Monthly Archives: March, 2019

Who’s Your Tami?

March 31st, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

My children grew up before my husband and I got this parenting thing down pat, but we did get a few things right. One of them was forming strong relationships with other adults whom we were happy to have in our children’s lives.

I don’t remember how old I was when I observed that childhood ritual of running away from home. Old enough to cross (rather quiet and one-way) streets myself and young enough that I have a feeling I was influenced to leave home by an episode the Andy Griffith Show. The details remain hazy, but off I went from the place where I was obviously unappreciated and misunderstood.

The challenge when running away from home is where to go. I had the perfect solutionmy aunt and uncle who lived only a few blocks away. I had no doubt they would take me in, feed me, and make me comfortable. As you can imagine, my parents were fine with this. They knew I’d be safe with my mother’s oldest brother and his wife, who was one of my mother’s closest friends as well as her sister-in-law. In other words, everyone was happy.

Neither my husband nor I had siblings living near us for most of our children’s younger years, but we did have friends. Some of those friends became life-rafts for the times when our children needed an adult confidant who wasn’t their mother or father. Tami, in particular, served that role for a number of our kids. She was kind and loving, fashionable and ‘with it’, and despite a busy professional and social calendar, she seemed to have endless time to listen to the not-yet-grown-up set. Her husband Marty, a good friend who wisely married Tami, also adored and welcomed our kids.

Tami and Marty never betrayed our children’s confidences or called to share amusing stories they may have heard. At the same time, my husband and I knew that if anything truly serious or alarming happened, she and her husband would deal with it correctly and involve us if necessary. They weren’t usurping our role but rather supporting it.

I recently read an article that quoted a few mothers explaining that they never let their kids go on sleepovers. In some cases, they based this decision on bad experiences when they themselves were young. In others it was fear after hearing too many horrible stories of adults or older siblings and cousins who seemed honorable and good and turned out to be predators.

I get the fear. I don’t know how to make the right judgment call. But I do know that there is a cost to restricting our children’s trusting and being comfortable with other adults. Those are the very people we need our children to turn to when they are troubled and down and for whatever the reason, look to seek guidance from someone other than Mommy and Daddy.

Little Women – and Littler Women

March 28th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 25 comments

Last week Jews around the world celebrated the holiday of Purim. Starting two weeks before the holiday, we revel in a party-like atmosphere. Jewish elementary schools hold silly hat and pajama days, and you can find an abundance of singing, antics and humorous  spoofs in high schools. So, forgive me for thinking that someone was pulling my leg when they mentioned that Nancy Pelosi advocated lowering the voting age to sixteen.

But Purim has passed and those same news reports persist.  It is hard to hear this being discussed as a serious civic suggestion rather than what it really is—a desperate grab for power.  I mean no disrespect to the teenagers in my life, some of whom happen to be better-informed and more stable than many of their elders.  Still, perhaps this raises the question of whether it is time to see beyond the abuses of the past and restrict voting to those who can pass a basics civics and history exam. While this is probably politically untenable, unlike lowering the voting age it might actually result in a government more capable of maintaining the republic our Founders envisioned.

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Can success be too much of a good thing?

March 27th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 comments

I truly believe that God wants all of us to succeed in what we do in life. But people I know (some family and friends) that succeeded in their professions seem to get more greedy. All they really talk about is how much money they made.

Deep down I feel I don’t know these people anymore. Can success be too much of good thing?

Greg

Dear Greg,

It can be extremely upsetting to grow apart from people with whom we used to feel close. We do hope you can find a way to retain these relationships.

Before we move on to the essence of your question, we want to raise a thought that may be completely off the wall or might possibly just be worth considering.

1. Is there any chance that the envy bug has affected you so that you are being hyper-sensitive and a bit self-righteous?

In different times and places society becomes prejudiced against the poor; at other times the prejudice targets the wealthy. Today, resentment, jealousy and disdain against those who have achieved some financial success is rampant. Frankly, it is hard not to be affected by the surrounding culture. Both halves of the equation in Leviticus 19:15 are meant to apply: “Do not make an unfair judgment: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly.”

Now that we have asked you to peer carefully into your heart, let’s move on to the issue of balance.

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When They Gang Up On You

March 26th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 11 comments

There are at least three separate groups that hate President Trump, each for its own reason. Some people hate him because he’s an outsider to Capitol Hill and doesn’t play the “you-rub-my-back-and-I’ll-rub-yours” game. Another group hates him for enacting more conservative policies and appointing more conservative justices than any other president in recent memory. Yet another because they perceive him to be profoundly evil in every fearful nightmarish way.

There are at least three separate groups of Britishers eager to escape the bureaucratic clutches of Brussels and the iron-grip of the European Economic Community. Each has its own reason for wanting a more independent Britain.

