Always honor your father and mother — or else


The Fifth Commandment — “Honor your father and your mother” — must be key to raising Jewish kids or else God wouldn’t have put it in the Top 10. Not until I had children of my own, however, did I truly appreciate this logic.

In fact, I swore I would never say things like “because I said so” when they ask me why they can’t stay up 30 minutes past their bedtime. Sometimes I give such lengthy explanations that my kids even forget their question.

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For example, I might ramble, “You need to go to bed right now because you had a sleepover the other night, and you were up really late, and you need to be well-rested for your spelling test tomorrow, and besides if you don’t get enough sleep you will be sick, and you don’t want to miss your best friend’s birthday party at Bounce U.”

By now, they are surly exhausted, and cover their own head with a pillow.

The First Commandment, “I the Lord am your God. You shall have no other gods besides Me,” makes it pretty clear that God puts down his foot so that people will pay attention to the rest of the commandments. God establishes his authority from the start, much like when I tell my kids, “I’m your mother.”

Furthermore, “When a person honors the parents, God says, ‘I consider it as though I lived with them and they honored me.'” (Talmud, Kiddushin, 30b).

The philosophy is to teach kids early on who is boss and to be consistent until they leave the nest, if only it were that easy. While the Torah requires us to love God, to love ourselves, and to love our neighbors, nowhere does God proclaim that children must love their parents.

Many parents in my generation give their kids a say so in anything and everything, maybe because they feel guilty for not spending quality time with them. Truth is, children don’t need two more tall friends, but they need someone to look up to. Judaism says the best place to start is respect, or teaching the virtue of derech eretz (the way of the land) by emphasizing good old-fashioned manners like saying “please” and “thank you” and wiping the toilet seat.

Then again, parents have to pick their battles, and one of my biggest pet peeves is when Sari calls me by my first name, “Ellie.” She only yells out my first name in “emergencies,” such as when she freaks out about a tornado siren, when Luci our toy poodle chews another napkin out of the trash, or whenever she can’t find her favorite white sandals with the clip-on flower. The last time she hollered “Ellie,” I calmly explained to her that children don’t call their parents by their first names because it doesn’t show respect. I warned her that the next time she calls me “Ellie,” I will ignore her, even if a funnel cloud is overhead. I went on to suggest more appropriate titles, such as mom, mommy, mama, Ima, or even mother dearest. There I go again with the choices — another weakness of mine.

We often teach what we need to learn, and the lesson to honor God starts with respecting ourselves and each other. As always, this takes a lot of time and energy.

“The Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, husband, and toy poodle named Luci, but not necessarily in that order. She can be reached at [email protected].