Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Shevat 5765 - January 19, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

Excuses, Excuses
By R. Chadshai

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 their notebook?

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.


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