To Climb or to Move the Mountain

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By Chagit Zelcer, published in TOI, October 2020

As these lines are written the scientific community worldwide is hard at work striving to develop an immunization for Covid 19.
As any rookie scientist will tell you, immune therapy is based on exposure to the virus.  Essentially, this exposure is what enables the body to develop antibodies which can deal with the disease.  Paradoxically, what ultimately reinforces and builds the immune system is what is seemingly harmful or even dangerous to it.
This concept is true not only in the biological/medical field.
To expound on this I’d like to share some insights (in loose translation) from a post written by Rabbi Ilay Ofran, Rabbi of Kibbutz Yavne and Head of the “Ruach Hasadeh” Pre-military preparatory program. Rabbi Ofran describes:
“I’ve recently become aware of a common issue that is perturbing and potentially detrimental to our education system as well as to the family structure.  Not surprisingly, it seems that I’m not alone.  I’ve been told by many colleagues that they too, are unfortunately acquainted with this situation and it seems to be growing in leaps and bounds.
When a child encounters a ‘hurdle’ that challenges him, more often than not the parents will usually step in.  Instead of encouraging, teaching and expecting the child to climb over the hurdle and overcome the obstacle, they take action – even if it means moving mountains.
Here’s a common example:  A child returns home from school (or from zoom lessons) and describes the difficulties that he’s encountering with the schoolwork, schedule or whatever it is that the teacher expects of him .  Quite often the parents’ automatic response is to contact the teacher, counselor or even principal.  The goal in mind – to change the situation that is challenging the child, perhaps alter or rewrite the rules or if taken to an extreme, fire the teacher…  It’s a rarity for a child to be told: ‘Sorry darling (+hug), this is the reality; it’s hard for you and it may not be ideal, but now let’s see how you can deal with it’.
Not so long ago, in order to ‘move the hurdle’ and make things easier for the child, the parent would have to invest much time and effort to coordinate a special  meeting with the teacher, or patiently wait for the periodic PTA meeting.  Today’s technology enables communicating with the teacher, principal or other parents the option of ‘moving the hurdle’ more easily than figuring out with the child how he can best cope with the challenge.
As a post High School educator, I eventually meet children who grew up in this atmosphere.  Unfortunately too many of them meet ‘life’ with a low level of resilience and not enough tools to deal with what lies ahead for them.  The norm they’ve gotten used to is that if a hurdle comes up, it will (or should be) adjusted to their preference or what they think they’re capable of accomplishing.  Up till now, mountains have been moved for them.  Trying to climb the mountain is rarely an option when there are easier ‘solutions’.  This eventually manifests itself in a lack of ability to commit and persevere in army experience, higher education, employment and in long term relationships.
Rabbi Ofran describes this situation as a result of his experience as an educator.  I bring it to you because I believe that it accurately (and sadly) describes a reality that exists.
However, I want to stress that my intention is not to accuse parents.  Parents aren’t to blame.  They definitely have the child’s best interest at heart.
It’s the general mindset and atmosphere that is to blame.  An atmosphere that:
Perceives the child to be vulnerable and in need of constant shielding.
Transmits to parents that letting a child deal with challenges is neglectful.
Doesn’t expect a child to deal with the consequences of his behavior.
Has parents constantly second-guessing themselves and worrying that they’re never doing enough/the right thing.
If this sounds a bit disheartening, please continue reading.  The last thing we need these days is to be disheartened…
Here’s the good news!  The above description isn’t a heavenly decree.  Any and every parent can choose otherwise.  You are free to choose to:
Believe in the child’s strengths and that he can live up to your trust.
Rely on your child to deal with challenges and know that he’ll grow from them.
Depend on your child to deal with the consequences of his behavior.
Jettison the guilt!  You are the best parent for your child. Don’t ever second guess that!

Bottom line: Parents have enough on their plate nowadays.  They can do without moving mountains.  More importantly, the confidence and skills that children attain by coping with challenges and ‘climbing the mountain’ are irreplaceable.  It’s the most precious gift we can give to our children.

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