Having a large family has its perks, but a good night sleep is not one of them. Taking care of the physical and emotional needs of my six children, ages 10-20, is often overwhelming. Lately I am finding that it is the nourishing of six souls that keeps me up at night. Am I doing enough to maximize their spiritual growth? Am I bonding with each of them individually in ways that will inspire confidence?
In case I was not causing myself enough grief, I chose to watch a disturbing film this week, one that triggered every worry I ever had about raising emotionally intact children. Though I had read the book “We Have to Talk about Kevin” years ago, viewing the movie now, as a parent, was especially painful. The film depicts the aftermath of a fictional high school massacre and its devastating effect on the family of Kevin, the teen who is convicted in the shooting. Having lost everything dear to her, Kevin’s mother faces a life of self-doubt and the overt animosity of her community. The director makes clever use of flashbacks to help us feel her desperate desire to do it all again to avoid her son’s crime. The movie explores the challenge many parents feel in bonding easily with one child but not with another, and the terrible guilt and pain that ensues.
The movie is most disturbing in its simple truth. Some children are easier to bond with than others. Parents do the best they can, but often, relationships become complicated from too much trying. As these children become teens, the tenuous bonds break and there is little real communication.
I believe that our children are “Bashert,” (destined for us) and they find their way to the people who can best raise them to fulfill their potential. But let’s face it. Our children do not always share our temperament and interests and many parents struggle with a child whose behavior is so unfamiliar that they have trouble connecting with him/her in authentic ways. The only way to do so is to truly see the world through our children’s eyes. We have to understand their pain, the way they think, and learn to appreciate their strengths, even if these are different from ours.
Imagine a world in which we all took the time to do this for every person who comes into our lives. Unfortunately, most of us cannot. Our busy lives leave little time or energy for people outside our inner circle. We reserve our love and devotion for those closest to us, our partners and our children. For the well-being of our children, we will expand our emotional range. That is our gift to them and their gift to us. Some might say that our children are sent to us by G-d because we somehow hold the key to their souls. The Chassidic masters teach that often the reverse is true. We need our children to help us break out of our rigid views of others - thus they hold the key to our spiritual growth. For that, I thank each of my children. The lessons they teach me are worth every sleepless night.