In Parshas Va'eira we encounter the age old question of how can Hashem punish Pharaoh with further makkos when Hashem is the one hardening his heart so as not to let the Jewish people go? How can someone be punished when he had no choice? This is a classic question with several beautiful answers. I’d like to consider one basic answer the Rambam teaches and its ramifications for us as mothers.
The Rambam says that in the beginning of course Pharaoh had free will. In fact, during the first five makkos the Torah doesn’t say Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh hardened his own heart. It’s only after multiple hardenings of his own heart that he moved far enough into evil that Hashem took over the job and began hardening his heart. He began with free will, but through his actions he evolved into someone who lost his power of choice.
How is this relevant to us?
Well, albeit on a smaller scale than Paroh, there are things we all do, sometimes willingly, sometimes not, that lead us into situations where we have less self-control. For example, after a sleepless night, or skipping meals, we sometimes don’t have the wherewithal to respond to tough situations the way we would ideally choose to do so.
If that is true for adults, how much closer are our children to that state of no free will! When I (rarely!) go to the store late at night and see a mother dragging a screaming toddler around at 10:30 PM, I feel pity for the child who truly has no control over her behavior at that time. It’s just too late and she’s too tired, she’s lost her free will.
With some thought we can identify for each of our children the factors that lead up to them losing their free will. I don’t think it’s the same for each person, and certainly some children get to that point of loss of control much more easily than others. Once we’ve identified what stressors contribute to our children reaching the point of no self-control, we can try to limit those and when they’re unavoidable, build in ways for our child to rest, or recoup as early as possible.
One last point that I have found helpful to remember: when a child has lost control, you cannot reason with them, consequences or punishments will often have no effect, and no parenting can effectively take place at that time. What we can do is provide stability, unwavering love, support, and calmness, while we try to give them time and space to get back in control of themselves.