[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This child changed the meaning of parenting for me. “I never asked to be born”. You don’t understand me”. “I hate you”. Those were some of the words that came out of my child’s mouth when he was around fifteen. After twenty-five years of raising children, I was faced with a teenager who, it seemed, had read a book called “How to be a Rebellious Teenager”.
From the beginning, I understood that my child was in pain. I also understood that his pain was justified, even if his behavior was not. My child, who had lived in my house for the last fifteen years, had suddenly left, and was replaced by an alien! Where was the sweet, sensitive, very loving child that I knew? That thought was what helped me get through the next two to three years. At our worst moments, I would picture in my head specific special memories of this child at a younger age. “He is the same child”, I kept repeating over and over in my head.
After twenty-five years of being a mother
After twenty-five years of being a mother, the concept of what being a good mother meant had changed for me. My husband and I were the first of our friends to get married, and the first to have a child. We became parents at an age where we really were still children ourselves. We really did grow up together with our children. Well, at least the first three out of seven!
We did what all good parents do…. gave our children food and clothing, love and encouragement, hugs and kisses. We played with them, cared for them when they were sick, and taught them that they were Jews. Teaching them about the world around them, to enjoy all the wonderful things that Hashem created. Giving examples of how to be polite, and treat others with kindness.
At the same time, to protect them we taught them how to cross the street and to beware of strangers,and all of the other many little things that all parents try to do to raise good people. We were parenting our children to make a positive contribution to society.
Parenting an at-risk child
At first I said to myself, what did I do wrong? I parented this child the same way I parented my older children. I did not encounter so much anger, and negative behavior with the others. At a certain point, I realized that my child would be considered a “Youth at Risk”.
One of the major factors which triggered my son’s difficulties was his non acceptance to any of the high schools to which he had applied. My child was not like my other children who had no problems getting into the schools of their choice. He needed something that the current educational system was not able to provide.
A School Meeting
By the time my next child was in eighth grade, three years later, I had learned many painful lessons. This child was able to get into the high school that was appropriate for her.
That year there was a meeting for the 8th grade students and their parents with the principal, guidance counselors, and teachers. The focus of the meeting was to let parents know what the school was planning to do to help the student get through the highly stressful process of applying for and getting accepted into high schools. They talked about workshops and mock interviews and various ways to relieve stress. Of course, no one mentioned that maybe there was something very wrong with the process itself that caused such a great deal of stress.
At the end of the meeting, one of the mothers got up to speak. We thought she must be a parent representative, and was getting up to thank the school for what they were doing. Apparently that was what the staff of the school also thought. The woman got up and spoke about her children and how they all got into the high schools they wanted to, and then went on to yeshiva, army, university etc. without any problems. Then along came a child who was not accepted anywhere. Suddenly they were faced with a situation for which they were totally unprepared.
The educational system
She did not go on and let us know what happened with this child. However, she did continue to speak out against the elitist system that existed in our community. Speaking about the need for large regional high schools that accepted all children and developed different programs within the school for the different needs of different children. She said that there was certainly room for a few high schools that specialized in music, art or science for exceptional children. High schools for children who really had more serious learning issues were also necessary. But what actually existed were more and more high schools who only wanted the “best kids”.
This was an Israeli woman, active in the school and the community, not a new “oleh” bringing American parenting ideas. I wish I could say that her words spurred a change in the school system, but unfortunately they did not. This meeting took place five years ago. What her words did for me was simply to make me feel better. Here was an Israeli, respected in the community who went through the same parenting experience as I did.
My problem was far from unique
In the years that we were trying to find a high school for my son, both in 8th grade and then again in 10th grade, we had spoken to many people about the situation. We spoke to teachers, principals, guidance counselors, psychologists, and representatives of misrad hachinuch. They were all very polite, and even agreed with a lot of what I had to say, but none of them were of any real help. All made me feel that my problem was not really shared by too many others.
However, I came to realize over time, that my problem was far from unique. More and more of my friends and acquaintances were going through similar parenting experiences with their children. Many of them were dealing with children, whose problems stemmed from learning disabilities and school issues. But there were, of course, many other issues as well.
I was lucky enough to have great friends, some of whom were going through similar experiences, and some not. But they were all understanding and supportive, and provided me with the support network I needed. There were many other mothers I spoke to who felt that all their friends were judgmental. They felt that they had failed at parenting in one way or another.
At the edge of a pool and no idea how to swim
When my son was going through the most difficult times, I felt that it was like he was alone at the edge of a pool, about to fall in, and did not know how to swim. Determined to do anything possible to keep him out of that pool, I reached out in many directions. I spoke to anyone who I thought could be helpful. The list included Rabbis in the community, people who worked with youth at risk, parents of my son’s friends, psychologists, teachers, guidance counselors, parenting experts, and the principal of the school he eventually attended.
I helped form a support group of other parents going through similar situations. Every day I talked to as many parents as I could with similar issues.
