We have healthy, active children. Sometimes my wife criticizes them or even scolds them, in my opinion unfairly. I tell her what I think, but she becomes upset with me. She claims that I offend her in front of the children. Personally, I believe that a home need not be "sterile" and that it is permissible for children to be exposed to educational disagreements between husband and wife. What is your opinion?
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a) relates a question directed at Ribbi (Rabbi Yehudah the Prince) by Antoninus: "Can body and soul exempt each other of punishment?" Ribbi responds with a parable of a king who hired two guards to watch over his orchard, a cripple and a blind man. The faithful guards promptly devised a plan for eating from the orchard: the blind guard placed the cripple on his shoulders and the two went about picking fruit. When the king asked them who had eaten from the orchard, each declared innocence. The cripple explained that he could not have taken fruit because he was unable to walk, and the blind man defended himself on the grounds that he could not see. What did the king do? He placed the cripple on the shoulders of the blind man and judged them as one. This parable applies just as well to child education in the home. Husband and wife are a single unit. Therefore, your wife's complaint is legitimate and founded. She calls it "being offended in front of the children," while it might also be seen as creating "conflicting powers" in the home. Even if, in your opinion, your wife's reaction to the children's behavior is unjustified, it is absolutely forbidden to criticize her in from of the children! My advice is that you give her all the necessary support while she reprimands them, even if you feel that her response is uncalled for. A united stance before the children is in itself an educational model of primary importance, and it even makes up for educational mistakes. Later, when the children are sleeping, raise the issue with your wife. Discuss the matter together and come to an agreement regarding how to respond to your children's misbehavior. You added that "a home need not be sterile," and that, in your opinion, it is permissible for children to know that parents are not always in perfect agreement. Children do not live in a dream world; they realize that it is possible for parents to disagree. But this applies to general issues that do not have bearing on the daily doings of the children. It is permissible for the parents to disagree over which bread is healthier, or where to place the bookshelf. Such questions are not directly related to the children, and they have no bearing upon their behavior. If children see and hear disagreements between their parents, they may "take advantage" of the situation, not because of deviousness, but in order to get attention. In addition, such disagreements cause the parents' standing to be called into question, and the children are liable to end up becoming disrespectful toward both of them. In general, a proper home is founded upon parental authority. Disagreements between parents are liable to lead to a weakening of authority, causing a crack in the home's foundation. Therefore, a single voice of authority will help you continue to build your home in joy. Rabbi Elyakim Levanon