanation the researchers came up with for this most unexpected finding was that children are usually brought to a therapist’s office by a parent. And the longer the trip, the longer the conversation between parent and child — although nowadays parents might be so engrossed in their phones that little conversation, if any, would take place en route.

It is now over three millennia since we had that miraculous “conversation” with our Avinu shebaShamayim that altered the course of human history for all time. We said, “Naaseh v’nishma,” and Hashem revealed Himself to us and said, “Anochi Hashem.” The unbreakable bond created by that monumental event has sustained us even through this long, dark galus and continues to nurture us until this day.

In his groundbreaking book Salomon Says, Rabbi Yaakov Salomon tells the now well-known story of Moish (not his real name), an up-and-coming frum law student who graduated at the top of his class and was hired at a prestigious Manhattan firm, where he began putting in the di rigueur ten- to twelve-hour workdays.

After three years on the job, Moish was really looking forward to Pesach that year, when he’d be able to spend some quality time with his family. At the Seder, when it came time for the afikomen, Moish beckoned his oldest child, eight-year-old Avi, who had stolen the coveted matzah, to come forward and make a deal.

“Tell me what you wish for,” Moish began.

All present around the table craned their necks to hear the boy’s response.

Haltingly and hesitatingly, Avi said, “I wish your office would burn down.”

Moish was stunned and embarrassed, and immediately understood that his children were suffering from his being an absentee father. Three weeks later, he acted on that understanding by accepting a job offer that enabled him to spend more time with his family.

Many years ago, a young woman from out of town — let’s call her Leah — consulted me regarding some shidduchim-related issues. After meeting with her for four or five sessions, I knew very little about her relationships with her parents, which may have been playing a significant role in her presenting problems. It wasn’t that I hadn’t asked. It was just that she had been evasive whenever I brought up the subject.

At the next session, after Leah had made a passing reference to her father, I saw a narrow window of opportunity open.

“Speaking of your father,” I interjected, “you have really never told me anything about him and your relationship with each other.”

Leah looked down, staring at the floor. After a minute or two — which felt much longer to me — she lifted her head. And I could see that her eyes were welling with tears.

“Okay,” she sighed. “I can sum up my relationship with my father with one episode. When I was about 15, I stole his afikomen. When he asked me what I wanted in exchange, I told him I wanted… a conversation.”

A couple of years after I had finished working with Leah, I included her story in a public lecture I gave on parenting. The next day, when I came into my office, I found the following voice message she had left.

“Dr. Wikler, you probably didn’t notice me because the hall was so full. But I was in the audience last night when you spoke. And I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart… for remembering me.”

I hope, my dear reader, that you, too, will remember Leah. Her father unfortunately did not hear what she was trying to tell him. Perhaps partially for that reason, she ended up in my office. If you would like to keep your children out of my office, why not try that newfangled idea of conversing with them? And what better time could there be — during these lazy, hazy days of summer — to start those conversations, other than right now?

Let the schmoozing begin!

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 719. Dr. Meir Wikler, a frequent contributor to this space, is an author, psychotherapist, and family counselor in full-time private practice with offices in Brooklyn, New York, and Lakewood, New Jersey. His next book, Behind Closed Doors: Over 45 Years of Helping People Overcome Their Challenges, is scheduled to be released by Menucha Publishers in Elul.