Another 40 Days - Reopening The Notebook - Part 1
After completing the first 40 day plan, I spoke to Sudilkover Rebbe on the phone about my experiences. He told me that he read my posting, gotten tremendous chizuk from it, and planned to share it with others who came to see him. The Rebbe then told me he wanted me to start another 40 days to concentrate on the second column of my notebook. From what I had repeatedly written down during the previous 40 days, it was evident what my greatest challenge was; anger.
You may recall from last year that overcoming my anger and having more patience with my children was also my resolution from Rosh Hashana for the new year. However, if I were to hold myself up to strict accountability and grade myself on my progress since then, I would say that I had only progressed from a C+ to a B-.
Although I may raise my voice on occasion, I never hit my children and never scream at them. If they really misbehave, I respond by saying, "That's 1." At the count of three, I pick them up and put them in their room for a few short minutes to show them that their behavior is unacceptable. Afterwards, I don't lecture them, I just let them come downstairs again. On a good day, I only have to count for them to correct their behavior, and on an extremely bad day I might have to put them in their room two or three times.
Whether I am strict or lenient when they misbehave I never get the feeling that I am completely doing the right thing. Sometimes my 3 year-old son comes over and wildly runs and jumps around in the kitchen and family room. A tinge of anger goes off in my mind and I grab him to stop him with a grip that is a bit harder than I would like to admit. It is that tinge of anger that I experience that bothers me. If my wife notices me doing this, she immediately stops me. While I am always grateful that she does, I still feel shame that I acted out of anger.
The Sudilkover Rebbe instructed me to use my notebook and once again divide it into three columns so that I could write down the good points for each of my children each day. He then told me to read what I had written down out loud before I said Krias Shema al HaMita before going to sleep each night.
When the Rebbe first told me this advice, I told him that in my experience that my success or failure with my children on a daily basis seemed to be completely out of my control since success raising children is ultimately in Hashem's hands. I could start the day with the brightest smile, the kindest words, and never-ending patience and still have a day that backfired on me inevitably resulting with me loosing my temper. Whether I did everything right or everything wrong, I could still end up with the same result.
The Rebbe listened to my objections and the stressed once again the importance of using the notebook. He mentioned that he too was not on a level where he considered using a notebook to be beneath him. I ceased my objections and told him that I would start this 40 day plan on that very day. While logically I could not fathom how I would be successful by following this new advice, I decided to put my brain aside and accept his words with the simple faith that indeed there must be something to them.
When I got home that evening, I got the notebook out from the drawer of my nightstand, divided the page into three columns, and started writing down their good points. Immediately, I realized that if I was going to be successful I would need to take the advice I gleaned from the lesson I learned in this posting, and apply it to my children. I also recalled a teaching that I had come across while learning Midrash Pinchas a few days prior regarding the words בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ - ...seek peace and pursue it from Tehillim 34:15. There Rabbi Shmuel Voltses, a talmid of Rebbe Raphael of Bershad, taught that to make peace a person does not need to initiate a elaborate global campaign to bring world peace. Rather, he should simply focus on establishing peace with the children in his home and thereby bring peace into his world.
In order to ensure my success, I also resolved to give $18 to tzedaka for every occurrence where I grabbed my son or older daughter out of anger. Before I returned home each day, I would diligently remind myself that there would be a penalty if I lost my temper and I would ask Hashem for help to be successful that evening; keeping in mind the Pele Yoetz's observation,
"It takes great understanding to fathom the workings of a child's mind and to deal with him appropriately."
I spoke with the Sudilkover Rebbe on the phone shortly before he returned home to Ramat Beit Shemesh and gave him a progress report up to that point. I explained my tactic of instituting a fine and also suggested that I might need another 40 days when I was done because of my limited progress controlling my anger with my children. The Rebbe responded,
"Let me tell you something, by using the notebook you are making them better."
Having reviewed Likutey Moharan "Reish Peh Beis" numerous times since he first advised me, I understood that the Rebbe was referring to the concept that one can literally elevate a person when one he judges them favorably and seeks out their good points.
Perhaps it was my conversation with the Rebbe that day that reinvigorated me, however, later that night my wife complimented me how well I had dealt with our kids and their outbursts earlier that evening. This was the very first time I could recall my wife ever making such a comment to me. I didn't know whether to attribute it to the fact that I was just simply in a good mood that day or whether I actually had made a breakthrough. Was it possible that my breakthrough with anger had just occurred 14 days after starting the Rebbe's 40 day plan?
Part II is continued here.