How often do we hear the words, "It's not fair!"? How many
notes do we write for our children when they are late, or
didn't manage their homework or when they have misplaced
How often do we take the child's side when he tells us that
teacher has it in for him and that's why he got a poor mark
in the test? If the truth be told, we are always on the side
of our children and we will do all in our power to shield
them and to protect them from the consequences of their
deeds. We try to smooth the way for them whenever we can, but
are we doing them a favor, or a major disservice?
If a boy cannot get up in the mornings and after repeated
warnings that he will be late for school, turns over and
grunts as he pulls the covers over his head that you write
him a note, he has learned to be irresponsible. A girl who
stays up late reading an interesting library book instead of
doing her homework, should not be given an explanatory note
to take to school in the morning.
But what about the genuine excuses? There are children who
whine constantly that "it's not fair" and why should they do
a particular chore for the third time in a row when there are
others who never take a turn? Why should they pick up all the
toys when they haven't played with them? There are three
useful little words, condensed into two, "That's life."
Even believing adults may catch themselves thinking, "Why
me?" They may feel sorry for themselves occasionally when the
dinner burns, through no fault of their own. They had to rush
to the doctor with one of the children and now, not only do
they have to start cooking afresh, but they also have to deal
with the burnt pan! No one is going to write them a note that
they were not to blame; they know that this is life and they
just have to learn to cope. A man who has frequent days off
work through no fault of his own will be dismissed, however
many good excuses he has. The employer believes him and
sympathizes with his difficulties, but in the end, he needs a
worker on whom he can rely.
There is no doubt that some children have a harder life than
others. Some children have to work extremely hard and do not
see the fruits of their labors, while some of their
classmates sail through the exams without having opened a
book. It is quite justified for a parent to have a private
word with the teacher that s/he should try to make allowances
for this child who is not over endowed. However, the emphasis
should be on the `private' word. The child does not need to
know about it. If a child is unfortunately born with some
physical handicap, most parents do all in their power to
integrate them among `normal' children. Many of these
children themselves are determined not to be different. They
do not want people to make allowances for them, nor do they
want notes asking for exemptions. They want to cope with
life. Let them!
To illustrate this point, I taught a physically and mentally
handicapped boy for many years. The boy was often quite
resentful of the difference between himself and his friends.
He always got the answer, "I'm sorry, but that's life." One
day, I stood up abruptly, after picking something off the
floor, and bumped my head sharply on an open drawer. The boy
looked at the blood trickling down my cheek and said,
happily, "That's life." The joy I felt at his comprehension
more than compensated for the momentary pain.
As parents, it is our duty to teach children reliability and
responsibility. If a child spends the time chatting to a
friend instead of buying the bread and milk for supper, and
then finds the shop closed, excuses are not going to help.
Ask what s/he thinks you are going to do. The most likely
answer will be to borrow from a neighbor. Make the culprit
borrow the required item or two, but also make them
responsible for returning the things the next day. Some
children are by nature more flighty than others; give them
responsibility, however frustrating it is for you, and do not
accept excuses. Then, as they mature, they will not justify
themselves for missing out on their daily shiur or
forgetting to pick up the neighbor's child from school when
they fetch their own.
If they learn to carry out obligations as children, without
strings of excuses explaining why they didn't do a particular
thing, they will become G-d-fearing, reliable adults.