Seek To Understand, Then Be Understood

by Fraidy Katz

Whenever I try to make one of my children see reason and hear my point of view, I find that I have to explain myself and preach to try to help them see the light and come over to my position. When I do this, I find that the only thing that happens is that I force them to hold on to their convictions with all of their might. Because of this, I am continually getting into conflicts with them. But what choice do I have, don’t I have to teach them right from wrong? 

I recently listened to a class by Shaya Sussman and stumbled upon a parenting tip that has changed my life. He teaches the motto, “Seek to understand, then be understood.” When you honestly try to understand your child’s point of view and go into their headspace with genuine curiosity and hear their side of the story, then you have a chance of them being open to hear what you have to say. 

For example, last week as I was running around in the morning helping the little ones get dressed and making breakfast, my little daughter told me “I’m not going to school today! I’m going with you to work!” She started crying and complaining bitterly. My knee jerk reaction was to say, “Oh my gosh, I do not have time for shenanigans now! You have to go to school and you can’t go to work with me!” I was about to go into a whole tirade and then continue with, “Every girl your age goes to school. School is fun! My work doesn’t let girls come!” But I stopped myself and reminded myself to try and seek to understand. I asked her to explain to me what the problem was and why she wanted to go to work with me. She then told me that she was always hungry at school and that school was so boring. I said, ” Oy that’s terrible!  Why don’t we pack extra food for you in case you get hungry. Would it work if Mommy cut up an apple for you and put a piece of cake in your briefcase?  And you’re right, school is sometimes boring, but now you’re learning about the Haggadah and you don’t want to miss decorating it!” 

All of a sudden she completely changed her tune and ran to get dressed. It was an amazing transformation.

 This episode drives the point home that although as parents, of course we know better and our way makes so much more sense, these little people who Hashem entrusted to us, also have their own thoughts and opinions and ideas. When we come to them with the bottom line and attitude of, “it’s my way or the highway,” we squelch them and force them to dig their heels in the sand in an effort to hold onto their opinion. If I take the time to genuinely hear them out and ask questions about why they feel a certain way and make the effort to understand, I see much better results. I have found this tool to be helpful in my relationship with my children of all ages, and with my students as well.      

Hashem wants us to be “chanoch lnaar al pi darko–educate your child according to his path.“ It is our job as parents to find out what his path is, so that we can be mechanech them properly.

Modeling Understanding For Ourselves

As adults, we play the role of the mother and the child when we seek to understand and validate ourselves. For example, when it comes to raising our children, sometimes we lose ourselves or do not implement the things we have learned. Instead of feeling guilty and beating ourselves up, we can act as a mother to ourselves, and seek to understand and validate our feelings. Yes, children can be challenging and overwhelming, and I did indeed expend much energy and patience on them. That being the case, perhaps I should really not think of myself as being a terrible mother and now I can be open to finding a practical solution for my struggles with the children. And even if I can’t, my feelings are normal and understandable, and what happened does not define me as a bad mother. The more we understand ourselves, the more the job we are tasked to do, will become attainable. 

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