If parenting was an easy task, we wouldn't need to read parenting books, take parenting classes or ask professionals and rabbis for parenting help. Everything would just fall into place all by itself. We'd have children who did what they were told to do, happily and speedily. We'd have kids who never argued, talked back or rebelled. In fact, they'd all be perfect from Day One: cooperative, balanced, mature, highly developed human beings.

However, as we all know, that's not exactly how it goes. Oh, we might have one or two really easy children – children who were born sunny side up and barely need guidance from us. But many of us have children on the opposite end of the spectrum – children who are really challenging, moody, defiant, argumentative, and wild; we have kids who have inexplicable fear, incomprehensible rage, unjustifiable sadness; some of our children have serious learning issues, some have mental health issues, some have personality problems. We have kids who don't talk to adults, kids who are always bored, and kids who are insanely jealous, lazy and unmotivated. In fact, we have all kinds of kids with all kinds of issues. Like us, our kids are imperfect. And this bothers us in so many ways.

For one thing, we may feel embarrassed by our children's flaws. It's one thing to have a child who is victimized by the class bully, but another thing altogether when the class bully is your child! When the principal calls home time again about your child, it can feel like you're the one being reprimanded. Your shame and irritation can become the fuel that fires an attack on your child the moment he walks in the front door.

If we're not embarrassed by our child, we might be frightened by her. What will become of her if she never puts the effort into developing a social network? What's wrong with her that she never picks up the phone to invite someone over? How will she function in adulthood? Who will marry her?

Besides embarrassing and alarming us, our children can also cause us great sadness and despair. They sometimes do things that clash with our core values, filling us with guilt and grief. Where did we go wrong? How can our child behave in such reprehensible ways? Or, perhaps the child just fails to function well despite our efforts to help him succeed. We feel burned out, exhausted and depleted. We drown in feelings of helplessness, inadequacy and failure.

And let's not forget our anger! Our children enrage us with their behavior. They make mistakes that are so avoidable – things we clearly warned them about – and they never seem to learn. They test our patience with their impatience. They frustrate us because nothing we try seems to work for them. And after the flash of terror their behavior provokes in us comes a torrent of rage for putting us through all of it. Yes, indeed, parenting drives us mad.

And yet, it needn't be this way. A Jewish perspective can lift us out of our parenting stress and help us maintain the energy and perspective that will allow us to be guiding and healing forces in our children's lives. It starts with recognizing that parenting is not a competitive sport: the goal is not to raise the smartest, most beautiful, successful child. Rather, the goal, as the Torah tells us, is to "raise the child 'according to his way.'" That is, we are to help each child become the best that he or she can be, considering his or her unique combination of strengths and weaknesses.

Thus, our job is to help strengthen the strengths and weaken the weaknesses of each of our children. We accomplish this by following another Torah directive: to allow the right hand to draw the child near while the left hand pushes the child away. The right hand is our stronger hand, the hand of love. Most of our parenting interventions should feel good to our children; they must feel loving. With the power of this love, we help the child identify with us and our goals for them. Love makes the child want to please us, emulate us and avoid our displeasure.

But then we must also use our weaker hand, the left hand, to push away whatever is objectionable in the child. The left hand of discipline, limitations and guidance shows the child that certain actions are unacceptable. In a quiet, undramatic way, we say "no" when we must. The Torah directive parallels something that I call the "80:20 Rule," the magic ratio of parenting; 80% of our communications with our children must be pleasant while 20% can be less so, and this ratio becomes 90:10 for teenagers. Pleasant communications, those that make a child feel loved, include compliments, jokes, gifts, treats, favorite foods, listening, chatting, playing, hugging, greeting, agreeing….the not-so-pleasant communications include every single instruction, threat, punishment, look of displeasure, show of irritation or anger, critical remark, correction, the answer "no" and every other form of disagreement…

Pay attention to desirable behaviors and you'll see more of them. Pay attention to undesirable behaviors and you'll see more of them. Yes, all of our children have weaknesses. But more importantly, they all have strengths. In fact, the flip side of a specific weakness may be a hidden strength: our defiant child has a mind of his own – what an asset! With his confidence, determination and conviction, he may move mountains when he grows up – achieving positive changes in the world that ordinary, compliant people can never achieve. Our reserved and quiet youngster may have few friends but a rich, self-sufficient inner life… who knows what books she'll write one day? Our moody, troubled child who suffers so much and makes our life so hard deals with inner demons all the time. His battles are constant – every moment of self-control is a hard-won victory building enviable inner resources.

I remember reading the biography of a woman who became a wealthy New York real estate investor. She credited her financial success to her mother. Her mother managed to identify the outstanding positive characteristics of each of her thirteen children. The children all had issues of various kinds, but they were of no interest to this mother. In fact, the author of the book had been a dismal student, suffering from learning and behavioral problems throughout her school years. Her mother was not the least bit concerned. "You're special," she'd tell her daughter. "You can't sit in a boring classroom all day. You're going to do great things in this world. You're much too energetic and creative for school. Just wait until you graduate – then we're really going to hear from you!" And, just as her mother predicted, this woman was able to use her creativity, energy and confidence to accomplish feats that far surpassed those of her classmates.

We can all be like that mother, finding and nurturing our children's unique assets. By approaching parenting this way, we will not only bring out the best in our children but also the best in ourselves as well, replacing fear, stress and negativity with love, peace and optimism. May G‑d help us see the light and reflect it back to our children, and may we all go from strength to strength.