When I finished my doctorate, my advisor and favourite professor told me that the biggest mistake he made while mentoring me was that he never helped me fail at something. At the time, the possibility of failing was completely incomprehensible and shocking.
I’ve been reading a lot about raising resilient children and how “parents these days” are over protective, rushing in to find solutions for our children, smoothing out the path ahead of them so they don’t trip on any bumps along the way. With our heads, we can understand the benefits of struggling along the way. It builds character, teaches problem solving, and builds up grit, stamina and endurance.
But our hearts hurt when our children are hurting, when they’re stumbling, and since, from our own experiences, we can fix the problem and move on to the next item on our overwhelming list of things that require our attention, we step in to stop the pain. For ourselves as much as our children.
It’s hard to watch the struggle. It takes patience, and character and grit.
This week we read two parashahs – Behar and Bechukotai. The second parashah begins with the phrase:
If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments.
Rashi explains that “walking in God’s statutes” means that we must be toiling in the Torah. In other words, the Torah is not an end-point. It is a process that we must work at every day, figuring out how and where to fulfill the commandments in our lives. Sometimes we’ll know exactly what to do and how to do it and some days we’ll struggle and make mistakes. But we keep walking and finding our way.
Rashi shows us that with the word “walk” the Torah is emphasizing the effort we put in rather than the achievement of a goal.
As parents, we’ve already walked quite a way down our own paths. We’ve tripped, we’ve veered off course. Sometimes we’ve walked alone, sometimes we’ve had others with us keeping us company, or holding us up. All this has been our own efforts. Our children need to walk their own paths. They should learn what it means to try a little and what it means to try a lot.
When they were babies, we were eager for them to reach that developmental milestone and start walking. We worried when they didn’t start “on time.”
But they would not have learned to walk if we carried them everywhere and never set them down on the ground. We knew instinctively that they must learn to find their feet and feel the ground and figure out how to balance. It takes practice. And they all fall in the process.
And remember how we use to clap and cheer? Especially when they fell so they wouldn’t be scared?
Process. Toil. Effort. And failure.
It builds grit and character.
In our children and in ourselves.