Modern Mishpocha: Teshuva is not always easy to teach or model

Teshuva is not always easy to teach or model for our children

By Jen Perzow

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are two of my favourite holidays. I love the spirit of introspection and renewal as we reflect on the past, make amends, and make our supplications (in whatever form they make take) for a peaceful and healthy year. Apples, honey, challah and grape juice (or wine) don’t hurt either!

Teshuva (repentance) is a central theme at this point in our Jewish year yet it is a core value that is not always easy to teach or model for our children. Teshuva is about accepting responsibility for our actions and seeing our faults or mistakes without shame but with an intention to always grow and improve. The literal translation is ‘return.’ Returning to our true selves, our true belief systems and to being the best people we can be.

I am a firm believer in the power of personal growth. It is one of the many amazing abilities bestowed upon human beings. Granted, we are not always open and ready to change. Sometimes we lack the desire, insight or tools to be able to do so. Teshuva is a productive and positive ritual that takes us through the process of change and personal growth allowing us to understand ourselves and others, rectify mistakes, and propel us to greater heights and abilities.

Some years ago, a PJ Library book entitled Sorry is the Hardest Word arrived at our home. Perhaps you’ve got a copy of it as well. The story follows a bird who comes to learn both the challenge and importance of apologies. Few people enjoy apologizing but it is a skill central to both the act of teshuva and the process of personal growth for children and adults alike.

Should kids be forced to apologize when they’ve done something wrong or hurtful? While I certainly have been known to request (um, demand) an apology from my kids, the most meaningful apologies come without any coercion. Kids know when an apology is genuine and they certainly know when it’s not. Forcing kids to apologize immediately and before they’ve had a chance to process the reasons for their actions does them a disservice. Some of my most sacred parenting moments have come when, without any intervention from me, I overhear my kids saying to one another “I’m sorry – do you want to regroup?” Regret transformed into changed behaviour is true teshuva and you can’t always rush that.

The inherent purpose of a time out is to allow the person – child or grown up, we all need them from time to time – a chance to calm down, consider both the reason for and impact of an action, and identify some ways to make amends. I prefer to think of it as “taking space” because it leaves behind the punitive connotations that so many of us and our children associate with time outs. Whatever you call it, the more we are in the habit of stepping away to regroup and reflect in or after a tense moment, the more our kids will learn to do the same. Focus shifts from shame and punishment to understanding, restitution and connection.

It is equally important to remind ourselves and teach our kids how to forgive. Forgiveness is not an endorsement of unacceptable behaviour. Forgiveness is a release of anger, hostility and expectation. Sometimes kids will need to forgive and forget. Sometimes they will need to forgive and remember. Either way, forgiving oneself and others is an essential component of teshuva and personal growth.

Shana Tova Umetukah. Gmar Chatima Tova. Have a Sweet and Happy New Year. May You be Inscribed for Good.