According to our tradition, the second temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred of one another. In every generation the Jewish people are called upon to rectify this by practicing ahavat chinam, loving others freely without judgement.
As parents we want to transmit this message of Ahavat Chinam in simple ways to our kids and live our lives according to this principle. Happy families are families who, for the most part, can love each other unconditionally, without judgment. But how? An important principle in Judaism is to give others the benefit of the doubt. In marriage and in parenting, it is essential. It helps us avoid anger and unnecessary blaming, leading to better relationships. It allows us to model ahavat chinam. And ultimately, it leads to improved behavior in our children.
Giving the benefit of the doubt means that we don’t always assume that the motivation behind our spouses and child’s behavior is a negative one. For example, we might think: “My spouse didn’t take out the garbage just to annoy me.” Or, “My kids are squabbling at the dinner table because they are the most difficult, unruly kids!”
Instead, we can try to assume that our spouse’s and child’s intentions were positive, and look for the good in our family’s behavior instead of reacting negatively and assuming our children are misbehaving or our spouse is being inconsiderate.
Because when we attribute negative motives to our spouses and children’s behavior, it makes us angry. And when we’re angry, we tend to say things we don’t mean. When we are angry we usually aren’t able to discipline effectively.
We are more likely to say things to your spouse like: “You never remember to take out the garbage! You are so inconsiderate.“
Or you might say to your children: “You are so rude! Why do you always have to fight? You guys never get along! When will I ever have a peaceful dinner?”
When we speak to our spouses and kids in that way, we place them in a situation where their only recourse is to attack us or defend themselves. They are put into a position where they generally exhibit more negative or even oppositional behavior.
To nurture our relationships with our families and discipline our kids effectively we want to use statements that show we are giving our family’s the benefit of the doubt:
To your spouse:
“I took out the garbage, I figured you were tired and it probably just slipped your mind…”
To your kids:
“You probably did not realize how important it is to me that the dinner table is peaceful. Let’s figure out a way to keep the fighting at a minimum. Any ideas?”
When we give the benefit of the doubt we show faith in our family’s innate goodness. We promote strong and loving interactions. Our spouses and even our children will not feel the need to oppose us. This is especially effective when parenting because we are then free to direct the child kindly and firmly to use better behavior or to come up with some solutions how to behave better.
Giving the benefit of the doubt is a great way to practice Ahavat Chinam and keep your home happy and stress-free.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.