Chaim: So what did the doctor say about your symptoms?

Elana: She said she doesn’t know. She can tell me what it isn’t, but she can’t tell me what it is. At least she was honest.

Chaim: Yes, but how does that help you? And why doesn’t she know? Didn’t she go to medical school so that she could actually help people?

Elana: Doctors know a lot but they don’t know everything. It’s just the way it is. What can we do?

Yes, what can we do? Doctors know some things, but not everything. In fact, everyone is short on knowledge — including parents.


The Little Questions

Should children have to work for their allowance or should they be given it “with no strings attached”? Should children have to include their younger siblings when they have a friend over, or do the older ones have the right to private time? Should a child be expected to run errands or look after younger kids so that Mom can rest? If a child likes her hair messy, is it better to allow her to have it that way or to struggle with her daily?

There are endless questions in parenting, questions about the right way, the better way, and the best way to do things. All parents have their opinions, but the truth is that the answer is often unknowable.


The Big Questions

The right school, the right camp, the right therapy, the right shidduch… can a parent ever be certain? No.

A parent makes an informed choice, an educated guess, a decision based on a gut feeling. But of course, the parent can never know.

“I feel so guilty. I know intellectually that we did the best we could, but we didn’t get an accurate diagnosis until my son was already 12. If only we had known what to look for — but how could we have known?”

Exactly! Parents can’t know all the symptoms of every disease and disorder their children might be experiencing. Not being certain, not knowing, and even making the wrong call are all part and parcel of parenting. Only Hashem is all-knowing.

“When our kids were little, I was easily dominated by the conviction in my husband’s voice. He’d say, ‘This is what we should do,’ and I’d go along with it, even if I had my doubts. But often, my doubts turned out to be well-founded. After a while, I realized that maybe I knew more than I’d thought.”


In the Dark

Even when we don’t know what to do, we often have to make a decision. A little research might help us sometimes — consulting a book, a professional, or someone else can be beneficial or even necessary. But many daily and in-the-moment decisions simply have to be made independently.

One way around decision paralysis is to acknowledge that everyone is just guessing; it’s not like other people just know. When we realize that we’re in good company, we can reason that our own guess is at least as good as anyone else’s.


Going with Your Gut

The truth is, however, that our own guess is usually the best one for us. It comes not only from our intellect, but also from our unique personal history of life experience — and, most important, from our own “gut.”

This latter organ is a special, intuitive gift we’ve been granted that draws on a knowledge base that’s broader than our intellect alone. The more we employ our “gut instinct” — this intuitive knowing — the stronger and more helpful it becomes.

Intuition is not always correct, but it’s correct more often than any other tool we have. The intuitive solution is like an internal advisor, waiting for you to call upon its services. Once you call, it’s important that you follow its advice. If you don’t, you’ll stop receiving it.

Intuitive advice is delivered as a silent “knowing,” or sometimes as a voice in one’s head. It isn’t a thought that one thinks so much as a thought that one hears.

Listen carefully to the very first thought that pops into your mind after you pose a question (“Should I let her go to the mall with her friends?”), and follow its guidance. The more you do this, the stronger your intuition will become. You’ll be able to trust yourself. You’ll develop the feeling of confidence that makes parenting more enjoyable. Pretty soon, even though you still won’t have all the correct parenting answers, you will know what to do! (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 605)