Raising Children in Light of the Noahide Code

We find in Genesis 28:20-21, when Jacob left home to find a wife among the daughters of Laban and raise a family, that he prayed to G-d: “And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, ‘If G-d will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go… so that I come back in peace (b’shalom)… then shall the L-rd be my G-d.’ ”
Rashi explains: “Shalom (peace) is to be interpreted [here] as shalaim (perfect), without sin, that I shall not learn the [deceitful] ways of Laban [which violate the Noahide Code]. ‘Then shall the L-rd be my G-d’ – i.e., that His Name will hover over me from the beginning until the end, that no defect will be found in my children, as it is stated (Gen. 28:15), ‘That which I [G-d] have spoken regarding you.’ And this promise He made to Abraham, for it is stated (Gen. 17:7), ‘to be a G-d to you, and to your descendants after you’ [which will be your descendants through your grandchild Jacob].”

Developing a Child’s Sense of Responsibility

Beginning at infancy, every child possesses intellect and emotions, but these are, for the most part, initially undeveloped.  As one progresses through adulthood, one’s success is greatly influenced by the responsibility acquired while he or she is still a young child.  Therefore, children should be given responsibilities in order to help them develop the maturity that they will need later in life.

The way parents view the obligation of raising their children is largely based on what their aims are for what values the children should grow up to have.  The most widespread and basic goal throughout the world is that children should grow up to respect and contribute to their family and society. The children are also taught to respect their elders, and especially to honor their parents and grandparents.  When a tight family bond is secured with the children, the likelihood of their attaining a mature outlook on life and contributing to others is increased greatly.

Another dedication that many parents try to ingrain in their children is to their faith or to humanity in general.  When a child is raised to be committed in this way, he or she is taught to give up the most immature desires and habits and to develop a mature outlook on life.  This goal focuses the purpose of life for such a child, and forms the child into a productive human being.  In a similar vein, a devotion to benefiting humanity shows a child a definite way to lead life.

Many people have the philosophy that a child’s life needs to be dealt with day by day, since development during childhood occurs in many stages.  However, there come times in the child’s life when the parents will need to look forward to the child’s future.  The parents will eventually be forced to face this fact. Therefore, it’s best for them to start giving their children responsibilities early on in life.  This view is supported by the research of the psychologist Kohlberg. He identified the following well-known stages development of children.

The six stages of children’s development

1) Until the seventh year of life, children defer to the power of adults to escape punishment.

2) Next, they come to be motivated by wanting rewards and favors done for them in return.

3) In the third stage, children want to be “good” to please others and receive approval.

4) Ten-year-olds understand the expectations of others and even go to the fourth stage. This is when they want to “do their duty” by respecting authority and maintaining social order.

5) In the fifth stage, adolescents usually already think about contributing to the general welfare of the community. They also accept following the laws and standards of the majority.

6) At the final and sixth stage, adolescents set their own self-chosen standards of justice and respect for human dignity. They behave in a way that avoids condemnation by their own consciences (Kohlberg p. 165-9).

In Kohlberg’s third stage, it is critical that parents step in and show their children what actually does please them. This directs their children on the path towards a mature outlook on life.  Parents should set up simple chores at an even earlier age just to show the children how to do them.  Then, in the following years, the children can actually see the effect that their effort produces. This gives them reinforcement  to continue to do what their parents want from them.

The importance of assigning chores for children

The involvement of parents in giving chores to their children is critical to their receiving a mature outlook on life. Even children as old as teenagers, when recognizing that their work is needed and valued, get a sense of self-confidence from their chores.  Fred Provenzaro, Ph.D., quotes a survey of over 270,000 adolescents across the United States. For over 75%, responsibilities their parents gave them during their younger years were essential to later success in life (Provenzaro).

In spite of these arguments for giving children chores, Roberta Anderson, an Oregon State University Extension family-life specialist, differs. She cautions that the definition of responsibility is not obedience. She writes: “Responsibility involves cooperation and consideration.  It implies accountability for one’s actions, ability to make choices, and willingness to accept the consequences of one’s behavior” (Anderson).

In her differing opinion, she holds the following views. (1)  Giving chores to children may make them resent their parents. (2) At best, it only teaches children to be subordinate and subservient to their parents, which downplays their own creativity. (3) Only if the child has a good sense of responsibility to begin with will chores really help to further this feeling. (4) The best way is to rather leave the child to his or her own self, to find out whom to be responsible to.

