The Helicopter Parent
This week’s parsha is the final installment in the Book of Genesis. The last of the forefathers, Jacob is about to die, and the family is in Egypt where they are thriving and becoming more numerous. The dark clouds of slavery have not yet entered their lives.
Before he passes on, Jacob calls his sons together so that he can share with them his prophecy of when and what will happen when the Mashiach/Messiah arrives.
And Jacob called his sons and said, “Come together so that I can tell you what will happen to you in the End of Days. Gather together and pay close attention, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel your father.”
And so while we wait with bated breath for this great revelation to be disclosed, we are immediately disappointed because it never happens. Instead Jacob speaks to each and every one of his sons, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses – as the case may be – and then gives each a blessing. Talk about bait and switch.
So what happened to the amazing prophecy that he was going to share? Where did it go? Rashi, citing the Midrash, informs us what transpired:
Jacob wished to reveal to them The End, but the Divine Presence left him, so he began to speak of other matters.
Yeah, just when Jacob wanted to spill the beans, God intervened and said, “No dice. Ain’t happening” and forced a senior moment on him to forget it. Jacob had one thing in mind but God overruled and vetoed it.
The tension here between Father Jacob’s wish and God’s overrule is one that parents deal with all the time when they raise their kids. Jacob was concerned about the pain of Exile on his progeny and wanted to alleviate that on some level by telling them the future. God disagreed.
As parents we wish to ensure that our children will live with the least amount of pain as possible. After all, this is what having kids is all about. Providing for their good, welfare, safety and general well-being. When they’re tiny we are their everything, making sure they are fed, clean, warm and safe. As they get older, and they become more independent, there is a natural shift and we cannot be there for every moment of their lives like we were when they were infants. We can’t be present for every scraped knee and emotional hurt.
Alas, some parents never learn to let go and they become the proverbial “helicopter parent” who is overprotective and showers excessive attention on their child. Being a helicopter parent, or not, starts early on. I recall once going to one of these, “See-how-amazing-your-child-is-doing-in-our-school!” afternoons that consisted of some play or holiday program when she was in kindergarten. You know the type, just when you think it’s over, they spring the, “And now you will participate with your child and together you will make a creative art project.” Ungh.
In this case it was a stick horse we were supposed to make from the wooden pole, construction paper, stuffing and glue that was provided. As I looked around the room I suddenly discovered that I was the only parent who was not making it for their kid. Every other parent was basically doing the whole thing while their kid stood off to the side and at most handed them the materials. Not me, I made Tzippy do all the work. The only thing I did was staple the bits together because it was impossible for a five year-old to do that part. Hers may not have looked as professional as the others, but at least she could take pride in the fact that she made it.
This is a challenge for any parent. Striking the proper balance between being there for them but at the same time respecting their independence. And part of that independence is their need to make mistakes which sometimes means they get hurt in the process. And as they get hurt, so do we.
This is what Jacob and God were grappling over. He was trying to blunt the pain by giving them an end goal and showing them it will all have a wonderful positive outcome ultimately. But God was not interested in that. No cheating here. The final chapter of the book is not going to be revealed. Because along with that comes the possibility and threat of complacency. “Oh, it all works out in the end at such and such time? Great, so we will just sit on our hands for the time being and wait for God to make that happen.”
Nope, that is not how God wanted Jewish history and destiny to go down. “Yeah, Jacob I fully understand your love and concern for your kids, and their kids and their kids and theirs… and so it goes. And I know that all you want is for their best and that they should not have to endure too much pain. But this is not what’s in their best interest. No Back To The Future scenarios to spoil the plot. They will have to work it out in real time as it happens without any clear foreknowledge of how it all ends.”
And so too as parents, as much as we would like to control their destiny and future, we need to let go and let them make their own way. We need to put our trust in the values we gave them, their ability to make sound decisions from those values, and the knowledge that they will be able to pick up the pieces when they do not. And just like Jacob had to learn to “let go and let God”, so too we need to do the same. Because with or without knowing when and how it exactly happens, Redemption ultimately does arrive. For your kids and for God’s as well.
Be still for a second while I try and try to pin your flowers on
Can you carry my drink?
I have everything else, I can tie my tie all by myself
I’m getting tired
So worry not
All things are well
We’ll be alright