I don’t have children in shidduchim yet, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying about their potential as good husbands and wives. Some of my children in their upper teens show less-than-desirable character traits. Yes, I know no one is a finished product at this age, but neither does anyone change overnight. I feel irresponsible allowing them to date when I see the sort of appalling middos that surface as they interact with family. Isn’t behavior at home the true indication of menschlichkeit?

My husband isn’t a great role model and we’ve had a difficult marriage; I can’t just brush it away and hope they’ll do better. I feel like middos is in one’s DNA. This worry is intensifying as we get closer to shidduchim and I see no maturity taking place. Any advice would be appreciated.

Scared




Dear Scared,

Wow, I hear so much panic in your question. And when there’s panic we need to hit pause.

There’s so much to worry about as we raise our children, but ultimately it boils down to this one thing: Please, Hashem, let them grow to be G-d-fearing, competent adults who manage their lives with erlichkeit and menschlichkeit. And when we see a lack in that capacity, all our failure nightmares descend upon us. It’s therefore crucial to distinguish between our own feelings and the objective concerns we must address as we raise our children.

First and foremost, you must stop owning responsibility to present the world with a flawless child. I guarantee you, they will marry someone with flaws as well. Once you put down this backpack of guilt and blame (for yourself, your husband, your kids, your DNA) you’ll be amazed at how much more agile and free you become to deal with the real task at hand.

It’s actually a twofold task. Your first job is to differentiate between mental illness, character deficiencies, and poor learned behavior. That’s a fancy way of saying that you should learn to distinguish between what can be changed and what can’t be changed. Some children are born with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, Asperger’s, etc., all of which contribute to their behavior. Then you have children who have predispositions to certain traits, such as stubbornness or excessive anger. Finally, you have children who have learned through modeling and reinforcement to behave badly, because it gets them what they want or prevents them from feeling bad.

Now if only it were that clear. Yes, there’s much overlap, causation, and correlation between the three categories. But I present them to make the point that your energies have to be used efficiently to make a difference. Punishing an ADD child who interrupts you is much less effective than doing empathy training with a child who has learned that interrupting is the only way to be heard. In order to intervene effectively, you must know what you’re treating. So first do an objective evaluation of each child, and acknowledge their strengths and their areas of growth. I know, “mother” and “objective” don’t go together. You really might need an outside professional perspective to make those determinations.

The second task is to implement appropriate intervention. If you see that there may be issues that you and your husband have been denying, now is the time to take action. Get the evaluation, send them for the therapy, whatever it is. If the issues are based more on personality and learned behavior, then you can intervene in the context of your mothering role.

Identify for each of your boys what you wish they had more of. Catch them behaving. Provide subtle but powerful reinforcement when you see them behaving in these kind, menschlich ways. It’s not too late to do a reset in the family. Perhaps until now you’ve tolerated name calling. Invite the family to raise that standard. Buy a pet for a child who needs to learn kindness. Children absorb everything, so ramp up your own modeling of good behavior.

Will any of this remake your boys? Nope.

But it will move you from panic to power. Yes, the true measure of a person is his behavior at home, but the flip side of that is that the safety of family is what allows us to figure ourselves out. So long as we are alive we are a work in progress, and mid-teens is a terrible time to gauge what that work will look like. Yes, your boys might have some troublesome middos that may make marriage difficult, but it’s too soon to write anyone off. Furthermore, you want to look at them with an ayin tovah so that you do not become party to creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Keep doing what you can, release yourself from what you can’t, and forgive yourself for not providing or creating perfect children. Give them opportunities to grow, relate to them as though they are menschlich, and let the process unfold. If after all that, your gut tells you this is more serious, give them the gift of professional help to unlock their inner goodness.

Wishing you nachas and peace of mind,


Sara



Originally featured in Family First, Issue 563. Sara Eisemann, LMSW, ACSW, is a licensed social worker and a columnist for inshidduchim.com. She also lectures on topics related to relationships, personal development, and growth. She welcomes questions, comments, feedback, and interaction at inshidduchim@mishpacha.com.