“Im ein ani li, mi li? Aval im ani rak l’atzmi, ma ani?”
“If I am not for me, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”-Hillel (Pirkei Avos 1:14)
We all have own strengths, the things that come naturally to us, that we might even excel at.
We also have our deficits, our challenges. It’s no use to compare, because what might seem like a small challenge in our eyes is insurmountable in someone else’s.
As a parent, I often see, with dismay, my own deficits and flaws reflected very clearly in my children’s behavior. When they have a hard time dealing with disappointment, with frustrations, with the normal challenges of childhood, I see myself in them.
I see how my own maladaptive responses have trickled down into their childish tantrums. I see how my perfectionism and critical nature can result in a perfectly good drawing ended up crumpled at the bottom of the trash can.
And it is torture.
Torture because I want them to be better than me. Torture because making progress on this personal failings is a grueling and painstakingly slow process.
Rav Yisrael Salanter, father of the mussar movement, famously said that it was easier to complete learning the entire Talmud (a feat only some area able to do once every seven and a half years, if they learn a page every single day) than to correct one flawed character trait.
This pandemic has accelerated the amount of progress I’ve made on certain character traits, which is both fantastic and also humbling (who knew I could actually make such progress, and what was holding me back until now?!).
One thing that I have learned is that I must take ownership of my own emotional landscape and be my own advocate.
What do I mean by this?
I mean that I have learned to pay much closer attention to when I’m starting to get overwhelmed and take the necessary steps to prevent the overwhelm from getting out of hand.
Previously, I would have built-in time to decompress. When the kids were at school. When I volunteered for something outside of my home. When I went out to run errands.
But now, obviously, that downtime and those built-in mechanisms no longer exist.
Now I have to pay attention and speak up for myself when I feel the edge approaching.
And since I have learned to regulate my own mood more consistently, guess what??
I have been able to help my children with their own regulation as well.
So I feel that by being for myself, by learning how to really manage more capably, I have also been able to not only be about myself.
-Family photo by me