Flexibility is the key to marriage and parenting, but what does it really mean? This week’s parsha and the Tom Tov we just experienced is full of wisdom on what a successful marriage is about
Marriage is Invented
In parshas Bereishis we are introduced to the world and then to the institution of marriage. Marriage is that important, and there are many lessons in our parsha relevant to marriage, but let’s look at one of the first lessons.
When Hashem created a helpmate for Adam he did not create her out of nothing, he didn’t even form her out of earth as He did Adam. Rather, He put Adam to sleep and removed part of his skeleton, and that was used to create Chava.
This is vital to every marriage, we need to lose some of our “backbone” before getting married. “Nechis darga, nesiv itsa – Get off your high horse in order to get married” is the gemara’s advice to us (Yevamos 63a).
In introducing the concept of marriage, the possuk this week tells us לא טוב היות האדם לבדו – It is not good for man to be alone”. Perhaps we can read it a bit differently “It is not good for man to be for himself”. Marriage chips away at our innate selfishness like nothing else. We learn to be considerate of others and to relax our expectations for life.
Lessons of Sukkos
As it happens, the Yom Tov we just experienced, Sukkos, teaches us this lesson as well. It’s important that we take along the lesson our sukkah offered us for the rest of the new year.
Sukkos is all about “a temporary dwelling”; we learn to be flexible, we learn that it’s not all about me and my comfort. In the sukkah we get used to doing things that may not be compatible with our personal comfort and preferences. For seven days we exercise our flexibility muscles.
Sitting in the cold, on a folding chair, with the mosquitoes is not something we need to do all year, but sometimes tolerating people around us may give a bit of a similar feeling!
We live to serve Hashem on His terms, even though they may often differ with what we had planned. Getting married and doing things for your spouse is avodas Hashem too. When we lose some of our rigidity in marriage, and we act flexible, we are making Hashem happy.
But not only do we make Hashem happy when we adopt this attitude. We make all the people around us happy too! It’s not easy to live with someone who always needs things done his or her way.
But We Discussed It!
Some people can’t appreciate this, while they agree with all this in theory – in practice, certain things are unacceptable to them. If someone is very rigid and unbending it doesn’t help to tell him “Sorry, but it didn’t work out, it’s the will of Hashem”.
“What do you mean ‘Hashem’?! We discussed this!!”
He may be ready to accept that the rainy weather is from Hashem, or that when he makes a mistake it’s from Hashem, but that his wife doesn’t have dinner ready on time?! That’s from Hashem?! How dare she?
When it comes to relationships one must learn to be tolerant of the failings of others. It’s impossible to live together with a spouse who is always looking for the “right” or “correct” way of doing things. People are not perfect, and if you want to live together with people, you must accept that.
Appreciate When It Goes Right
When talking about people’s rigidity, I think it’s important to mention the following. Oftentimes, what is frustrating you is only a small part of the picture.
Suppose you were late with a payment because your husband forgot to deposit a check. That’s annoying, but in your mind, it’s even more annoying because he always does that. Is that so? Is that really true? Why don’t you focus on the positive?
It doesn’t always have to be the exact way you want it. If it works out most of the time or some of the time, appreciate it! If only you can learn to tolerate the few bumps on the road, and learn to look at the big picture, and accept that yes, most of the time things are good – then you will have changed the course of your marriage.
Chinuch: Who Are They?
There is a great amount of flexibility required if one wants to be a successful parent. The passuk says חנוך לנער על פי דרכו – one must teach a child according to his strengths. Every child is different, as it states in the Haggada shel Pesach כנגד ארבעה בנים דברה תורה – the Torah provides four different versions of the yetzias mitzrayim story to accommodate the varying personalities of four different children.
There is a certain flexibility that you need to show in child-rearing. You have to ask yourself “Who is he? Who is she?” Just because you treated your first and second child one way, doesn’t mean that it will work for the third child as well. You can’t say “This is the way we do things in this house”. As the father or mother, you have the responsibility of matching your parenting style to each child’s needs. It’s not easy, but you need to be able to bend a bit and learn.
From the beginning; understand your child’s soul, and try to speak to him. That’s the way of the Torah. In order to be successful, you must learn to tailor your approach to each child.
Did You Live Up To Their Expectations?
There is another thing that we say to parents who stubbornly cling to their expectations of the perfect child that they envision: “Didn’t your father also have a vision for you? How much of that did you achieve?”
A child is not clay. You can mold your child a certain way, but at the end of the day, every person is an entire world. Every individual has a world of possibilities, a world of choices, and a world of free will. Yelling until you’re blue in the face won’t change your child. Sometimes, you have to learn to take a step back and try to look at the situation a bit more objectively.
Success means different things for different children and we have to recognize and accept that. It’s not realistic to expect your children to line up looking like clones. כשם שאין פרצופיהן שוות, כך אין דעותיהן שוות – their faces aren’t exactly the same, and their minds are certainly not the same.