June 23, 2024
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June 23, 2024
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Chag HaPesach: Checking Our Own Biases in Parenting

Note: The Seder evening is the prototypical “family evening,” filled with minhagim and shared quality time. Many of us have fond memories of customs developed at our family Sedarim, memories embedded in our minds and hearts forever.

This family-centered character of the Seder is actually built into the evening’s make-up from the outset. It stems from the Torah’s unique mandate to commemorate the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim, “V’higadta l’bincha bayom hahu, and you should tell your son on that day.” We are commanded not simply to commemorate leaving Egypt, but to tell the Exodus story to our children—to pass the narrative on to future generations.

Precisely because of this unique mandate, the Seder night and the Haggadah are structured in a way that helps cultivate that experience. I have long felt that the Haggadah text and rituals contain countless lessons about chinuch—about how to best relay important values to our children.

We will therefore spend the next few weeks highlighting some lessons that emerge from the Seder evening; lessons that can help us grow as parents.

Some of the Haggadah’s most popular chinuch messages emerge from the section containing the four sons. Numerous commentaries note that each child is answered differently in the Haggadah—to teach us that all children are different, and each must be educated in his own way. We are challenged, as parents and educators, to respond to the specific needs of each child and to develop an educational approach that considers the unique needs of the child. These factors must also be considered by parents at every stage of a child’s development as we respond to the challenges presented during our children’s journey into adolescence and adulthood.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, z”l, adds an extremely sharp and important insight to this discussion in his Haggadah “The Royal Table.” He suggests that while any chinuch discussion should certainly recognize the four sons and their respective makeups, it must also include a discussion of the four fathers. He identifies four different parenting styles modeled by four paradigmatic fathers: the Domineering Father, the Wise Father, the WASP Father (whose American identity overrides his Judaism), and the Democratic Father. He then outlines the impact that these parenting styles could have on their children.

While the specific parenting styles that Rabbi Lamm lists are certainly illuminating, I believe his overall point is most important. As we consider how to best educate our children, we must take into account not only the personality and makeup of each child, but our own personality and makeup as well. As with any interaction between two individuals, each side contributes to the interaction through their disposition. Challenges that arise cannot be attributed solely to one side of the dynamic—but must be attributed to both sides, and to the dynamic created between them. One parent’s parenting style, for example, may not work with a particular child. An adjustment on both sides must be made in order to make the relationship work. Also required is the recognition that each person brings his own life experiences and “baggage” to the mix—all of which may have an impact on how that individual reacts to each situation.

In psychology, the phenomenon of “transference” occurs when an individual projects his emotions concerning an important life figure onto a third person, often the therapist. A parallel phenomenon known as countertransference occurs when the therapist projects his own unresolved emotions onto the client. The success of therapy can be affected by these phenomena; the more aware the therapist and client are when transference or countertransference occur, the more easily these factors can be overcome within the therapeutic relationship. Every therapist must be self-aware and understand when his own emotions or biases are impacting upon the therapy.

The same is certainly true for parents. We bring our own emotions and experiences to our role as parents—which affects how we respond to various situations. Rather than blaming our child for any dysfunction that arises, we must consider the role that we play in the dynamic, consciously or subconsciously.

In “Siblings Without Rivalry,” Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish devote several chapters to the importance of this self-awareness. They note that a parent who grew up as the oldest child, for example, may have felt extra pressure resulting from that role—causing them to be extra sensitive to their own oldest. Another parent, picked on by older siblings as a child, may therefore be quick to project blame onto their older children during conflicts with younger siblings. And the possibilities are numerous! Only when we are honest with ourselves and make a concerted effort to deal with these potential biases, can we make sure that our past does not interfere with our success as parents.

Parenting is an incredible privilege. The Haggadah teaches us that successful parenting requires an awareness at both extremes. We must know each child well and understand what specific type of parenting suits them. We must also know ourselves, and identify the particular biases that we bring to our parenting. It is through this honesty and awareness that we can actualize our potential as parents.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach!


Rav Yossi Goldin is a teacher and administrator who teaches in a number of seminaries and yeshivot across Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at [email protected].

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