As a parent, I often think how great it would be if I could just tell my kids all my mistakes, and learnings, and life experiences, and save them the trouble of going through so much trouble and pain themselves.
Save yourself the heartache, kid, and believe me when I tell you that you don't have to stress so much over your maths' exam! Save yourself a fortune, my daughter, and stop buying those junky bits of 'cute' pottery mass-produced in China for your room. They'll just sit there gathering dust for years, silently rebuking you for being dumb enough to buy them.
It doesn't matter what it is, from eating healthier, to getting enough sleep, to avoiding 'bad' friends, to making sensible decisions, I see that my kids normally have to learn things the hard way.
They have to see for themselves that wearing high heels gives them knee pain; and that staying up all night reading makes them knackered; and doing that extra bit of babysitting meant they didn't have time to really get all their homework done.
Apparently, there is no other way.
I'd pretty much got to that conclusion myself, but then I read something in this book called 'The language of life: how cells communicate in health and disease' which made me realise that actually, personal experience truly is the only thing that counts.
The author was writing about how the synapses in the brain are formed, and how 'superficial' experiences or learnings result in small, temporary, surface chemical changes in the brain; but how a powerfully-felt experience actually changes the physical cell-structure of the brain.
When something is experienced first-hand as 'good' or 'bad', that experience is literally hard-wired into the brain, so the person won't forget it. Of course, this can also be why it's so hard for addicts to get away from their drug of choice, or why it's so hard to walk away from the Black Forest Gateau, or why it can be so difficult to stop watching movies, or spending so much time on Facebook.
At some cellular level, these things have been (deceivingly…) coded as 'good' and 'enjoyable'. Our body thinks they're great; our soul knows better, and our minds are caught in the middle, trying to work out which one to listen to.
This is also why it can be so hard to break a habit, and why having good habits gets most of the job done, for you. It's literally hard-wired in.
What does all this mean, for you, for me, for our kids?
The first thing I'm taking away from it is that I really need to get God involved in breaking my old bad habits, and installing new ones. It's not just a simple matter of 'will power', whatever anyone may say. My job is to ask G-d to help me change, and then stop beating myself up if it doesn't happen overnight.
Next, I realised how important it is to let kids make their own mistakes, and experience their own consequences, from as young an age as possible. If they get the message when they're young that acting like a jerk is a bad thing; or that wasting all their money on candy is dumb; or that leaving all their homework until 10 minutes before school is extremely stressful, that message will get hard-wired in, and save them so much grief when they're adults.
I know, that's hard for us parents to do, isn't it? I literally bite my tongue, sometimes, when I can see the looming negative consequence of one of my child's immature decisions. If I tell them, they won't get it. If I enable them to experience it themselves, they'll own that wisdom forever, and it will stand them in good stead.
The last thing I realised was how important it is to give our kids as many good habits as we can, when they're young. That doesn't mean nagging them to bentch or wash - again, I learned the hard way that saying the grace after meals was directly linked to making a living, and I expect they will have to do it that way, too.
But it means helping them to develop healthy accountability, and self-awareness, and compassion and empathy for others. It means encouraging them to try things, even if they're going to end in failure. And it means trusting G-d to send them whatever experiences they need, even at a young age, to gently hardwire in the notion that with G-d in the picture, it will be 'good' however it turns out in real life - and vice-versa.