Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Balancing Roles

(Picture courtesy of emc.gov.au)

A Simple Jew asks:

On a few occasions, I have witnessed examples of working fathers still attempting to play the role of traditional nuturing mother because of their distate to sometimes have to play the stricter masculine role that a father is often required to play. Instead providing the counterbalance of gevura, this type of father will attempt to replicate chesed exhibited by the mother so he never has to be viewed as the "mean" parent. Rachel Arbus once wrote, "Parents need not act in the same manner - but they must have similar philosophies and a common goal."

Do you think it is possible that a chesed-chesed type of parenting style can ever be successful? Also, do you think it would be possible that a chesed-gevura parenting style with flipped roles with the father as the chesed and mother as the gevura be successful?

Dixie Yid answers:

Actually, I think that I would turn your whole question on its head. Rather than assuming that the mother is the chesed (kindness) role and that the father is the discipline (gevurah) role, I would put those in reverse.

We know that kabbalisticly speaking, the male side is the side of chesed and the female side is the side of gevruah. This is seen in the relationship between Avraham and Sara, where Avraham was the constant manifestation of chesed, even to his son Yishmael, who was negatively influencing Yitzchak, his true spiritual heir. However, Sara was the "stricter" force of gevurah that knew when to say "no"

Also, in Tehillim 103:13, the pasuk says, "כְּרַחֵם אָב עַל-בָּנִים רִחַם ה עַליְרֵאָיו," "As a father has mercy on his children, so too may Hashem have mercy upon those who fear him." This pasuk identifies the father as the more merciful parent.

I see this same breakdown of traits in my own home as well. My wife is the one with a better sense of limits, a stronger gevruah side. Whereas I am the pushover, the one who the kids know they need to ask first, if they want to do something they know their mother would not allow. I think that I fall more on the chesed side not only because I am out of the house more than my wife (who also must unfortunately work), but also because that is my natural nature. I think that in our house, it is not the perfect balance. Since I do not take on the trait of midas hadin (strictness) too often, my wife feels that she has to compensate in the other direction, lest the children lose a proper sense of boundaries due to my indulgent nature.

In my home, we definitely have a chesed-gevurah dichotomy, but the problem our parenting is still not balanced enough. I lean too far to the chesed side, which in turn requires my wife to compensate by leaning farther to the gevurah side. The better plan would be for me to show more gevurah to balance out my trait of chesed.

I will admit, though, that the feeling of guilt for not being home enough due to work and law school, that you mentioned, still does apply in my case. And I think that this guilt explains why I am having a hard time balancing my exaggerated sense of chesed with some gevurah, and turning my chesed shebachesd into a gevurah shebachesed, where chesed is still the dominant trait, but where it is tempered with the right balance of gevurah which I lack.

As to your first question, I think that it would be difficult to be difficult for a chesed-chesed parenting style to be successful. I can't imagine how bad off my kids would be if they had two parents like me! One has to have a sense of Mishlei 13:24 "חוֹשֵׂךְ שִׁבְטוֹ שׂוֹנֵא בְנוֹ," "one who withholds the rod hates his child." The damage done by an unadulterated chesed parenting style from both sides would be great. This is exemplified by Yishmael, who was considered the psoles, the chaff of the Chesed-dominent parenting of Avraham Avinu.

May we all merit to have balance in our own lives and in our parenting!


At January 29, 2008 at 8:47:00 AM EST, Blogger Alice said...

Good answer and a thought provoking question too. You need the right hand and the left hand, correct? I think it creates insecurity in the home if the kids don't feel mom and dad are tough enought to protect them. And how can mom and dad protect the kids if they can't say 'no' to a small child? Just a thought.

At January 29, 2008 at 8:53:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Alice: Do you think the father is gevura (severity) and the mother is chesed (kindness) as I wrote, or do you agree with Dixie Yid's opinion that it is the opposite?

At January 29, 2008 at 9:11:00 AM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

ASJ & Alice,

Looking forward to your and others' answer to ASJ's question!

-Dixie Yid

At January 29, 2008 at 9:17:00 AM EST, Blogger Alice said...

I think it depends on the family. That's not a Torah answer, clearly. I intentionally looked for a man with a sweetness and kindness to him because I like how sweet guys raise little boys. They temper the roughness that seems to be natural in males. So Patrik is a bit more easy going than I. I was a teacher for ten years, and was raised in a home with almost no rules (which is not fun, contrary to popular belief) so I tend to be a bit more of a toughy.

At January 29, 2008 at 9:24:00 AM EST, Blogger Alice said...

I will say that we discipline together and use the word 'team' a great deal in our home to ensure that Jake knows we are on the same page.

