Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on Naaleh.com
If a parent is angry and critical, sometimes to the point of cruelty, what would be the correct way to respond?
It’s not so simple. What one person might call critical and destructive, another person might call involved and committed. What one person might call harsh and cruel, another person might call persistent and dedicated. Parents don’t think of themselves as evil. They think that they must not allow problems to develop or that they must act authoritively so that the structure necessary to maintain family life doesn’t disintegrate. They want to uphold their values but they don’t have the right tools to do so.
The voice of anger is really saying, “This is not how it should be. It must be the way I want it to be.” This is true for both justifiable anger and ridiculous anger. The parent may feel that if he does not respond with verbal anger, then he is affirming the situation. He needs to learn to move his problems to solutions and to maintain a sense of proportion. He must say, “What can I do to make this better? How important is this on a one to ten scale in my life?” Anger won’t work. It will only create passive or active dissonance. Hashem is putting the parent through a nisayon. As Jews, we trust that we are here to serve our Creator. The parent must honestly ask himself, “Does Hashem want me to love my children or treat them like the enemy?”
If you have a close relationship with the parent in question, empathize with his inner voice. Gently steer him to look for solutions and to view problems in perspective. If you anticipate a difficult situation, talk to Hashem. Don’t go into the lion’s den without tefilah. Ask Him. “Azrani Hashem…Help me do this right.” With Hashem on your side, you’ll surely succeed.