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Listening to Our Children

Listening to Our Children

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"Listen to your children." Something every parenting expert advises, complete with techniques for how to do it better.

But exactly what are we listening for?

Our sages teach that G-d looked into the Torah and used it as the blueprint for the creation of the world. And I believe that if G-d used the Torah as the blueprint for creating the world, then certainly He did the same when He created my children. He implanted within each of them a Divine blueprint that guides their development and their life from birth onward.

This blueprint not only guides their destiny, but also their development towards that destiny, beginning with such simple things as the best time to start to walk, or learn to speak or read.

This blueprint contains their as yet unrevealed potentials and talents, their inclinations and revulsions. Will they be scholars or musicians? Businessmen or doctors? Are they focused on intellect or emotion? More inclined to the physical or to the spiritual? Are they dreamers and thinkers, philosophers and mystics, or are they carpenters and physicists, veterinarians and farmers? Are they quick and clever or careful and considerate? Do they pursue life aggressively and outwardly or passively and intuitively?

You see, G-d needs us all and He created each of us to fulfill a unique role, in a unique way. Each of us has a purpose and destiny unique to ourselves. Unduplicated. Singular.

At our birth this purpose is known. And we are given, in potential, all we need to fulfill it.

Imagine if we, as parents, had some glimpse into this destiny, these potentials, into the timing of experiences that would be in harmony with our children's inner selves, their inner blueprint, their inner clock.

Imagine if we believed that inside our children is all we need to know about how best to raise them, guide them, support them as they develop and mature, as they grow towards their unique purpose and providence.

What would be required of us then?

To listen.

The problem we face is that neither we nor our children are aware of this Divine blueprint, at least on a conscious level. It is impacting our children at every moment of their lives, guiding their thoughts, their feelings, their desires, their inclinations and even their problems and the obstacles and limitations they face. But neither we nor they can hear or see or even feel it.

Unless we learn to listen.

And complicating the problem even more is the fact that our children do not possess the ability to express their inner blueprint coherently. They have still undeveloped minds, a limited vocabulary, and even more limited experience or cognitive ability to let us know what is happening to them: the drives and passions, the joys and frustrations. They can make no better sense of these subterranean impulses, and the blueprint these impulses express, than we can.

And so we must help them.

By listening.

And, most importantly, by believing.

By believing that intertwined in what they are saying and doing, expressing in their eyes and the tension around their mouths is a truth -- a Truth -- that we and they need to hear.

By trying to unravel and interpret the deeper strains that underlie what may seem to be nonsense or selfishness, resistance or over-excitement, but instead may be their way of expressing whether or not they are on the proper course of their lives, whether or not their stage of development is appropriate to the demands being placed upon them.

We must maintain an openness as to whether the course we desire for their life is in harmony with the course G-d wants for their life, the manifestation of the unique blueprint He has implanted within them.

For certainly we, as parents, do not want to be in opposition to G-d's plan. And raising our children to fulfill their unique role in their own unique way is as important to bringing Moshiach, as important to perfecting the world or creating a dwelling place for G-d here on earth, as any other activity we may undertake for His sake.

Easier said than done, however.

Each of us has in our minds an expectation of our children, a vision of the future we'd like for them. Imbedded in each of us is the history of how we were raised -- a history that affects how we now raise our children, whether we choose to duplicate or reject what we learned from our parents and others as we were growing up. Each of us has our own unfilled lives which we project on our children, an expectation that they will be what we were not or more of who we are. And each of these things may be good or not, depending on how they harmonize or clash with the Divine blueprint our children possess.

So, to listen means to suspend many, if not all of these things. It means maintaining an openness to what is, rather than to what we want to be. And to believe that the "what is" that we, G-d willing, discover are guideposts for us as we aid and support our children on their G-d-intended life's journey.

Again, it is so very important to remember that our children have no way to express their inner guideposts in a direct and coherent manner. They can only do so by hints and gestures, outburst and art. Their inner wisdom is hidden in metaphor, though this metaphor may be as simple as describing the day's events at school or a dream at night or the way that they interpret or respond to the rejection of a friend. It may be hidden in their shyness or extrovertedness, in their willingness to go to piano lessons but not take care of the family pet.

They are communicating to us all the time, in a thousand ways. If only we had ears to hear and eyes to see.

But perhaps we also need hands to see, and need to learn to listen with our bellies, as well.

Listening to a child is so much more than sitting with him after school discussing his day's events, so much more than helping him solve a problem with a friend or a teacher.

Listening for Divine truth involves opening all of our senses all the time to hear what our children are trying to say.

How do they hold their bodies? What do they draw? How do they interact with friends and siblings? How do they feel when you touch them? Do their bodies tighten and pull away, do they open and yield towards you?

Can you listen with your hands? Can you feel the strain and tension in their muscles? Where does it come from? What are they braced for or against?

Are they comfortable when alone, or do they seek attention and companionship? Do they love to take things apart, or prefer to read or draw?

With each action, word, body posture, reaction and response they are communicating to you the Divine truth that is within them. They are revealing their purpose and destiny. They are accepting that which is in harmony with their blueprint, repelling that which is not. They are telling you and the world who they are and looking to see how you and the world respond. They are asking for support and encouragement as they seek to fulfill the unique destiny and purpose that is theirs. Their place and intent.

Are they all wise and knowing? Of course not. That is why they need us. This blueprint is hidden, or, as the Talmudic sages say, forgotten at the moment of birth.

And so we must help them and ourselves to discover and remember it. We must help them to separate the wheat from the chaff, for chaff there is.

Our job is to bring our more developed minds and cognitive ability, our experience, our more refined moral and spiritual selves, our more advanced wisdom and all that we've acquired from Torah and Chassidus to their assistance. Not to oppress them with what we believe is right for them, but to discover and manifest what G-d believes is right for them -- what is right for them alone and what is right for them as individuals fulfilling G-d's will and desire.

And this we do by listening. By believing that within them is a truth that knows better than we what is the Truth for them; a blueprint that has been imbedded to guide their learning and experiencing, their physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development in a way and at the time that will lead them to the destiny that is theirs and theirs alone.

The blueprint that G-d used to create the world contained the perfect unfolding of history - past, present and future -- that will lead us all, those who came before us and those who will come after us, to the final redemption with the coming of Moshiach and all the perfection that the Messianic time will possess. For this to be true, this blueprint is imbedded in every rock and tree, every atom and molecule, every star and planet, every falling leaf and ripple of water. And certainly, in every child that we are blessed to love and nurture as they fulfill their singular part in the Divine plan of which they and we are a part.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children’s books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London.
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Discussion (1)
January 28, 2008
So beautiful
Listening as a sacred duty...so beautiful. Thank you for this wondrous teaching.
Jampa Williams
West Hartford, CT
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