In his book “The Private Adam” Rabbi Shumley Boteach recounts the following story. A wealthy investment banker fell on hard times after a string of bad investment decisions. On top of losing almost everything he was unable to keep his three children in their elite private boarding school. Upon learning this the rabbi took it upon himself to seek out donors in the community to help cover the costs so the children could stay in their school. His grounds for the request, as he put it, was to save the children from “the shame and humiliation they would face if they were forced to leave their school and friends because their father could no longer afford the tuition”.
The fallout from our ongoing economic crisis continues to leave frustration, anger, and especially fear in its wake. It seems very few lots have been spared from the carnage including our very own government. Families who had grown accustomed to pulling money off the tree in their backyard now find themselves living in a reality nowhere near Kansas. The financial avalanche has led to chic neighborhoods becoming littered with foreclosures as the byproduct of biting off more than one can chew, six figure salaries traded in for unemployment checks, and everyone reminiscing on the ‘ole days asking if it will ever be so good again. Yet anyone who has lived long enough knows that part of the human experience includes a healthy dose of challenge and specifically disappointment. While each handles them differently we all know it’s an occupational hazard.
But when it comes to our kids and disappointment the idea takes on a whole new meaning. As parents we want to shield our children from negative consequences, especially if it was our choices that created them. But if we protect our children from all of life’s ups and downs is that good parenting or are we setting them up for even tougher lessons down the road? If we provide cover for all the arrows our child will surely face does she ever learn to manage them when we aren’t around?
To the Rabbi’s dismay his pleas fell on deaf ears and the children transferred to another school. It’s unknown what was said or how the children reacted, but had Rabbi Boteach been successful in his attempts what might have been the outcome? While their dignity may have stayed in tact how would their future expectations been affected? Would they simply assume someone will always step in to fix everything should it all come crashing down? And would there be any point of reference when making their own life choices?
No father wants his child to experience disappointment or pain. As parents we are hard-wired to protect our kids but trying to cushion them from all adversity creates an adult who doesn’t posses the mental or emotional fortitude to deal with any trials or tribulations. One has to look no further than the proverbial rich kid for an example. The Paris Hilton’s or Lindsay Lohan’s of the world are the quintessential snotty-nosed brats who were never told ‘no’ and their actions and life choices reflect as such. [pullquote]Life isn’t always fair and bad things do happen to good people.[/pullquote]
I believe the strength of character gained by these children leaving their school far outweigh the shame and humiliation potentially avoided by staying. And the prospective benefactors knew as much and understood a basic life fact the rabbi failed to grasp – life isn’t always fair and bad things do happen to good people.
I want my kids to learn early on that life doesn’t always play fair and the good guy doesn’t always win. They must learn there are going to be times when they win but there will be just as many where they get the short end of the stick. And the best I can do when they do come is be there to support them and offer that most southern of truisms:
“If this is the worst thing that happens to you, you’re going to be fine!”