Teaching responsibility

Teaching responsibility

Prayers, parenting, and preparing for adulthood

Amy Grossblatt Pessah
Amy Grossblatt Pessah

In the soon-to-be-published, “Parenting on a Prayer” by Amy Grossblatt Pessah (Ben Yehuda Press), the author shares her stories of parenting as she lyrically uses the Hebrew prayers to expound upon essential values in raising children. Fittingly, there are 18 (chai) chapters, each corresponding to a different prayer and associated with a different value. Here is an excerpt from the chapter on responsibility, something incumbent upon parents to teach a youngster when he or she becomes a bar and bat mitzvah.

Ahlaynu l-shahbay’ahch
lah-ahdon hah-kol,
lah-tayt g’dulah l-yotsayr b’raysheet,

[It is upon us to] praise You Source of All Your generous work as Creator of
All You made us one with all of Life]

Our area in South Florida is not known for its extensive tree preserves. While there certainly are some, unfortunately my family sees many more homes than fields of trees and nature preserves. On one of our regular drives, my kids and I had observed that over the past several months the tree population in a specific area had been dwindling. A few weeks later we drove by only to find smoke billowing above what used to be a large plot of land covered with trees. Outrage ensued from my son, “That is terrible, what are they doing there?”


“Mom, what are they doing, why are they burning all of those trees?” As I looked off to the side of the road, I saw multiple piles of tree trunks bundled together all over the field.

“There are clearing the field so they can build homes,” I replied as calmly as I could, feeling the depths of my own pain and despair.

“Why do they have to do that? There are already enough homes in our area, why do they have to build more and why do they have to kill all of those trees!?”

My twelve year old daughter piped up, “It’s not all bad, I know the trees are being killed, but think about the new houses that will be built for those who need a house and think about all of the trees and plants that they will replant around the new houses. They have already destroyed the trees, there is nothing to do about it now.”

“You can’t ignore the negative,” said my son.

“You can focus on the positive,” retorted my daughter.

I sat in the front seat and sighed, marveling over this incredible exchange. How did my kids get to be so big with their own ideas, values, and abilities to express themselves so articulately? Trying hard not to take sides, I agreed with both of them. Yes, we must be mindful and respectful toward the environment and yes, we can choose to focus on the positive when we are presented with a challenging, upsetting situation.

Ahlaynu — it is incumbent upon us to do both. Three important lessons I learned from this interaction:

• We must show up in responsibility for taking care of Mother Earth.

• We can choose how we view challenging situations.

• We can recognize the complexity of competing truths and conflicting values.

As a parent, I believe that it is part of my job to teach my children these three important lessons; and ironically enough, it is these precise lessons which my children taught me.

Ahlaynu l-shahbay’ahch
lah-ahdon hah-kol,
lah-tayt g’dulah l-yotsayr b’raysheet,

[It is upon us to] praise You Source of All Your generous work as Creator of
All You made us one with all of Life

When our children are taught responsibility to take care of our planet, when they can find good in a difficult situation, when they are able to articulate their values AND listen to another’s point of view, they are praising God and God’s creation of the world. Just as I was pleased with the conversation that ensued in my car, I imagine God, as the Ultimate Parent, delighting in Her children’s conversations. Discussing, arguing, listening, and working to solve how we are going to make this world a better place for all of God’s creations is a form of praise to the Sovereign of all things.

Life is messy, complicated, and nuanced. There are many factors we deal with on a regular basis and often-conflicting values emerge. In one conversation three very big issues were raised, and it is difficult to address all of them — especially right in the moment. It took me a while to sit back, reflect, and process what had happened in a short five-minute conversation. Our lives move at such a fast pace and it is hard to recognize, comprehend, and ultimately make sense of what we see, hear, and experience.

Ahlaynu — it is our job to sit back, reflect and integrate.

As parents we can teach our children these same skills. While content is crucial, I’d like to suggest that process is equally important. Creating the space for our children to feel comfortable talking about BIG issues is crucial, be it the environment, attitude and approach to life’s challenges, or competing values. Helping our children articulate their own values and encouraging them to see another’s point of view is, I believe, one of the most important jobs as a parent.

Fast forward six months and we, ironically, were passing by this same field when a different permutation of my three children got into a conversation about animal experimentation. My older son was praising the virtues of experimenting on animals and how through this experimentation many lives have been saved. My daughter was up in arms, seeing no benefits because of the death of innocent creatures. And so it went, back and forth, arguing, protesting; each defending his or her own stance.

One day, too soon, they will fly the coop and I want them to be well equipped to have the necessary skills to be responsible, open-hearted adults who not only speak their Truth — but also hear the Truth of another.

Activities to Promote Responsibility

1) Create a job wheel in order to share chores around the house.

2) Teach children to take care of their personal space, toys, clothes, etc.

3) Have older siblings look after younger siblings, cousins, or neighbors.

4) When kids are old enough, encourage them to get a job, even if it is yard work, additional house cleaning, or babysitting. 

5) Model responsibility for your children so they come to understand the importance, potency and longevity of responsibility.

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