It can indeed be hard on a child to be assigned to do a specific job by an adult. This especially happens if there is a feeling that it is impossible to measure up to the expectations. Then the child will really believe that he or she is irresponsible.  Parents should also do most of the chores. That will set a good example for the children of what they will need to do later on in life.  In general, children should be allowed to chose the jobs they like and that are fun for them.

The problems of a hands-off approach

Today, there are advocates for systems of child rearing in which children are brought up in a hands-off way. They have no responsibilities demanded from them by a higher authority. Parents do not use their authority to force their children to do any chores or take on any responsibilities.  What is done is to suggest certain actions to the children, or to try to come to a unanimous consent.

This attitude tries to eliminate chances of parents hurting their children by putting too much pressure to take on responsibilities. However, the problems it causes definitely outweigh its advantages, and may come to be contrary to the original objective.  If children are raised to regard all others as equals, when they eventually go out into the open society, it will be harder for them to cope with the idea of accepting authority.[1]  Needless to say, it also creates a rift in the family. If more quarreling is permitted, the children are less quick to accept their parents’ wishes.

Instilling values, responsibility and maturity

Since the 19’60s, American parents have turned largely to a child-centered philosophy. Children are on one hand free to set their own aims. But on the other hand, they are expected to outdo the accomplishments of their parents.  In the famous book Baby and Child Care, Dr. Benjamin Spock identifies this trend, and says that this granting of almost complete moral freedom to children is the reason why their goals are becoming increasingly materialistic.  Dr. Spock strongly believed that parents should give their children strong values and encourage them to help others.   He advised parents to ask for respect, cooperation, and politeness from their children, and to give them firm leadership (Mullins A3).

Going through the schooling process is a responsibility that has one of the largest impacts on whether or not a child attains a mature attitude toward life. Schooling, therefore, must be dealt with as an extremely important matter in regard to the overall upbringing of children. The underlying focus of the daily school activities should be to teach the children a sense of self-discipline and to progressively further their sense of responsibility. A school must be run as an environment in which the children not only learn valuable social lessons that will be needed later in life, but they are also guided in a routine of good daily habits that will lead to a mature outlook on life.

In conclusion, for a child to attain a mature and sensible attitude toward life, it is necessary for parents to give the child chores and other responsibilities during their early years, but this is not enough.  The obligation still rests upon the parents to ensure that their children are given a moral foundation that is reinforced at home and at school, and that will guide the children’s decisions and actions in the right direction even when they are outside of those monitored environments. This means that guidelines, limits and monitoring must be placed on whom one’s children associate with and where they go when they are not at home or at school.

This is obviously dictated by rational thinking, but it is also one of the most important parts of a person’s service to G-d as a mother or father. Quoting from the book The Divine Code (Weiner, Part I, 4:9):

Parents are obligated to provide education to their children, and specifically in the fulfillment of the Noahide Code. This education for the children is an obligation within the commandment of Dinim (the establishment of Laws and Courts), to strengthen the observance of the Noahide precepts in the world.

To the extent that his intellect can grasp, every child should be educated about the foundations of the Noahide faith, and about the infinite greatness of the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, Who is the Source of life for every being. This education and training of the child, before he matures, will serve as a foundation of his service to G-d for his entire life, as it says (Proverbs 22:6): “Educate the child according to his way; even when he will be old he will not depart from it.” [2]

By Y. Schulman


[1] This includes accepting that G-d is the ultimate Authority, and that His directives are to be found in His commandments in the Torah and in the Torah-based rulings of the Jewish Sages. G-d’s directives for Gentiles are referred to as the Noahide Code.

[2] See, for example, The Principles of Education and Guidance, by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, pub. Kehot.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Roberta Frazier. “Helping Children Develop Responsible Behavior,” Ed. Washington State University Cooperative Extension specialists.

Kohlberg, L. “Moral and Religious Education and the Public Schools,” in Religion and Public Education. Ed. T. Sizer.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 19’67, 165-9.

Mullins, John.  “Dr. Benjamin Spock dies at 94.”  Athens Daily News, 16 Mar. 19’98: A3.

Provenzano, Fred.  “Teenagers and Chores:  Guidelines for Parents.”  National Mental Health and Education Center.  <http://www.naspcenter.org/adol_chores2.html>

Weiner, Rabbi Moshe. The Divine Code. 4th Edition. Ask Noah International, 20’20-20’22.