There’s fascinating advice from the Jewish King Solomon, told to his United Kingdom of Israel and Judea over 2,900 years ago and recorded in the ancient text, the “Book of Proverbs.”
Educate the child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not turn away from it.
Hold on a second, wise King.
Don’t you mean raise kids according to our — the parents’ — way? What do you mean raise kids according to their way? Don’t we want to mold them according to our plans? After all, we know more than they do. Are you suggesting we let kids dictate our parenting methods?
In our age of record teen suicides, depression in our young adults and drug and alcohol abuse, among many other things ailing children, maybe we should take a renewed look at King Solomon’s advice about how we’re raising our kids.
Suicide among younger adults has been on the rise steadily for well over a decade. Suicide attempts by young girls also have been on the rise, increasing over 50% during the pandemic. The United States ranks third in the world in how many of its citizens suffer from depression.
Obviously, we’re doing something very wrong in how we prepare our children to become happy, successful adults.
As every parent with more than one child knows, you put kids in the same family through the same pasta maker. Through the same set of rules. The same boundaries. The same dinner tables. The same schools. The same television shows and video games. The same vacations. The same language use.
And yet lo and behold, each child comes out a different shape of pasta.
It shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. Our children aren’t robots for us to mold into some pre-determined image.
They’re unique souls, with unique challenges and personalities. They have individual strengths and separate minds and hearts. They have their own weaknesses. And distinct temperaments.
So when King Solomon advises parents to teach them according to each individual child’s way, what he’s telling us to take a hard look at each child. Understand who each one is. Get to know your kids. Find out their good parts and not-so-good parts.
And then, armed with that emotionally important knowledge, guide them along their individual paths. Encourage them through their strengths. And support them through their hardships.
One kid may have ADHD but excel at building things. Another child may have a passion for cars or fixing things. Another may be a sponge for reading and knowledge. And another kid could have an innate ability to empathize with others. A son could be artistic. A daughter, musical or a math wizard. One kid could be more argumentative than his siblings. Others could feel a natural draw to helping the sick. Another more spiritually inclined.
Whatever the case may be, forcing kids down identical paths, or paths that we, not them, find acceptable, is a recipe for failure. It’s a guarantee to develop children into unhappy adults.
I got lucky. My financially struggling parents basically told me I could be a doctor or lawyer. Since I can’t stand the sight of blood, I chose the law and 26 years later, I still enjoy my career choice.
But how many of us aren’t happy with the paths we were pushed into? Whether career-wise, spiritually or even personal hobbies?
The leading Jewish scholar of 19th century Germany, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, commented on the famous story of Jacob and Esau. As students of the Bible know, Jacob became one of the great leaders and scholars of the pre-nation Jewish people. He was the descendant of Abraham and Isaac. A giant of the time.
His brother, Esau, was nothing like Jacob. Esau was rough. He liked conflict. He battled. He barely opened a book.
Rabbi Hirsch reminds us that these polar-opposite kids grew up in the same environment and with the same parents and parenting style. They both were given the same set of demands on their lives, including an emphasis on intellectualism and study.
This, Rabbi Hirsch explains, was parents Rebecca and Isaac’s mistake. Kids in the same house can’t be raised with the same methodology. They didn’t raise Esau according to his proclivities and tendencies. They didn’t choose a path to fit Esau’s personality and it failed miserably.
Of course we want to teach all our children some universal values of right and wrong. Kindness. Respect. Justice. Dignity. Those type of things.
Still, let’s not pass on Rebecca and Isaac’s parenting mistake to our kids. Get to know each child and what makes him or her tick. Find their way. Then educate and guide within their unique personal, spiritual and life paths.`
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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