As a teacher of middle-schoolers, I get my buttons pushed often enough and find myself repeatedly counting to ten so I don’t combust on my students. After all, I do love my job and want to keep it. But as a parent, I have found that, at times, my fuse becomes much shorter with my own children. Here, too, I definitely love my job and certainly want to keep it. So why the shorter fuse?
That’s easy enough to answer. My expectations from my own flesh and blood are obviously much higher. But here’s where it’s going to get confusing. How many times have I told my own daughters that if they treated their friends the way they treat each other, they wouldn’t have any friends; ergo, they treat their friends with much more patience and courtesy. And here hypocrite Mom is more patient with her sometimes quite annoying and disrespectful students than with her own children. Do you see where this gets problematic? But it becomes even more complicated because in the end this will all make perfect sense and not be hypocritical at all — just stay with me.
The other day I had a real epiphany when my two lovable daughters were having a ridiculous argument. (I’m not being judgmental; it was really ridiculous.) There they were, each getting insulted from the other, and I was at my boiling point. I just couldn’t stand to hear the bickering, and I declared loudly that until they speak civilly to one another, I was not going to speak to either one of them. If they needed anything they should go to their father, since they could not speak to me either. Between you and me, I just needed a couple of hours of quiet. I then took the book that I couldn’t wait to finish reading since I had last put it down like four Shabbatot ago and made a huffy exit to my porch to sit and relax in quiet.
Now, my children have never heard me say that I was not going to talk to them or that they could not talk to me. After the shocked looks wore off, I could see they were very upset. Of course, I felt a pinch in my heart, but off to the porch I went anyway. I had to stand firm and make them realize that it is not enough to love each other, which I know they do; they have to treat each other more respectfully. (They are ages 13 and 15, if you’re curious, and yes, I know I’m asking a lot.)
But this isn’t just a teenage thing, is it? If we are all completely honest with ourselves, do we always treat those dearest to us the best? Do I have the same patience with my husband as I have with a student or a friend? Would I ever snap back at them? Of course not! Would I snap back at my husband? Of course! Who do I love more? Not a contest, is it? So why do we sometimes — OK, most of the time — treat friends, colleagues, etc., better than those we love so much?
Because we know that no matter how snippy and snarky we may behave, we will still have their unconditional devotion and love, as they have ours. After all, what’s a little moody attitude among family?
So as I was sitting and reading, not one word was comprehensible, because I felt terrible. How could I tell my kids I wouldn’t speak to them? What was I thinking? On the other hand, they need to consider each other’s feelings. How many times have I told them how precious the relationship should be between the two of them and with their brothers, too? That they are each other’s true best friend and their relationship is so valuable and should always be cherished. Well, it took them about an hour to realize that, or they just got hungry, or maybe my not-talking was actually making an impression. In any case, they came to me all sorry and loving and sisterly. Until the next time…
But it got me thinking, and now I want you thinking. Let’s all take a step back and ask ourselves if the people who share our workspace, classrooms, shuls, and community deserve more respect than the ones who share our homes and hearts. Yes, our love is unconditional, but so should be our respect for them.
Klara has been an educator for the past 30 years in the United States and in Israel. She holds a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in English literature. Klara presently teaches at a Jewish day school and has been involved in Jewish day schools in the United States and Canada. For questions or comments, she can be reached at email@example.com.