There are many different groups enthusiastically pushing a gender spectrum sexually fluid society, whatever that all actually means. Each group benefits in a different way from the resulting identity confusion.

Your customers, your sales professionals, and your accountants might all encourage you to lower the price of your product. They all have their own different reasons, but by acting together, they cause you a huge headache.

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The Joy of Sadness

March 24th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

Ancient Jewish wisdom draws a connection between two months of the Jewish year that at first glance seem to stand in opposition to each other. We are told:  Just as when [the month of] Av enters, our joy is diminished, so too, when [the month of] Adar enters, our joy increases.

A connection and equality of sorts is made between the sadness of the month of Av, when both Temples were destroyed, and the joy of Adar, when the redemption of Purim took place.  Why?  I would like to share with you a thought I had on this.  Please know that I did not see a source for learning this lesson and I am not saying that this is what ancient Jewish wisdom is trying to teach us, simply, this is what came to my mind when thinking of this saying.

In the last month I have heard from several administrators in different schools that the line they hear most frequently from parents of their students is, “I just want my child to be happy.”  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Of course they want their children to be happy!  They’re not evil people!  But the truth is, if a parent’s goal is for his or her child to be happy, now, in their childhood, they’re  really not doing their best to align their child up for a lifetime of happiness.  In order to feel joy, we also need another part of our calendar cycle to instill in us the feelings of grief and sadness.  We can’t just experience happiness. To feel joy we also have to be open to feeling all the other emotions that are part of the human experience.

It isn’t easy to parent a child who is feeling grief, anxiety, fear, shame, or any other negative emotion, but it is important to let our children experience those feelings, to let them fall and fail but be there with them to help them get up again and process their feelings.  A child who is allowed to struggle and feel negative feelings, will be truly capable of feeling positive feelings of accomplishment, pride and joy.  Adar can’t exist without Av.  They’re related. We need to be capable of feeling each emotion at the right time, and we need to allow our children to experience all those emotions too, with our loving support.  It doesn’t work to say, “I just want my child to be happy!”

We also need to acknowledge how challenging it is on us as parents to help a child work through difficult feelings.  It can take a lot out of us and that’s normal and okay.  The important thing is not to dodge that responsibility because it is too hard or painful but to get ourselves the support we need while we parent unhappy children.  When a child of mine is going through something difficult, that may be when I need to make my life simpler, cut things out of my schedule, and ask for help because the reality is that parenting a child who is suffering is time-consuming, draining, and challenging.  But it is still necessary and valuable.  We have to help ourselves be able to help our children in their good times and their bad times, in the Adar of their lives and in the Av of their lives because we learn to live with joy by also feeling pain.

Memories or Remembrances

March 24th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Fine restaurants pay as much attention to the way the food looks on the plate as they do to how it tastes. When you’re charging a lot for a meal, every aspect matters. At home, while I don’t glop food onto a plate in an unsightly mess, neither do I spend time creating radish spirals or decorating our supper plates with blackberry coulis.  We will be quite happy if the taste is fantastic.

On the other hand, you know those pictures of food in magazines that make you drool? The sight of melted chocolate dripping down the side of the cake tickles your salivary glands and the spoon caressing the whipped cream makes you want to dig right in? When it comes to food photography, you actually don’t want to taste the product. That frothy cappuccino may actually be composed of foaming hand soap and the rich syrup  on those pancakes might be made from motor oil. What you see isn’t what you want.

That lesson is incredibly relevant to parenting. Surprisingly often, we have to choose between a meaningful experience versus one that looks great but lacks substance. As a preschool teacher, my friend Hannah’s students’ projects never looked as good as those of other classes. That’s because her four-year-olds actually did the work themselves. She didn’t guide their hands as they glued and she didn’t touch up their drawings. If the owl’s beak ended up where its eye was intended to go, so be it. The finished projects meant for parents’ refrigerators may not have won awards, but the kids in her class loved being there and by the end of the year they had acquired important skills.

As we all have cameras and video machines readily available in our phones, school performances have lost much of their charm. Little children looking at the rows of parents perched at the back of the room don’t see their proud mothers’ smiles or their fathers’ loving gazes. Instead their parents’ faces are covered by machinery. And those machines are largely focused on them, sending the incorrect message that the other children with whom they’ve been practicing are unimportant and irrelevant. The fun of presenting the show is diminished for the sake of being able to show how wonderful it was.

Sometimes, we just have to choose between creating real memories or building contrived remembrances. The picture snapped of the child we forced into what we thought was an adorable outfit even though he hated wearing it (yes, I have one of those pictures), the smile that came out only because we bribed our daughter with a candy if she pretended to be having fun, the precious moments we missed as we focused on freezing them for eternity may all look wonderful but in actuality be a breathtaking looking but completely inedible feast.

