If you type in "how to be" on Google, the first search suggestion is "how to be happy." We all crave happiness, but really having it is easier said then done.
Follow this series to learn:
What is true joy?
How can I be truly happy?
What can I accomplish when I'm truly happy?
and lots more!
People say, “Tza’ar gidul banim, it is difficult to raise children”—I say, “Simchah gidul banim, it is a joy to raise children.”
During the week before my father, R’ Dovid HaLevi Edelman, a”h, passed away, he was hospitalized in Boston, MA. I spent much of that week with him and other family members around his hospital bed, passing the time and helping keep him comfortable. On the last day I was with him before his passing, he left the room for a procedure that we davened would restore him to good health. When he returned to the room he was calm, and after a little while he turned to my sister and me and told us the statement quoted above. “People say, ‘Tza’ar gidul banim’—I say, ‘Simchah gidul banim.’”
My father was a very warm, loving father whose actions spoke volumes. He did not necessarily say he loved us; he hugged us instead. He was never concerned about messing up our hair or, later on, our sheitels—this was how he expressed his emotion. When he hugged us goodbye in the morning on his way out of the house, the aroma of his morning coffee lingered around us for hours.
As a child, I once asked him if we were rich and was very excited when he replied, “Yes,” until he added, “We are rich with children.” As a six-year-old, this was not the answer I wanted since I could not use my older siblings as currency. However, my appreciation for this response grew over time. If a person truly lives life believing that it is a joy to raise children, that children are treasures from Hashem, and that having children is as close as humanly possible to emulating creation, then that person is richer than anyone on the Fortune 500 list.
Finding joy in raising children takes effort, patience, and an abundance of prayers. I admit that “joyous” may not be the first adjective you would use to describe your mood when your six-month-old is teething all through the night, or when a nasty stomach bug ravages three children in your household. You might not feel like dancing with joy when your pre-teen daughter is excluded from the guest list at a classmate’s party, or when your yeshiva bochur does not get into the mesivta that topped his list. How can you truly say “Simchah gidul banim” at these times? Is it even feasible to feel happy during these, and a myriad of similar, scenarios?
It all depends on how you define simchah, joy. Simchah is not defined as the absence of anguish and pain, or even as the smile that comes to your face when you hear a corny joke or that automatically shows when you pass a familiar person in the street. Simchah, pure joy, is an avodah—it takes effort and determination to reach a state of simchah.
Imagine the joy that you have when you have a wonderful yom tov meal for family and friends. The joy did not come without a price—the price of extending invitations, planning a menu, shopping, cooking, and hopefully overseeing the people who helped along the way. Finally, it is yom tov, and now you set the table, welcome your guests, and serve the seudah. The meal ends, and you now take time to reflect happily on the yom tov meal. An outside observer would wonder how you are capable of smiling after exerting so much effort. The truth is, it was a lot of work, but the reason you are still smiling is that you fulfilled a goal—that of simchas yom tov. Yes, it took work, and maybe a little stress along the way, but if you kept your goal in mind, it was easy to stay happy.
You can use the same thought process with children. Children are blessings from Hashem, and it is up to parents to find the joy in this blessing. The best way to achieve this joy is never to lose focus on the big picture. Keeping this in mind will help you get through the small hurdles of raising children. Simchah gidul banim does not mean that every moment of the day will be great, or stress-free. It does not mean that we won’t suffer pain and setbacks, for these are all part of life. Simchah gidul banim is a mindset, an attitude, and, above all, something to daven for so that we can make it happen.
I can’t think of a more stressful place than a hospital. Hospitals are not generally defined as joyous places, especially when the patients are critically ill and facing serious medical diagnoses. Yet it was specifically there that my father, a”h, chose to share this with me, and, as it turned out, leave me with this as his final lingering thought. Was it because he was experiencing joy seeing his children following in his path of Torah and mitzvos? Was it because he was a zaidy to many grandchildren? Was it that his “ezer kenegdo,” my mother, may she live and be well, was there at his side through their marriage? Was this a lesson that he just thought of, or was it something that kept him going for the almost sixty years of parenting? I never had the chance to ask him, and in my mind the answer would have been “all of the above.” My father was able to keep his priorities straight. When he said that he was rich with children, it was not a cutesy response to a six-year-old girl or a cover-up for his under-performing financial portfolio; it was the simple truth: he was rich with children.
My goal as a mother is to emulate these lessons. Whether it is a teething baby, a toddler with a skinned knee, an adolescent experiencing peer pressure, or a twenty-something enduring shidduch rejection, I try to be there for my child and focus on projecting the simchah in being a parent. I may not always have the answers to the situation, but I have the key to parenting, and that is the most valuable answer of all—Simchah gidul banim.
Esther Kosofsky is a Jewish educator, writer and lecturer. She served as director of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s Resource Center for Jewish Education. Esther and her husband Rabbi Noach Kosofsky have been emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Western Massachusetts since 1984. Her articles have appeared on Chabad.org and she is the author of The Secret of Carlos Romanus.