| Family Reflections |

Realm of Control

We’re not in charge of the outcome



this time of year, we remind ourselves of Who runs the world because, quite often, we forget.

Says one woman, “I did everything anyone could do — everything that everyone else did do — and still my child was the one to go off the derech. I felt so judged. I imagined everyone was wondering what terrible secrets we held behind our closed doors, what abuse or neglect I’d perpetrated on this innocent soul. Or maybe they didn’t think anything at all, and it was just me projecting my own inner judgment onto them. Because, after all, I did blame myself. I knew deep in my heart that it was my fault.”

Why? Why does this parent (or any other parent) believe that her child’s choices were her fault? Although there are plenty of reasons for this way of thinking, the primary one is that she believed she was in control of her child’s brain. She reasoned that if she programmed that brain correctly, then the output would be as she’d planned and desired. If that output wasn’t what she planned or desired, then it must be that she didn’t program the brain correctly to begin with. Hence, the child’s decision was her fault.

It’s natural for parents to think this way. There are, after all, many books, classes, and courses on the subject of how to raise children. The implication of all these educational endeavors is that there is a right way and a wrong way, a good way and a poor way to do the job of parenting. If we do it the right and good way, then the output (final human product) will be good. If we botch the job, then, understandably, we would expect undesirable results.

Up front, however, there is a major flaw in this thinking: Even if we managed to do things “right,” a parent is not the single developmental input into a child’s brain. There is another parent, a school, a class, a community, a birth order, a pile of genes, a unique personal history, and many other important inputs to the child’s developmental journey and consequent mental processes. It’s actually ridiculous for an individual parent to think that whatever she did or didn’t do made the child what he is (or isn’t) today.

In fact, a parent’s arrogant conclusion that her excellent parenting is the responsible factor that accounts for her wonderful children is abhorrent to Hashem. Many wonderful parents have children who have deep struggles. Oddly enough, even a parent’s poor parenting can’t be considered to be the responsible factor for a child’s poor outcome. There are many successful survivors of unhealthy parents. The infinite multitude of factors that lead to outcomes of all kinds are created by Hashem — not by us.

We have the capacity for input, but we lack the control to determine output. Taking credit or blame for the final product or outcome is therefore inappropriate. Moreover, even our input is — problematic as it is — by necessity, inherently flawed. The individual parent, the other parent, the school, the class, the community, the family, and the genetic material are all flawed. That’s the way Hashem designed it. This means it’s impossible to do or say things exactly “right” in every parenting moment, no matter how much one tries.

The flawed parent is also part of Hashem’s perfect plan for human development. Human adults and their children are meant to struggle through life, constantly working on themselves in order to reach higher states of personal evolution, health, and well-being. Parental flaws impact children but the nature of that impact is up to Hashem Who, in His wisdom, will stir it into the pot of all other factors impacting that child’s development.

None of this excuses a parent from doing her best in raising her child. It only reminds her that her “best” is but a part of Hashem’s plan for that youngster. Moreover, the young person, himself or herself, has been granted the gift of free will. This gift from Hashem ends any remaining illusions of parental control. When we relinquish our false sense of control, crediting Hashem with all parenting outcomes, we free ourselves from both arrogance and guilt. We put our parenting efforts in their right place in our own developmental journeys and we, like our children, continue on our paths of mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 860)

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