Avoid Sending Mixed Messages

Yael Eckstein  |  September 6, 2022

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They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” — Deuteronomy 21:20

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Ki Teitzei, which means “when you go out,” from Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19.

It happened again the other day. My daughter came to me to ask permission to travel somewhere on her own with a few friends. Without getting into too many details, let’s just say I wasn’t comfortable. I told her I needed to “speak to Abba (Dad) about it.” “Never mind,” she said. He already said he doesn’t want me to go.” I smiled at her and shook my head.

As a mother of four, I’ve learned that one of the most important ingredients of healthy parenting is consistency. It’s just so important that we make sure that my husband and I are on the same page. When kids get mixed messages from mom and dad, they learn to be manipulative.

And it’s not just about permission to do this or that. Even more importantly, parents need to make sure that they project the same values to their children. This ensures that their children will grow up with a clear sense of right and wrong. This is especially important these days when every moral value seems to be negotiable.

Avoid Sending Mixed Messages

We see this lesson hinted at in this week’s Torah portion, where we read, “They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’”

According to the Bible, the “stubborn and rebellious” son was put to death. The sages of the Talmud explain that this death penalty is one of the rare laws in the Bible that is meant only to teach us lessons and was never actually implemented. One of those lessons is consistency in parenting.

The Hebrew for “He will not obey us” is literally “He does not listen to our voice.” The Jewish sages point out that the verse refers to “our voice in the singular. They explain that we blame the rebellious son for his behavior only if his parents spoke in one consistent voice. But if the parents were giving mixed messages to their child, we don’t blame him for rebelling. In such a situation it’s the parents’ fault, not the son’s.

This verse is a sobering reminder for parents, grandparents, and anyone in authority over children that we have a serious obligation to convey our biblical values clearly and consistently and avoid sending mixed messages.

Your Turn:

Are there young people in your life — children, grandchildren, or kids in the neighborhood? Don’t be afraid to have conversations with them about values.