Rabbi Malcolm Herman
Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz articulated this famous phrase in those final scenes of this classic film. It took me years to get over the shock that the yellow brick road and the Wizard of Oz were actually a dream and not reality. I am sorry to break it to those who have not yet realised but there is no tin man or cowardly lion after all! Still, Dorothy’s phrase is a great place to start our column on parenting. Her timeless words could not be more apt for our society.
We need to recognise an important distinction between a house and a home. A “house” is a place where people live. It shelters us from the elements. A “home” is a place where people become. This is certainly true for a home in which there are children. A child’s first impression of themselves is largely a reflection of the way they are perceived by others at home. If they grow up with confidence, that is often because those at home have invested them with trust. If they grow up with self-doubt, that is sometimes because those at home have surrounded them with criticism. Within the familiar rooms of a family home, children can win games and lose games, learning to enjoy success without it going to their heads and manage failure without it going into their hearts. At home, they will discover the need to make space for themselves and the necessity to create space for others. Around a classic Jewish Friday night table there is a further dimension, past becomes present and present becomes future. Children learn that they are part of a continuum of Jewish history.
In short, the home is the classroom where children learn to become wholesome adults, it is the laboratory where curiosity is encouraged, it is the gymnasium, the library, the surgery and cafe all rolled into one. It has often struck me that we live in a world that presents the ideal house exhibition as the ideal home exhibition. Yet what is actually on exhibit, are the physical furnishings rather than the emotional furnishings.
In contrast, it is curious to note that in Hebrew, there aren’t separate words for house and home. There is just one word –Bayit. The two should be synonymous.
All parenting takes place within the environment that we all call home. If home is generally a healthy environment, then with G-d’s help, good parenting will cultivate wholesome children. However, if home is toxic then good parenting becomes all the more difficult. It is rather like cleaning the carpets, with a hole in the roof. The overall structure constantly undermines the current effort.
Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring Torah based ideas for building a successful home as a basis for an ongoing column on parenting. We hope to stimulate ideas, generate discussion and encourage reflection.
This is because Dorothy is right. For a child especially, there is no place like home. The goal of these thoughts is to offer present suggestions to bring the long held dream of an “ideal home” closer to a day-to-day reality.
Rabbi Herman’s book can be purchased on amazon.