| As They Grow |

“Change Our Lifestyle to Accommodate Our Son’s Spiritual Growth?”     

The Arizal teaches that our children are given to us to help us fix ourselves



Since my husband began seeing success in business some 20 years ago, we have been living an admittedly lavish lifestyle. Winters are in Florida and summers are in Switzerland, and there’s plenty of Disneyland in between. I’ve grown comfortable with my new reality over the years, and what may have once been cause for a stab of guilt is now just an expected norm.

But recently, the guilt has come creeping back. My oldest son is now an 11th-grade yeshivah bochur and is, baruch Hashem, learning extremely well and growing rapidly in his yiras Shamayim. We are very proud of him, but I can’t help but think that we are not accommodating him properly. We insist that he join us on our trips to Los Angeles (only when he has an off Shabbos, of course).

I noticed that, when we were shopping at a high-end mall, his glasses were off and he was looking down at his shoes. I also noticed that, on Pesach, when we went to a very extravagant hotel program that offered endless entertainment and socializing, he became very withdrawn and basically secluded himself in his room.

Should we be making serious changes in our lifestyle to accommodate our son’s spiritual growth?



The Arizal teaches that our children are given to us to help us fix ourselves. This means that each child, with his individual abilities, disabilities, and challenges, is tailor-made to bring out or challenge those parts of his parents that need further development. Sometimes we need to discover new skills or capabilities that we did not know we had. Sometimes we need to reconnect to things we’ve lost, and sometimes we need to disconnect from things we’ve added.

There are times when one child challenges our patience, and another may force us to confront a different character trait within ourselves that we have ignored or taken for granted. Parents who are very dedicated to Torah and mitzvos and are facing a son or daughter who is questioning those values might need to find greater appreciation for those values that they cherish. Perhaps to force greater acceptance for people, or finding new channels to express excitement for Torah and mitzvos. Or alternatively, parents who have lost that excitement might see the deterioration of their own ruchniyus in the mirror of their child’s behavior, which could be a wake-up call to revisit their own actions.

Once a month, in Bircas Hachodesh, we present a list of requests to Hashem, and wealth is one of the blessings we ask for. One of my rebbeim once pointed out that there is one thing we ask for twice — yiras Shamayim. I am not an expert in the subject, and I do not know if I would know how to identify it, but it is clearly related to setting boundaries for ourselves for things we should or should not do.

Let’s quickly review the list of requests in this tefillah: “Chayim she’yeish bahem yiras Shamayim v’yiras cheit; chayim she’ein bahem bushah u’chelimah; chayim shel osher v’chavod; chayim she’tehei banu ahavas Torah v’yiras Shamayim; chayim she’yimalei Hashem mish’alos libeinu l’tovah.

First we ask for life with yiras Shamayim and yiras cheit — that we should keep in sync with Hashem’s will and set boundaries against sin. Then we ask that we live without suffering shame and embarrassment, followed by a request for a life of wealth and honor. Immediately after wealth and honor, we reiterate our request for a life with yiras Shamayim, but this time paired together with ahavas haTorah. We then sum it all up with “the fulfillment of our hearts’ desires for good.”

So a wise rabbi ztz”l explained, “After we request wealth and honor, we need to reiterate our request for the boundaries of yiras Shamayim, because wealth affords us a less limited life. We add ahavas Torah to counter the many things that wealth affords us that we can get used to, need, and love. We then recognize that sometimes we request things that may not be in our best interest, so we sum up these requests by asking Hashem to help us use all these blessings only to come closer to Him.”

You are asking this question from a place of serious and deep introspection. Your son seems to be reminding you of the life you had before Hashem bestowed all the brachos of wealth on your family. You ask with such insight that I believe your answers are in your question. Is it fair to make your son participate in something that makes him uncomfortable? The wording of your question reveals your own ambivalence regarding some of those activities. I cannot tell you what to do, but I can encourage you to listen to that little voice in your head that is asking these questions.

You are proud of your son’s development, not threatened, and that is wonderful. He must be a very special boy, because he is not telling you what you should do, he is simply (or not so simply) trying to follow his understanding of proper behavior. It is common for a teenager who learns and accepts new concepts to flaunt them, or criticize others who are not up to his or her level of commitment. Your son is just keeping his behavior on par with his beliefs, without any of that negative conduct. He is being careful with the ultimate mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim, lowering his expectations of others and focusing on his personal growth.

You will have to decide if you want to let him sit it out, or if you will gently reevaluate your decisions and family excursions, perhaps making slight modifications to help retain the values that you all share.

You have not mentioned your husband’s take on this situation. Obviously, this needs to be a decision that you make together. Maybe it is time have an open, honest discussion with your husband. While a mother or wife can strongly affect her family’s orientation and growth, doing so requires great wisdom and sensitivity. —


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 975)

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