The Gift of Tears – by Yitta Klein
It seems that some people are blessed with tremendous clarity about parenting, and raising children comes very easily for them. But then, there’s the rest of us.
Leah, for example, always found raising children to be a real challenge. While she was extremely capable at her job and so appreciated as a community volunteer, in her home, it’s a whole other story.
Leah was raised by a very anxious mother and the atmosphere at home when she was a child always felt very stressful for her. Her biggest fear as an adult is that she would repeat her mother’s mistakes. But she didn’t realize just how much her anxious drive to avoid being like her mother was going to create so much chaos in her own head.
Despite Leah’s deep love for her family, she found it hard to enjoy even the sweet, calm parenting moments she’d have with them. She’d find herself snapping at them again and again, overwhelmed by the small challenges that arose and the myriad tasks connected to keeping her home organized.
She had tried taking parenting courses and even therapy, which had all helped a little, but couldn’t seem to shift the core issue. Things came to a head when she and her husband were having a parental consultation about their teenage daughter.
“Why can’t you trust your teenage daughter?”
The therapist asked Leah this question towards the end of the session, and she felt as though she’d just been punched in the stomach. She staggered back and tried to take a breath.
Why can’t I trust her? Why am I so anxious about her, when my husband is not, and neither is the therapist? Why am I so panicked that I can barely think straight, concerned about how she might end up and what trouble she might get into?
Many thoughts passed through her head but nothing seemed to be exactly the right explanation. What was it? Why? She reflected deeply for a few moments and the words that popped out of her mouth surprised everyone, particularly Leah herself.
“Because I don’t trust myself!” she blurted out.
A long silence filled the room. Leah started to cry. It became very clear that she needed time to process what she had just said and its implications for her daughter, herself and what it meant to be a parent, in general.
When Leah and her husband came home, she told him that she needed to take time to think and he nodded, understanding. She grabbed her car keys and left the house, not really sure where to go.
Nature. I need to be somewhere beautiful.
Leah had always found nature to be very grounding, really healing. Surrounded by the beauty Hashem had created in the world, she’d feel safe to do the inner work being required of her. She drove to the Botanical Gardens.
It was a gorgeous spring day; the sun was shining and the sky was bright blue. The flowers were abundant- lilacs, peonies, irises and daylilies were in full bloom, their contrasting colors creating an artistic display, yet Leah found that she could barely sense any beauty. Negative thoughts flooded her being. Her mind was racing, stuffed full of fear and anxiety as she swiftly analyzed and reanalyzed her problems.
It must all be my fault! Leah thought, both the areas of my daughter’s behavior that I found so challenging and even the fact that I see them as challenging. Why does my husband have a much better relationship with her? What is wrong with me? Why can I be so capable in everywhere except my home- which really means more to me than all the rest put together!
As she continued walking, her mind began to slow down just enough for her to become aware of the disparity between the beauty around her, and the darkness and gloom in her thoughts.
She could see that the vibrant color of the flowers really reflected a masterpiece of magnificence, but felt so disconnected from it all. Leah tried a variety of methods the experts always recommended as short-cuts to ‘being present’ and relaxing – she breathed deeply, she tried to let all the thoughts drop out of her head etc. – yet nothing worked.
She felt stuck in her misery and totally frustrated.
Then the image of Shoshie Stern a’h, a childhood friend, crossed her mind. Shoshie was a beautiful, kind, sweet 12 year old girl who’d been tragically killed when she was hit by a car as she was crossing the street. Her loss had been so shocking and painful.
Leah walked around the gardens thinking of Shoshie, and realized how deeply she still missed her. Shoshie had been naturally blessed with so many special gifts, especially in the areas where Leah really struggled.
Shoshie was always cheerful and brought sunshine with her wherever she went. She could always find the silver lining, both in her own circumstances and even more so in the people around her. Shoshie appreciated and loved every person she met with a full heart. Her entire being was flooded with simcha and she naturally spread it to those around her.
In that moment, the contrast between Leah and Shoshie, a’h, loomed large indeed. Leah’s heart filled with sadness at the enormity of the loss of such a beautiful person. But there was something else growing in that dark place, too – an intense desire to be more like Shoshie.
Out of nowhere, tears began pouring down Leah’s cheeks and she cried, for the first time in many years. Whenever the tears would begin to slow down, another thought about Shoshie would bring on new torrents. She thought about Shoshie’s amazing parents, and about how our world is so much darker without such a beautiful neshama. She thought about her friends, many of whom took on mitzvos in her memory.
Hashem, help everyone to cope with this loss! Let Shoshie’s neshama be a “meilitz yosher”, for me, an emissary to You, Hashem, so that You’ll help me to live more as Shoshie lived!
Leah had no idea how long she cried; it seemed to her like an eternity. But as the tears finally ceased, she caught her breath and ws surprised to notice that a sense of peace, calm and clarity had settled over her. She looked around, and her breath caught in her throat- the gardens looked so beautiful! It was as if a heavy cloud that had followed her around for a long time had been lifted, and now everything glistened!
Afterwards, Leah reflected on her experience that:
“For the first time in a long while, it didn’t seem to make sense to me to reflect on all the problems that had taken up so much space in my brain. I felt like I’d been gifted with new eyes, and I was blown away by the splendor of my experience. I walked slowly, feeling fully connected to the incredible magnificence that seemed to radiate from each petal and blossom. It seemed as if I had landed in a completely new world. I could barely believe I was still in the same gardens that I had seen with such disconnect before.”
The whole drive home, Leah was amazed that simple houses and driveways could look so special and that it was possible to be enveloped by such feelings of peace and calm. She felt she was looking at the world more like a ‘Shoshie’, than like a “Leah’.
When she got home, she just wanted to listen, connect to and love and enjoy her family – so that is what she did for the rest of the evening. It was like a ray of sunshine through the dark clouds that had previously been her experience of parenting.
Leah explained afterwards:
“I realized that in all the busyness of life, I had let my fears drive my direction and I’d lost touch with myself, and my intuition, and what brings me simcha. Instead of fighting to be right, I wanted to inspire from joy and love.”
If this was a fairy tale, it would end here saying that Leah then lived happily ever after. But this is life, and of course, reality is much more complicated than that.
Over many months, when Leah began to notice that she was feeling anxious at home again, she’d choose to daven, or to say some Tehillim, and this helped her to feel that she was handing her problems over to Hashem, and that she didn’t have to be so full of fear anymore.
That is not to say that this journey was easy or simple. There were many challenges that arose, both with finding the time to communicate with Hashem, and also in dealing with issues that automatically flipped her into a stressed state, and even a minor panic attack.
At the beginning, these setbacks really upset her, as she’d really hoped at the beginning that she’d beaten her anxiety for good. Over time though, Leah learned that the pathway to wellness is usually a slow but steady one, and that the ups and downs become less intense over time.
Most importantly of all, as she learned how to bring herself back to that nourishing, peaceful feeling faster and with less effort, her relationships improved, she became less judgmental of her children, and the thought started to occur to her that just maybe, parenting could be something she was good at, after all.
Yitta Klein is a wife, mother, author and educator. She loves to use her teaching and writing to inspire people to bring out their best potential. She appreciates comments and feedback and can be reached at email@example.com.