Over time, I understood that if my child could not get the education that was appropriate for him, he was at least going to have the parent that was appropriate for him. Whatever I did in the past with my other children was not working with this child.
Changing the way I understood what being a good mother means
The most important thing that I did was to change the way I understood what being a good mother means. It is not enough to feed and clothe your children. The world we find ourselves living in Israel at this time is very different from the world in which most of us grew up. As children, we did not live through wars, were not afraid to ride a bus because it might be blown up, and did not have to face the prospect of being a soldier. My son was born in Israel, so his was not a problem of adjustment to Israel. As a parent, how could I help my children deal with situations that I never had to face as a child? I first had to learn to try and see the world through my son’s eyes.
The other key thing I learned was the importance of my own behavior. My actions and my reactions were ultimately going to teach my children how to cope with life. I had to make my child understand that no matter what he did, I was still going to be there for him, still going to love him, and care for him, and support him.
It was also just as vital for him to understand that not only his parents, but the entire family would be there for him. Talking with my other children, I worked on helping them to deal with their own anger at this child’s behavior. At other times I listened to them, getting their understanding of his behavior and their points of view on how to deal with it. I also constantly talked to my son, even if I thought he wasn’t really listening. “Please put the the right words in my mouth”, I asked when I prayed. I hoped they were words that would help him and keep him safe.
A good role model for my children
For a while I devoted energy to try and change the system. But I soon realized that my energies would be better spent on trying to change myself. I could do more good both for my community and for my children by being as good a role model as I could.
I am a different mother today to my two youngest children who are still at home with me every day than I was to my five older ones who are mostly out of the house now. Am I a better mother? My children would have to answer that question. But each child is an individual and should be taught and parented as an individual.
My younger children are growing up in a different world than my older children did, so I too must change the way I parent them. I am sure as they grow up, there will be more challenges I face as a parent. I am grateful to my son who provided both a test and a challenge to me to grow and become both a better person, and I hope, a better parent. The essence of parenting means that we can also learn so much from our children if we are only willing to listen to them.
What is the message you are trying to send?
My son and I now have a very warm, close relationship. He finished high school, learned for a year and a half in a religious pre-army mechina and is presently in the army. I asked him to read what I was writing, and one of his comments to me was, what is the message you are trying to send? After talking about it for a while together, we came up with the following suggestions for parents who are trying to help their ’at risk’ teenagers.
This means that you have to really think about what is your ultimate goal. Do you want to help your child who is in pain and understand what he or she is going through? Or, do you just want him or her to dress a certain way? Do you want your child to be a contributing member of society? Are you just concerned that the neighbors see that he is going to minyan? Are you worried that your child may be smoking, drinking, or even using drugs? Then, it is probably not a good idea to question whether your son has tzitit on, or how long your daughter’s sleeves are.
I told my son early on that I was not going to focus on whether he was shomer mitzvot or not. “Being religious is between you and Hashem”, I told him. However, that did not mean he could do whatever he wanted to do. The relationship between him and the rest of the family was more important to me. Just as he wanted us to understand and respect him, I expected him to show us the same respect. It included keeping Shabbat in my home, for example. Each family has to decide what their boundaries are and what they are willing to accept or not.
Parents should do their best to keep the lines of communication open. Children should feel that you are always there to listen and talk to them when they need it. Even if months go by and your child won’t talk to you, keep trying. Don’t let your child think that you have given up on him or her. “I love you Ima”, he whispered behind my back when I was washing dishes one day.
Don’t be afraid to allow your children’s friends hang out in your home. You can apply the same rules you give to your own child to his or her friends. At first my son’s friends would come in and not look us in the eye. “Shabbat Shalom”, How are you doing? we would say when they came in. Eventually they learned to not only say Thank You when they left, but over time began to include us in their conversations.
When they are in your house, at least you know they are safe. You also have the opportunity to get to know your child’s friends. I am not talking about leaving your child home alone with his or her friends while you go away for Shabbat. When you let your house be the hang out while you are home, you are teaching your children several things. You are showing them by your actions the mitzva of hachnasat orchim. You are also showing your child that you are making the effort to accept him or her by accepting their friends.
Parents do not have to try to deal with these issues on their own. There are plenty of psychologists and social workers who can help. There are parenting workshops and parent support groups. When you make the effort to get help, you are showing your child that you care enough to get help, and it encourages them to ask for and get the help that they need.
Role Model Parenting:
The most important thing a parent should do is to set an example by constantly looking at their own behavior, and thinking about how it looks in the eyes of our children.
This article was written in 2007 and the events occurred before Kav L’Noar was established in 2004.
Kav L’Noar addresses all the issues related to in this article and many others. Kav L’Noar’s counseling, community outreach, parenting workshops and mentoring programs can help families with both moderate at risk issues and serious behavioral problems with their adolescents and teens. You are not alone- call today 02-622-3039 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org[/vc_column_text][vc_facebook][vc_tweetmeme][/vc_column][/vc_row]