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Dripping Water: Gentle Parenting

Dripping Water: Gentle Parenting

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Dripping water. That's how a parent has to speak: like a slow and constant drip.

Think of the child as a crop. There are different ways of watering crops. You can pour water on them with rotary sprinklers, a whirling deluge; or you can conserve your energy and work on the roots, gently, through a network of connections called drip irrigation, which was invented here in Israel. You can drip on your children.

And one day they will grow in the direction you have guided them.

Think of kids as a crop I learned this concept of gentle parenting recently when a woman told me something very important, something I wish I had known when I was parenting little kids. But it is still relevant for parenting older kids:

You just keep saying it. Whatever it is. Ad nauseum. You just keep saying the same thing. The kids don't have to buy it. They don't have to do it. They don't even have to listen. But if you keep saying it, eventually it will seep in. Maybe not now—maybe when they are twenty. But they will hear your voice.

Isn't that what a parent is, anyway, ultimately: a voice inside of a child?

Think of our religion—how we say the same things over and over: the weekly Torah readings, the prayers. The hope is that those words one day will enter us, define us, change us—slowly.

G‑d, after all, created the world with words. And He didn't have to yell to create.

G‑d didn't have to yell to createThis gentle method takes a lot of pressure off of the parent. She doesn't have to get her way. She just has to define her way, describe her way, articulate her way, know her way; and just by uttering her way, she plants a seed within the child that can lead to movement.

We usually think of movement as quick: quick obedience, rapid listening. But children aren't built for rapid response to their parents. How often it is that they don't respond, at least not the way you want them to.

I remember when my kids were little I would ask them to stop screaming. I would ask them again. I would tell them. And then I would scream at them stop screaming. I would lose it. I was Crazy Mom.

But as we moms grow up, we also learn. There is no need to force things. I learned this lesson in a very painful way. My son was murdered when he was thirteen. Before he was killed, I used to force the matter at hand with my children. I wanted them to do what I wanted them to do. Now. Not later. Not tomorrow.

But losing a child makes you revaluate your priorities. Makes you reevaluate everything. You don't expect things to go your way. You don't expect. You know that you can do your best and the worst can happen. All you can do is try.

So now when I hear parents yelling at their kids I am a little bit shocked. I used to get into crazy power struggles with my kids. I wanted them to clean their rooms and do their homework and brush their teeth and sit at the table and go to sleep at a proper hour and I wanted them to obey me.

The control I thought I had was falseAfter my son's murder, it was so clear that the control I thought I had was false. I had no power. Now I was happy because they were alive. I truly appreciated them. I wanted to be with them, just to be with them. I didn't need them to listen to me.

It's amazing that the power struggles stopped. Now for me to get into a power struggle with a child is rare, very rare. Yes I occasionally lose it, but I don't have to be right and I don't have to force my will. I can be like water, dripping on a rock.

The great Sage and scholar Rabbi Akiva, a man who first studied the Torah when he was forty and had no confidence that he would be able to learn it, noticed the way that water had hollowed a cavity in a rock. He said something to the effect that if gentle water could hollow a rock, then the words of Torah (which are compared to water) could also penetrate him.

Our words are water and sometimes our children are rocks. But rocks can be sculpted. Especially if you are willing to wait.

Sherri Mandell is the author of The Blessing of a Broken Heart, a collection of essays and stories written after her son Kobi's murder. The Blessing of a Broken Heart is available from all fine book sellers, Amazon and bn.com. Sherri has established the The Koby Mandell Foundation in her son’s honor.
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MC San Diego, CA/USA December 11, 2009

Thank you Sherri for sharing from your heart. I identified with you as Crazy Mom, but after reading this, I have decided to change and be a gentle mom. You have influenced my parenting and I will enjoy my little ones more. Can't tell you enough how blessed I am that you wrote this. Reply

JoAnn Adjoudanpour Boca Raton, Florida December 2, 2009

Sherri ! What a beautiful soul you have! I was so touched by your article. How true how drips of water affect a rock and how patience along with persistence affects another human being , and even ourselves! Thank you and G-d bless you and your family. Reply

Tone Lechtzier Brothers, OR US November 30, 2009

Shalom,
so true Sherri, great articulation indeed. The same applies to our spouses, pets, et al. My " angel in fur, " Moshe, a pomeranian dog, proves your entire article. He was given away [ to me ] because he barked at anything that moves. Yelling at him did absolutely no good, he just raised his volume, smiling & wagging his tail. Your article was implemented before I read it. [ with Mo ]Blessings Reply

Anonymous Toronto, Canada November 30, 2009

What a beautiful lesson!! I am so glad that this article has come to me at a very appropriate time in my parenting life. Thank you Sheri for sharing your advice. Reply

Taylor San Francisco, CA November 30, 2009

That is so powerful. Thank you for sharing your story. I think it is one of the most powerful things when a person can realize that they have no power. To me it makes that person more powerful, but in a real way that is much stronger than when people are under the illusion that they have some kind of control. What a beautiful thought to keep in mind for when I decide to have children. Thank you. Reply

Sara Rivkah Nash Nashville, TN November 30, 2009

Beautiful article! Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom with us! Reply

jacki London, UK November 30, 2009

I'm so sorry for your loss...I too understand now the value of being the gentle parent since my own child suffered seriously with a major health crisis which she is still learning to live with. It is clearly these challenges of life that enable us to grow and develop with the hope of bringing enrichment and greater understanding. Reply

ROZIE November 30, 2009

This article gives a lot of food for thought...very well written and to the point. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous November 29, 2009

Thank you, i also lost not one but two children 10 yrs. ago, but only recently finally internalized this message. Reply

J C Sharon, MA, USA November 29, 2009

After reading many, many articles on parenting and trying to do my best, I think that your article has given me an amazing insight into a way to parent calmly, maintaining shalom bayis (peace in the home). I appreciate your advice. Reply

Anonymous U.K November 29, 2009

Thank you so much for this advice. I'm a primary schoolteacher and a mother and know that finding gentle , roundabout paths to influence children are a better way to influence development and learning as opposed to direct, sometimes confrontational methods. I love the metaphor of 'dripping water' . There may initially be only a few drops, but in time these drops become a flowing stream strong enough to carve lasting impressions in rocks, thus changing and transforming the landscape. Gentle drops of water have a great transformative power. I'l l remember this in my teaching. Thank you! Reply