It seems strange to write about why I love my children, but nevertheless, some things are important to mention over and over again. Not because my children need to hear it or because other people need to know. It’s simply that I want to make sure I love them for the right reasons.
So why do I love them? Well let me start by placing the bar extremely low. We never expected or desired clones and were not upset that they grew up very differently than my wife and I anticipated. In many areas of life they did not follow in our footsteps and some may even vote in the upcoming elections for the wrong candidate. It’s not that they were perfect in every way and always listened when we spoke. They didn’t always eat their vegetables or dutifully make their beds. Believe it or not, they didn’t always clean their rooms. We had to remind them to wash with soap and water and put away their laundry. Life was anything but predictable, but that is exactly what we signed up for.
So why do I love them? After perusing the biblical stories in the beginning of Genesis, I am glad my children didn’t turn out the way my ancestors’ children turned out. Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, murdered his brother Abel. Ham, one of Noah’s sons, sodomized or castrated his father. Abraham’s child Yishmael, was thrown out of his house in order not to negatively influence his younger brother. Lot had two daughters who proceeded to get him so drunk in order to have incestual relations with him. Isaac and Rebecca also had twin sons. Esau, their oldest, swore to kill his brother Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons and they also had planned on murdering there brother, but ultimately decided to sell him as a slave. What nachas! What pride our ancestors must have had in watching their children’s’ exemplary behavior. However, my love can’t be based on what my children didn’t do wrong.
So why do I love them? I love them for the same reason our ancestors loved their children. I love them because in spite of their imperfections, there are so many more areas of perfection. In spite of some diverging views from what we taught them at home, they still are who they are because of their upbringing and environment. I am so proud of my children for what they do and choose to selectively ignore, what they choose not to do. I love them because they give me so many reasons to love them.
I know of so many parents who are disappointed that their children went off the derech, that their children decided against following their parents’ direction and guidance. I know it can be painful, but perhaps focusing on the many areas where they followed your guidance could offset the pain. The Torah commands us to follow the precept of V’ahavta L’reachah Kamochah – Love your fellow man as you love yourself. We are commanded to love a stranger who we did not raise from infancy and who may not be living up to the expectations of their creator. We are told to love the stranger without prejudice or judgment. Are our children any less important than a stranger? And if they are estranged, isn’t that more of a reason to follow the dictates of the Torah and love them even more.
For most of us we should be thankful that we can love our children. I don’t love my children because I’m obligated to love them; I love them because they deserve to be loved. Think of Abraham, who was obviously cognizant of his son Yishmael’s behavior but nevertheless loved him unconditionally. Think of Isaac, who obviously knew of his son Esau’s behavior but nonetheless wanted to confer the ultimate blessings on him. The biblical narrative shares the reality of parenting. It doesn’t gloss over the bad and only focus on the good. It expresses reality regardless of the negative ramifications. Yet, by doing so it implores us all to realize how fortunate and lucky we are to be blessed with the children we have. And if indeed a child does not live up to your expectations, take comfort in knowing that all our patriarchs can keep you company. Their children, too, caused them angst, anxiety, and sleepless nights.
So why do you love your children?
Rabbi Jack Engel