“There’s no handbook for parenting.” We’ve all heard this quote in different forms. There are also no qualifications for becoming a parent, and so it is often very challenging to navigate the waters of parenthood. But we can try to take some ques from the ultimate parent, our Father in Heaven.
The verse in Deuteronomy 14:1 states:
You are children of Hashem your God. You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of the dead. (The Israel Bible p. 474)
This is a beautiful description of the relationship between God and the Children of Israel. What is surprising is the continuation of the verse which instructs the nation not to cut themselves or make a bald spot when mourning the dead. We would have expected a description of God’s love for His children, or a list things He does for them as their Father. Instead, it mentions a some restrictions that God places on us. Why are restrictions an appropriate continuation of the verse, and how do they demonstrate that God is our father?
All parents must love their children unconditionally. This is often expressed through giving. We not only give our children life, but we tend to all of their needs and often go above and beyond their basic needs as well. But, according to Rabbi Yossi Goldin, by listing restrictions right after mentioning that we are the children of God, the Torah is teaching us a vital lesson in parenting. It is not enough to give endlessly to your child. Expressing unconditional love is accomplished through giving, but also through setting limits.
Though it is counterintuitive, by setting limits and creating expectations for how our children should behave we are actually sending them a strong message that we love them. After all, if we didn’t love them we would not care how they behave. It is only because we care about them that we place restriction on their behavior.
In fact, in the world of psychology and mental health, not setting rules and boundaries for our children is considered a form of child neglect. When a parent does not set rules and expectations for their children, they are sending them a subtle message that they don’t really care about them. And while the children might initially enjoy their freedom, they ultimately feel neglected and abandoned.
Dr. David Pelcovitz, a well-known Jewish psychologist, often says that the key to parenting are the two “l”s – love and limits. We learn from the verse in Deuteronomy that one aspect of being the “children of God” is that He places limitation on us and demands that we act in a certain way. By doing so, He shows how deeply He cares for us and loves us. This is something we must do for our own children as well.