Torah Musings: Fix Your Focus


Fix Your Focus

Sarah Pachter

Not too long ago, my husband and I were privileged to celebrate our eldest son’s bar mitzvah. We were going through the pictures from the photographer afterwards and stopped on one shot of the women dancing. At first, it all looked like a blur—as most dancing pictures do!—and then I noticed something in the background that seemed to spoil the photo. Clearly, that photo wasn’t a “keeper.”

To my surprise, my husband loved the photo. He had zoomed in on the moment taking place in the middle of the chaos: my mother-in-law embracing me in a warm, loving hug. If you focused on that central piece, with all the affection of a perfect moment captured so beautifully, it became easy to forget the surrounding imperfections.

So often with parenting (and in life!), it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day chaos and road bumps. Raising children is not for the faint of heart. There are countless moments of frustration, endless demands for snacks and toys. At the end of the day, we are meant to keep our cool and actually enjoy these precious years! It seems overwhelming, but by adjusting our lens and zooming in or out of the picture, we can capture the real essence of what it means to be a parent and focus on the moments that really matter.

Passing the Test

Ugh, homework! I’ve had that reaction, and I’ve seen it in other parents, too.

We sit down to help our children with homework (read: homeschool). We begin each session determined to stay calm; yet shortly after starting, our patience ebbs until we—and our children—feel frustrated, at best, and explosive, at worst.

Our child may become irritated from a lack of understanding. They snap, and we reciprocate. We vacillate between wondering if the teachers are doing their jobs and worrying that our child will never be able to complete a homework assignment independently.

On one occasion when helping my son study, my decibel levels rose higher than I’m proud of, and I had an insight:

Who is testing who?

I stopped my overreaction immediately and pondered the root of my homework-related distress. We think the ikar is our child’s upcoming test, but we are also being tested. Hashem is testing our patience, relationship, and middot.

Are we testing our child? Yes.

Is Hashem testing His child? Certainly.

We worry about whether our children will pass their classes, but are we passing the test of raising them? Ultimately, the only test that matters is the one we actually have control over—our own.

“Hi, Honey! Look Here!”

Every year at graduation, hoards of family members come to support students as they move towards the next stage of life. Whether completing kindergarten or graduate school, the excitement is palpable. Parents often have their phones out, prepared to record and take photos.

At my child’s kindergarten graduation, the five-year-olds proudly marched onto the stage in cap and gown. The parent body immediately stood, trying to get a glimpse of their children walking onstage. As soon as they spotted their child, they began to wave frantically while recording and snapping pictures as though a celebrity had just walked through the door of the amphitheater.

You could hear the parent body shouting:

“Look here, honey!”

“Chani! Chani!”

“We’re over here! Hi!”

Although this scene is a beautiful illustration of the love and pride that we all express towards our children, it got me thinking. Are we that animated and loving when our family walks through the door of our home on a “normal” day? Are we as excited to experience them in daily life? At graduation, we practically trample one another to catch a photo of our child, but in our homes just hours later, with unobstructed access to them, our enthusiasm dwindles.

If we can be more present with our children in minor moments, we will experience a deeper joy during major milestones, such as graduation day. Children need our constant love and attention, not just from a distance or on special occasions, but in the daily grind as well. Bring joy and love into the everyday.

Don’t Fight the Call

Sitting in the back of the bleachers, I was watching my son’s middle school basketball game. I had a panoramic scope of the court, and the players appeared even smaller from up high.

Mid-game, the referee called a foul that sent one of the players into a rage. He argued over the call and flared his arms wildly. The referee retaliated by threatening a technical foul. From the upper level of the bleachers, it was almost comical to see such a tiny person react with so much intensity over something so trivial. Yet, for a middle schooler, a perceived bad call can create major frustration. Moreover, the call could change the trajectory of a game, creating even more anger for the player.

Life can be compared to playing basketball. When certain events or circumstances play out, in the moment we can feel a wide range of intense emotions, but if we could zoom out to the spectator’s perspective, it would shed light on the triviality of some situations.

The best approach for a basketball player and life player is to move forward from a bad call, rather than fight it.

Yitzi Hurwitz, a young rabbi and father of six who is suffering from ALS, stresses the importance of not fighting Hashem’s plan for us. With his limited physical capacity (he is only able to move one eye), he wrote a speech that was shared in his name by his son at Chabad’s annual convention, an event boasting 5800 people.[i]

One thing I have learned from my experience is that there is hardly a person who doesn’t have struggles…In my case, it’s open and impossible to hide, so I am on display. But that doesn’t mean that your struggles are any less.

You need to know that whatever you are dealing with, it’s directly from Hashem. You don’t have to fight it, rather, you should find a way for your struggle to take you to the next level…use your difficulty to lift you and your family to heights previously unimaginable, and even more, to use your difficulties as a platform to lift others up.

Accept the bad calls in life and keep playing your best, despite the circumstances. If Yitzi Hurwitz can maintain this perspective, then surely we can as well. Shift your focus to a spectator’s perspective to move forward in a positive direction.

Learn to Block Out Bedtime Battles

Commonly referred to as “witching hour,” the few hours between dinner and bedtime can be a challenge for parents everywhere. The kids are cranky and tired after a long day, and it’s easy for parents to get annoyed at the request of “one more book” or “five more minutes of TV”.

One afternoon the other day was particularly grueling. My son was having a rough time with homework (see above), my daughter was unhappy with the dinner options, and it felt like bedtime would never end. I was ready to rush through yet another reading of The Berenstein Bears when my toddler reached out to touch my cheek.

“I love you, Mommy. Can I have a hug?” Those sweet words and her affectionate gesture amidst a difficult afternoon seemed to melt my frustrations away.

Rather than focus on the momentary, peripheral annoyances and negative thoughts, zoom in on the moments that matter and choose those to be the focus.