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Children On Loan From God, and There’s No Exchange Policy

Some parents live vicariously through their children. When it comes to their kid’s success, some moms and dads take it personally. When it comes to their child’s failures, they take that personally, too. I guess some parents figure that if they didn’t get it right the first time, that is, in their own childhood, then surely they can get another shot at perfection when they raise their own son or daughter. In our competitive society, a parent’s expectations are higher than ever, and these pressures seem to start at a younger age all the time.

Moreover, you can spot these kinds of neurotic moms and dads from miles away, whether at the neighborhood ball field, holiday dance recital, middle school spelling bee, or wherever else parents tend to put their proteges on pedestals.

For example, the assistant baseball coach wearing the Cardinals cap is a wanna-be-major-leaguer who nervously chews sunflower seeds and paces behind the chain link fence every time his own eight-year-old steps up to the plate. When his little slugger strikes out, guess who’s having the temper tantrum? As the dad spits out a wad of broken shells on the ground, he follows his defeated son to the dugout to dish out even more humiliation.

Likewise, an anxious stage mom futzes with her four-year-old daughter’s pink tutu and sparkly lip-gloss right before the curtain rises. The mother finally takes a seat in the audience and turns on the video camera, only to capture her precious preschooler twirling across the stage in the wrong direction and innocently knocking into another little ballerina with matching hair ribbons. The embarrassed mother is horrified as the giggling dancers collapse like dominos on stage. The following week, she switches her daughter to gymnastics.

As far as scholastic achievement, parental pressure is always on. For example, at a spelling bee, fidgety parents sit in the front row in the gymnasium and mumble letters under their breath. When their straight-A student leans into the squeaky microphone on stage and spells out words like,
“s-c-h-i-z-o-p-h-r-e-n-i-a,” it feels like a diagnosis has been made. With each new word, the grownups catch their breath again and give their child a thumbs-up as the youngster moves to the next round of competition.

When it comes to Jewish parenting, in particular, we really now how to lay on the guilt. Jewish comedian Joel Chasnoff illustrates this point beautifully. Growing up, he jokes that his mother had a bumper sticker on her car that read, “If my son worked just a little bit harder, I, too, would have an honor roll student at Jefferson High School.”

Actually, Jewish wisdom has another approach on how to raise children to become successful adults. Basically, the sages advise parents to chill out, and let young people find their own way. In other words, according to a Hasidic teaching, “If your child has a talent to be a baker, don’t ask him to be a doctor.”

Not only that, Judaism emphasizes that our own offspring doesn’t even belong to us in the first place. Instead, God loans our children to us like everything else we hold so dear. Our job is to guide our children in a holy direction. In the process, maybe we parents will learn something.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com.