I was walking down the sidewalk with my son. He looked one way, I looked another way. And he walked straight into a pole (thank G‑d, he didn’t really hurt himself). As I rubbed his head and gave him a kiss I wanted to say, “Silly pole!” and put the “blame” on the pole to make my son feel better, but instead I told him, “Ouch, that must have hurt. We have to be more careful to look where we are walking!”

Why didn’t I want to make him feel better by putting the blame on the pole? I want to teach my child that when we make a mistake, not only is that okay, but we should also take responsibility for the mistake. Otherwise, how will a person ever grow and change?

He walked straight into a pole

During a recent visit from my father-in-law, we encouraged him to open up and tell us about his childhood. My father-in-law is old enough to be my grandfather. He himself is a great-grandfather and has rich stories to tell. He talked and reminisced and told us crazy tales. When he was growing up, times were hard, times were challenging. There’s no doubt about that. But do you know what he kept repeating? “I had a beautiful childhood.”

There were no complaints, no pointing fingers. He never said a single negative word about his parents or about how they treated him or educated him. Imagine a whole story, a whole conversation about someone’s childhood and parents without a single—as we say in Yiddishkvetch (complaint)! What was there? Complete and total respect, admiration and love.

Wouldn’t you love it if in 60 years time, as your children sit down to tell their grandchildren about their childhood, they say, “I had a beautiful childhood . . .” Wouldn’t you love it if there was the passing down of a tradition without any complaints or pointing fingers? Is it possible? Yes! I see it with my father-in-law! How can it be done? By taking responsibility for our own actions, by looking at our own childhoods and saying, “All that happened made me into who I am today. There was good, and I need to see the good.” By admitting that by now, you are an adult, and while it is productive to look at your past and to understand that, yes, maybe you have this not so positive quality or trait because of the way that you were raised, it’s only beneficial if it pushes you to move forward and change. If all it does is bring up resentment and encourage you to complain, it’s not good for you! And it certainly doesn’t set a good example for your children.

It says in the Torah that “a person is like the tree of a field.”1 There are many beautiful explanations for this comparison. Here is one that came to me: A tree is only alive if it’s connected to its roots, and it will only survive if the roots are deeply implanted in the ground. When you look at your parents, you may even want to “disconnect,” but I am going to tell you something: you are who you are in part because of them—and that is grand. If your mother is Jewish, it means that you are Jewish because of her, and that is huge, because it means that you are connected, you have roots. These roots give you stability; they give you strength. Through its roots, the tree is nourished with nutrients from the soil and water. The roots rise to the trunk, the trunk to the branches, and from the branches grow flowers and fruits.

You are connected. You have roots.

There’s another secret that I learned as I observed my father-in-law. Everyone does the best they can in their situation, and we all make mistakes. I started to think about my own parents, and I realized that they really did the best they could, and they continue to do the best they can. Who is to say that if I were in their shoes I wouldn’t have done worse. I look at my own children, and I only pray that they forgive me for my mistakes ,and that they take responsibility for their actions. I pray that one day they sit and reminisce about their “beautiful” childhoods and that when they think of me it is with positive thoughts full of respect, love and admiration.