At January 29, 2008 at 2:08:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jointly, the parents need to cover all bases. However, the exact arrangement or combination of approaches that works best depends on the personalities of all family members, their other responsibilities at any given time, and other factors.

At January 29, 2008 at 3:13:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott Brown, author of How to Negotiate with Kids, argues that what he calls "persuasive parenting" is better than either lay-down-the-law or pushover parenting. I'm not sure but his concept could potentially capture the sense of balance you're referring to.

In my family I represent gevura while my wife naturally leans toward chesed. By the way I'm also a law student!

At January 29, 2008 at 4:51:00 PM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Happy to learn about another law student out there. You working too?

Although we can't usually "force" our kids to do things, I don't know if we should make our parenting depending on "persuading" our kids to do what they should. Often times, they need to do what they need to do in a lay-down-the-law sort of way. And whether they agree or not isn't the point.

Perhaps you could explain his approach more?

-Dixie Yid

At January 29, 2008 at 6:02:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a tiny job, but mainly I'm a full-time student (as is my wife!).

I'm sympathetic to the lay-down-the-law philosophy, and I feel strongly that in general American culture kids are way too powerful and demanding towards
their parents. While I'm not completely convinced by Brown's parenting strategy I think it has some good points.

Brown was a lawyer specializing in negotiation, involved in the Harvard Negotiation Project, and in high-level negotiations around the country and the world. He eventually got the idea to apply what he learned to parenting as well, after hearing a lot of comments from parents exhausted from interacting with their kids.

He argues that even parents who don't think you should have to negotiate with kids, and who have a strict style of parenting, end up negotiating with kids anyone. Of course in every family there are going to be non-negotiables, which he acknowledges and endorses. But in less-important decisions, like how many pieces of candy your 3-year old can eat after his older sister just ate X pieces, and even some more important ones, he thinks it can be very helpful to negotiate, both in terms of what the result is going to be in a particular instance and what the rule is going to be. When kids' voices and concerned are heard, and when they have to listen to the rationales behind your position and your ultimate decision about what the rule is, they they're more likely to abide by the decision, especially if they feel they had some role in bringing it about.

He says a lot more about what a persuasive style of parenting is, and how we need to try to listen to our kids, and manage our emotions during conflicts with them. (Two of the chapters are called "Deal with your emotions before you deal with your kids," and "Help your child deal with his emotions too.") This isn't touchy-feely psychobabble, but common-sense (and Jewish-like) approaches to making sure you're not making decisions and having interactions with children while one is overcome with emotions like anger.

Again I'm not sure what I think of the book overall, since I've only read it quickly and haven't tried to implement it, but I think it might contain some useful ideas.

At January 29, 2008 at 9:19:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent article, and so enlightening to all Jewish families with children. As Jews we need never to look any further for questions we may have about child rearing than our own Torah. Thank you so much for this article.


At January 29, 2008 at 10:08:00 PM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Thanks for the clarification. It does makes some sense, especially recognizing the realities of today, even with our own children. And I guess we do that as well when trying to get our children to do or not do certain things. Definitely, the part about not disciplining in anger makes a lot of sense.


Thank you for your kind words for me and ASJ!

-Dixie Yid

At January 30, 2008 at 1:09:00 AM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great question. My wife and I flip between the chessed and the gevurah models. It has a lot to do with personalitity types. I'm more laid back about certain things than my wife is, while my wife is much more 'fun loving' about things than I am, at times.
Kids, I think, tend to gravitate towards the parent they feel more connected to based on certain situations. I'm sure most parents out there know that when a child want thing "A" they go to the father, but then they want thing "B", it's straight to their mother. I often have to stop myself and be happy that my kids feel comfortable coming to one of their parents (hopefully that will never change). Again, great post.

At January 30, 2008 at 7:58:00 AM EST, Blogger Moshe David Tokayer said...

Chazal imply that the father is generally the stricter of the two parents. When teaching us the mitzvah of honoring parents, the pasuk states the father first. Regarding the mitzvah of fearing parents, the mother is first in the pasuk.

Chazal teach us the reason. Generally children fear their fathers more than their mothers. The Torah puts the mother first in the mitzvah of awe to stress than we must fear the mother equally.

On the other hand, children tend to honor their mothers more than their fathers. The Torah therefore stresses honoring the father by putting him first.

At January 30, 2008 at 2:21:00 PM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Moshe David Tokayer,

You know, I was aware of that statement of Chazal and I have said that it seems to be a wrentch in the cogs of the understanding that I talked about. However, with the many sources for that layout of the general midos, I think that more explanation is needed for that ma'amar chazal, as well as the fact that rechem (womb) is the same shoresh as rachamim (mercy). Any insight into how that fits into the Female=Gevurah/Male=Chesed paradigm?

-Dixie Yid


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