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educating grandchildren


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Sivan 8, 5771
I’m trying to be a good mother in law and not be critical or “mix in” about the education of my grandchildren. When I last spoke with my son on the phone we talked about his childhood, and difficulties between us, then as I reminisced I remember that in spite of the struggles, bedtime was always special culminating in reciting together Hamapil and Shema, ever since before my son could talk, and as he grew up, he would be able to gradually complete the words, and to this day, he always recite these prayers before going to bed. I then casually told him that it would be a nice thing also for him to do with his children from a young age, and that the blessings could be even recited for the baby who would then learn it quicker as she grows up. I was a bit sad that my oldest granddaughter who is already almost 4 still doesn’t know the words of Hamapil, but this could easily be remedied. My son, said that perhaps when the children became older it would be a good idea, and I insisted that the whole point is to recite these brachot when the children are young so they become part of their being. Then my son became upset and said that I was not allowed to “mix in”, not in the children’s education, not in which school they were going to (I have once expressed discontent that they plan to take the children out of a Chabad school and move them to a mixed group of boys and girls when the children are so happy now in the Chabad), and not in what the clothes they were wearing. (I only remember containing myself and not expressing my discontent when the girls over 3 were wearing pants.) So my question is, what are the boundaries of “mixing in”? When you love and care about your grandchildren is there absolutely no place for a mother/mother in law to give advice (not criticism) for the sake of the wellbeing of the children? Does my son not have a mitzvah of Kibud Em, to try to implement my advice as long as it’s not going against the Torah?
Hashem Imach, It is very commendable and even natural that a grandmother should want to educate her descendants to follow in her path and the path of our forefathers. It is also natural and logical to be sensitive to the interests of the child’s parents, and to keep Shalom Bayit (family peace), as well. Thank G-d, you infer that the parents are raising their children religiously, just maybe not as observant of certain halachot. If they teach their children Shma Yisrael, but omit HaMapil, they can surely rely on the halachic authorities who say that it may be better for children not to say HaMapil because one is not allowed to speak afterwards (Orach Chaim 239, 1), something very difficult for children. Although the best solution would be to teach them HaMapil without saying G-d’s name in the bracha, it is not “wrong” for children not to say HaMapil. Halachically speaking, a grandmother (as all women) is not obligated to teach her grandchildren Torah, but whatever you succeed is obviously good. Part of the beauty of the grandparent-grandchild relationship, is that it usually avoids the discipline and tension often found between parents and children, especially as they grow older and more rebellious. In addition, many psychologists refer to a “zig-zag” pattern where if the grandparents are “zigs”, their children may see their identity as “zags”, but the grandchildren will often see their identity, in which they are different from their parents, once again, as “zigs”. It would be wise not to ruin this beautiful and natural, G-d-made “coalition” of grandmother-grandchild, through unnecessary pressure or tension, but contrarily, use it to your, and your grandchild’s, advantage. Grandchildren see their grandparents as pleasant admirable “examples”, and they will sub-consciously want to be like you and follow in your footsteps, as long as they associate being with you as pleasant, non-pressured quality attention-time. The positive association with Torah and mitzvot they will pick up by being around you, and sub-consciously wanting to emulate you, is the greatest contribution that grandparents can have, often even more than parents, to the spiritual and religious upbringing of their descendants. Don’t ruin this great opportunity by “mixing-in” against the wish of the parents, which may even cause them to keep the grandchildren away from you. Just “be yourself” in the most loving way possible, and “by the way”, your influence will inevitably be felt. With Love of Israel, Rav Ari Shvat
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