My son’s fifth birthday party was this past weekend. It followed on the heels of his graduation from preschool, during which he donned a little white cap and gown along with his classmates.
He is the youngest of my four children — my oldest is 13 — and lately I have been feeling some sadness. That I rushed things, didn’t pay enough attention, didn’t soak up the little things in life. That I hadn’t met their needs fully and hadn’t really, really “seen” them.
Granted, they are still relatively young, but I now get a sense of how quickly it all passes. Little moments all piled atop one another, all interconnected but so easy to miss. I struggle to recall their baby faces, now maturing.
My husband showed me a picture recently that was startling: lying in my hospital bed smiling broadly, holding my youngest just born, while my three older children surrounded us, looking at their new baby brother.
I stared at the photo, not really remembering the moment itself. Like I was looking at someone else’s life.
As I look at my children’s faces in photos, I wonder: Did I give them what they needed at the time? Am I giving them what they need now?
This is something I usually don’t think about as I’m immersed in the moment of an anxious teen or a cranky kiddo. Sometimes we are too close, too involved with people and situations, and we can’t see the big picture.
As the Torah records in this week’s Torah portion, Behalotecha, Moshe asks his father-in-law, Yisro (Jethro), who was an outsider to the Jewish people, for help.
“You will be for us as eyes,” Moshe tells him in Hebrew. Things may be hidden to us, but you will enlighten our eyes, he says. Be our eyes to help us see. Outsiders can see things differently when we are blinded to reality.
As parents, we are so close physically and emotionally to our children. When we are so close, we might not clearly see what they need, whether it’s academic or social or emotional. So, like Moshe, we need to ask outsiders for help — friends, relatives, professionals. And Moshe teaches us that we need to do that before the big challenges arise.
As Rabbi Yechezkel Freundlich, who previously served as associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Jacob in Toco Hills and now serves as a rabbi in Montreal, says on Aish.com: If Moshe can recognize that he will need help, as parents we should also recognize that we don’t have all the answers. That our perspective may be skewed.
Create a relationship, he says. Reach out to those you trust and let them know that their opinion is valued. Then when issues arise, an outsider will be comfortable sharing his perspective. Our children will benefit from having parents who are open to the advice of others, who recognize that we don’t have all the answers and that our approach may be skewed.
For my rising kindergartner, as well as my older children, looking at their photos from years past helped me see them and myself from a different perspective. Sometimes, I can’t trust my own eyes because I might be too close to them.
Going forward, G-d willing, I will make sure to keep closer contact with teachers and tell them I value their input, to reach out to friends and relatives and let them know we may seek their insight with our children. This will involve getting closer to people, building relationships, something that as a mom hasn’t always come easy amid the chaos of daily life.
But it really does take a village to raise a child. We know our children best, but they will benefit from parents who seek the wisdom of those around us.