I have two daughters in college. As they each entered university, orientation leaders warned us against becoming the dreaded, “helicopter parent”, that mother or father who hovered over the newly launched co-ed. Now, I had long internalized my sister’s axiom that parenting was one, long, letting-go, so by the time my kids got to college, I thought I was fairly prepared to step back and let them fly by themselves. I watched and waited as they started to fill out forms, arrange for travel, choose classes, talk to counselors, all by themselves. Some ensuing conversations have merely informed me of done-deals, others involved talking through decision-making. But it’s always their call as to which; we never know where the line between hovering and not-hovering is, and we can’t win either way. Either we get involved too much (“Mom….!) or not enough (“Mom….!)
Our matriarch Rebecca , I think, was the ultimate “helicopter mom”. From the moment she realized she was pregnant, she had plans for those boys. Of course, the prophecy from God went a long way in telling her to exercise her hand in their fate. “Two nations are in your womb. Two separate peoples shall issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23)
By the time the boys are grown, we learn that Rebecca’s favorite was Jacob, and his slightly older twin brother, the actual first born Esau, was the favorite of his father, Isaac. This is a tremendously dramatic section of the Torah, with more dialogue and stage direction than almost any other. First there is the scene by the tent, when Esau returns from hunting, famished and exhausted. Jacob sees his brother’s vulnerability, and “sells” him food in return for the family birthright. Did Rebecca put Jacob up to this? The text doesn’t say, but Rebecca is clearly aware of the prophesied preeminence of her son, Jacob. And, given what happens next, it would be just like Rebecca to have put the idea in Jacob’s mind.
When Isaac is old and blind, he feels he is near death, and wants to give his favored, older son Esau, the first-born blessing. Rebecca overhears this, and tells Jacob to go get the food Isaac wants, put on the skin of the goats to fool his father into thinking it was really Esau who’s come, and steal the first born blessing for himself. Rebecca assures Jacob that if there is any curse to come from this deception, she’ll bear it for him. Sure enough, Jacob gets the blessing for the first born, Esau comes in right on his heels (pun alert: “heel”/ “ekev”, Jacob was born holding onto the heel of first-born Esau), and when Esau finds out what his brother had done, he bursts into tears and utters perhaps the most heartbreaking words in all of Torah: “Bless me, too, Father! Have you no blessing left for me?”.
Rebecca had it from the highest authority, (God), that Jacob was to be the one who would continue the covenant with God that started with his grandfather Abraham. So perhaps she felt justified in manipulating the whole family to make that happen. As parents, we often are itching to step in and make happen what really is the right thing for our child. It’s so much easier, so much more efficient to get it done ourselves. And it’s really hard to watch our kids mess up – miss deadlines, flights, and opportunities – because we didn’t remind them.
Rebecca’s is a cautionary tale, however, against helicopter-parenting. She paid a very high price for hovering over Jacob. When she overheard that Esau wanted to kill his brother, Rebecca sent Jacob off to her family to keep him safe. She never saw him again.