Parenting Podcast: Umbrellas and Boulders: Independence vs. Interdependence
“Does she remember it or not, it was not only the first day in her life that she used her umbrella, it was also the first day in her life that she walked alone, without holding either her mother’s or her father’s hand.” –Umbrella by Taro Yashima (1958)
This is the conclusion of a book I used to read to my now adult children. The main character, Momo, has been given boots and an umbrella for her third birthday. Each day she longs to use them, but each day the sun is shining. When finally a rainy day comes, she pulls on her boots and proudly walks to nursery school with her umbrella open above her, clutching the handle with both her hands.
The message to parents of Umbrella and of our society in so many ways is to help our children become independent. In this week’s Jewish Parenting Podcast, Wendy Grinberg asks Dr. Ken Ginsburg to explain his advice to parents: “Start by getting out of the way.” My concern is that in our worrying about self-sufficiency and confidence, we can inadvertently undermine the message of interdependence that allows individuals and communities to seek help and work side-by-side without shame. Umbrella was published in 1958, but there is a trend emerging that pays attention to social-emotional intelligence and the importance of teaching children interdependence and successfully living in relationship to others. As a parent, rabbi and therapist, this is my central concern.
Here’s another story I used to tell my children, a Hasidic tale. A boy and his father are traveling together in a horse drawn wagon. The horse, struggling to pull the wagon uphill, suddenly stops because a large boulder is blocking the path. The boy climbs down from the wagon and attempts to push the boulder aside, to pry it loose with a branch and even roll it out of the way. Nothing works. He climbs back in the wagon defeated, explaining to his father that he has tried every idea and used all of his strength. The task simply can’t be accomplished. His father gently asks him, “Are you sure you tried everything you have? You never asked me for my help, and you also have me.” Thereupon, father and son climb down from the wagon and manage to move the boulder out of their path together.
Kids need to know that they can turn to us for help, and they should. Many young lives are saved and suffering averted when young people in our youth groups, high schools and on college campuses reach out to tell youth group advisors, parents and other adults when they read or hear despairing messages on Facebook, on email or in conversations with friends. Young people like this know what to do within the context of a caring and supportive Jewish community.
Dr. Ginsburg talks about how parents must model the 7 Cs of resilience. How can we model this central Jewish message of interdependence? Here’s one last story to illustrate this point. When my friend and congregant was dying of cancer, she reached out to the congregation to bring meals to her house during this difficult time. She explained that while she and her husband could certainly order take in on their own, she had a goal beyond feeding her family. Her young children already knew Domino’s delivered; she wanted them to know the synagogue and the Jewish community did too. We are part of a Jewish community because we can count on one another. Knowing how and where to ask for help is part of being resilient.