By Sam Glaser
The night before my son Jesse left for summer camp in Wisconsin we were sitting around the dinner table discussing discipline. We turned to our sixteen-year-old counselor-in-training to get his feedback on our parenting style. Jesse commented, “Dad, you have never punished me.” “Really?” I responded. “Yep. Never.” I asked my wife if this is a good thing. She responded, “probably not.” I guess I will be remembered as an “old softy” and clearly Jesse has the healthy quality of omitting certain memories. So how do I enforce discipline? My technique seems to be treating my kids like adults and making consequences real. Indeed, there are ground rules in our mostly peaceful household. If they are broken, our kids immediately sense that the placid order of our micro-universe has been altered. Yes, they can keep pushing or nudging and drive us crazy, but why do that? It doesn’t get them anywhere.
I think there are two key factors that have kept us sane while raising the next generation of LA Jewish kids. One is that we leave most of the heavy lifting to God. What we eat, how we treat others and what we do on Shabbat and holidays isn’t something we have to negotiate. We have a 3500-year-old tradition that offers precise guidelines to keep out of one another’s hair and perceive God’s presence in our everyday lives. The kids see us not only respecting halacha (Jewish law) but also loving it. We appreciate that the genius of Judaism is in the details. We don’t obsess about the supposed limitations but we embrace them. We lead by serving as an example and not by lecturing. And we live in a community where love of Torah and a natural adoption of halacha is the norm.
The other factor is the focus of this essay, consistency. We’re not perfect, but as parents, we are really there for our kids. Going to bat for them at school, helping them grow, not tolerating wasting time or mistreatment of others. When we say we’ll be at the corner to pick them up, we show up on time, give or take five minutes. Dinner is on the table for a family sit-down every night. I think our kids sense that we are all teammates and that we will do whatever we can for them within our means. No really means no. And as hard as it is to have a meeting of the minds, my wife and I do try to dispense justice in tandem and resist our kid’s attempts to play one parent against the other. Our parenting style isn’t “disciplinarian.” Just disciplined.
Consistency is one of the few themes that we areconsistently repeating. All three of our children take lessons on their respective musical instruments and must practice regularly if they want to continue. We encourage them to find friends that are trustworthy and do not run hot or cold based on ever-mutating peer popularity contests. We teach follow-through and expect them to meet the obligations they have taken on. I regularly emphasize the teaching that the holy ark was lined with gold leaf on the outside AND on the inside. Why waste precious gold on the inside? The lesson in a nutshell is that being consistent isn’t just an outward attribute; a true tzadik is holy on the inside and the outside. Learning to be consistent as kids makes them better sons and daughters and I believe will make them better employees, employers and most importantly, spouses.
I regularly reflect on our “chassan and kallah” classes when we were newlyweds. Torah wisdom suggests that the guys make their wives the “queen” of the household, and women must demonstrate sincere respect for their husbands. The marriages that thrive seem to be those where the couple is very consistent in managing these two behaviors. Men, you have to make your wife number one. And remind her daily how she rocks your world. Any less and she feels “hated,” much like Leah felt hated by Yaakov. Women, while it’s true that you may wear the “pants” in the family and may even be the primary breadwinner, you have to keep your husband feeling respected and venerated. And not just on Father’s Day. Anyone can be a tzadik for a minute or two. It’s consistent proactive behavior that keeps marriages strong.
Another piece of advice we got as neophyte grooms is to ensure that we consistently satisfy our wives both in the bedroom and the way we pitch in around the house. The key is to set a standard during the first year of marriage that is reasonable. In other words, not firing on all cylinders at the starting line if that is a pace we can’t maintain. During that first year of marriagewe minimize outside distractions to find a point of deep connection and passion, thereby allowing one’s spouse to feel secure that the pattern of love and duty established is not going to diminish. The true aphrodisiac in a loving relationship is consistency: honesty and reliability that builds real trust and thereby builds intimacy.
Similarly, those growing in Judaism have to set an observance level that they can maintain and not burnout. Yes, we all need to be learning and growing; good enough is the enemy of greatness. But not all at once. Most wise teachers suggest a “baby steps” pace so that the growth remains consistent and practical. It’s hard to take someone seriously that jumps from eating Big Macs into a glatt kosher ascetic the next day. Just like we build marital intimacy with consistency, so to can we bond with the Creator of the Universe. The same dynamic is at play: don’t bite off more that you can chew, take one mitzvah at a time, take on Shabbat one hour at a time, show up for prayer whether you feel like it or not. Every mitzvah has angels doing back flips. Consistency with one’s commitments to God are the engine of the relationship; after all, God created the concept of fidelity and thankfully is infinitely patient.
As many of you know, I am excited about The Possible You, a seminar in powerful Jewish living that I deliver about every other month. One of the key aspects of the work is to distinguish “emes” from “sheker” or truth from falsehood in terms of our relationships with God, one another and ourselves. When we are consistent we are bringing truth into the world. When we break our word we bring falsehood. The goal of this work is in respecting the power of the word, creating reality with our declarations and maintaining that reality by being consistent. This isn’t a recipe for guilt every time you are running late, just something to keep in mind when you have a lapse. One can simply restore emes to the world by apologizing, re-committing to a new goal and moving on. The prophet Shmuel says, “Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker,” usually translated as, “The Jewish People are eternal.” A better translation is “the eternity of Israel is intact because we don’t deceive,” or that our close relationship with God is unbreakable when our word is our bond.
We all have areas where we are inconsistent. Usually it’s those very areas that are crucial for our personal task (tafkid) in life. Thank your Yetzer Harah (evil inclination) for tripping you up in the very place you need consistency. It knows exactly what to do to keep you from reaching your life goals. The $100,000 question is then, how can we create more consistency in our lives? I think the key is threefold: once we identify things that make us procrastinate, give us heart palpitations or get us addicted, set small, manageable goals in
writing and tackle them one by one. Too big a mountain and we’ll never try to climb it. Another method is to bring God into the picture. For example, when I have a creative roadblock I ask God for a new song before I go to sleep. I am rarely let down. Some folks feel funny praying on their own behalf. Establish your small goal and ask for God’s help in achieving it, in the same language you would use asking a friend to do you a favor. Finally, allow yourself a sense of triumph when you accomplish each step and reward yourself for being consistent. For me, chocolate ice cream is a great perk. In fact, I think I’ll use that one right now as a reward for getting this essay written.
There are so lessons we can learn from that simple sentence we utter upon awakening: Modeh Ani. I am grateful to you, living and eternal King, Who consistently returns my soul with abundant compassion. Consistency is God’s gift to us. That we can busy ourselves surfing Facebook while our lungs breathe, blood circulates and food digests is nothing short of a miracle. Every sunrise is a miracle. It just loses its impact by virtue of repetition. “Modeh Ani” asks us to not even leave our beds without acknowledging that our miraculous lives are sustained by God’s quiet consistency. Perhaps the best way to emulate the Creator is with an emphasis on bringing that same consistency to our interactions with our children, spouses and everyone we meet.