Parenting with the Parsha -Mishpatim

Following the revelation at Sinai, this parsha details a series of laws: 53 mitzvot in total. One cannot help but wonder about the necessity and benefit of all these rules and details. 

Dr Norman Doidge (author of The Brain That Changes Itself) in his introduction to Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules For Life, comments that “God didn’t give Moses “The Ten Suggestions.” He gave Commandments; and if I’m a free agent, my first reaction to a command might just be that nobody, not even God, tells me what to do, even if it’s good for me.” 

Nevertheless he continues by explaining that the story of the golden calf, which we will read about in a later parsha, “also reminds us that without rules we quickly become slaves to our passions – and there’s nothing freeing about that.”

Our children certainly have those times when they don’t want anyone telling them what to do, least of all their parents. However, it is part of our job as parents to have and enforce rules. Rules provide structure and boundaries. They guide expectations both within and outside the home.They allow us to teach our children, as well as to train them to exercise self-control. 

Providing too few rules can lead to uninvolved parenting or overly permissive parenting, neither of which we want. Parenting educator Janet Lansbury confesses that she started off as a pushover parent. She writes about the realization that “too much power and choice was actually the opposite of freedom for a toddler and could be an uncomfortable burden and distraction.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum is authoritarian parenting, characterized by too many rules – high demands with little given.

We are aiming for authoritative parenting, where we have high expectations and ask a lot from our children, but also provide them with a lot, including warmth and support. We have firm boundaries and limits, enforced calmly with love and respect. Our children may be involved in forming some of these rules, and we can offer them reasons and explanations for our rules. 

All too often we see rules as constrictive and limiting. We need to remind ourselves – and our children – that rules allow us freedom. Both rules given to children, and rules given to us from God. 

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Ilana Harris is a teacher, educator, writer and blogger. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four kids.
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