The Young, the Elite and the Ignorant

March 21st, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

My father-in-law, of blessed memory, used to say that people aren’t balance sheets. You can’t tout up a subjective view of a person’s good and bad points, do a quick mathematical computation and emerge with a ranking. Say someone always shoveled his elderly neighbors’ drives (+3), gave 15% of his income to charity (+3) and was meticulously honest in business (+4) but had an explosive temper with his wife and children (-4) and indulged in an affair (-4).  Do the arithmetic: 3 + 3 + 4 – 4 -4 = 2.  This does not mean that you can say that he was a  +2 type of guy. God will make his own calculations, but we human beings can only say that he was a complicated person, doing both outstanding and horrible actions.

The lens of history reveals John Adams, second president of the United States, as a complicated man. Undoubtedly brilliant and deeply involved in the founding of this country, as president he also signed into legislation the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts and was unpopular enough not to earn a second term in office.

Among his greatest moments, in my opinion, was his defense of the British soldiers accused of murder in the misnamed Boston Massacre of 1770, one of the events that led to America’s declaring independence. Although Adams was already favoring breaking with England, he set a precedent that made America different from Europe by establishing that everyone, even those who are unpopular or hold unpopular views, deserve honest representation before the law. He famously said,  “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they can not alter the state of facts and evidence.” 

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Am I Destined to Be a Domestic Drudge?

March 20th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 36 comments

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

I’ve been married for 9  years to a pretty great guy.   We have two boys and a girl, also a dog.  I have a full time job and I also take care of most of the inside-the-house chores and organize all the activities for the kids and family. 

My husband and I have had several discussions and sometimes arguments about sharing the household workload. We make new agreements about duties that my husband can take on, but within a week these agreements have fizzled out. When I ask him to take on tasks with our children, such as bedtime or supervising homework, it generally devolves into screaming matches between him and the kids.

My resentment is starting to affect my sexual desire for him. I feel less like he’s my partner and more like he’s another child.  I go all day from the time I wake up at 5:45 a.m. until I collapse into bed at 10 p.m.

Is this simply the reality of being a working mother? Do I have to abandon my  dreams of sharing the child care and household duties?

Do I accept that my husband is doing his best and perhaps is limited by his parenting and organizational skills? Do I swallow my anger, do I fight for more or do I just walk away?

Domestic Drudge

Dear D.D.,

We got lost between the, “I’ve been married for 9 years to a pretty great guy,” and the rest of your letter. If, as you say, your husband is a great guy, something is off-kilter. Exhaustion, resentment and anger are pretty awful things to drag around in a marriage so we do think this is urgent to deal with. It isn’t surprising that with so much negativity, the sexual and companionship side of your marriage is suffering.

If we told 1000 people that we received a letter that began with “I’ve been married for nine years to a pretty great guy” and concluded with “Do I swallow my anger, do I fight for more or do I just walk away?” we doubt that even one would guess the content of the intervening eleven sentences. 

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Are You a Pious Pushover?

March 19th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

Anyone who spends any time in neighborhoods populated by Bible-believing, religiously inclined people, knows that, for the most part, such people are kinder, gentler, more empathetic and more compassionate than the general population.  Sometimes, however, unselfish behavior can morph into unwarranted meekness and timidity.

Here are five questions that might help determine if you have allowed your own goodness to be exploited by others less restrained than you.

  • Do you always deflect adversarial encounters?
  • Is being liked more important than standing your ground?
  • Do you often tell yourself, “I’m just too tired to argue”?
  • Do you frequently resent how “pushy people” seem to get their way and pride yourself on not being pushy?
  • Do you sometimes feel embarrassed after standing firm and ‘winning’?

If you answered ‘yes’ to three or more of those questions, what’s to be done?  As usual, ancient Jewish wisdom points to the Bible for help.  Remember that we learn as much from the flaws of Biblical personalities as we do from their greatness.

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No Results Guaranteed

March 17th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

A “Your Mother’s Guidance” post by Rebecca Masinter

The book of Exodus ends with the completion and assembly of the Tabernacle.  The description of assembling the materials, building the vessels, and sewing the tapestries and clothing for the Priests are in the active tense, “and he made,” “and he placed,” with one exception.  Verse 40:17 says,  “And it was in the first month of the second year on the first of the month that the Tabernacle was erected.”  The actual assembly of the Tabernacle is said in a passive voice, “was erected.”

Why? Ancient Jewish wisdom describes that after the children of Israel brought all the components of the Tabernacle to Moses it was time to assemble it.  God wanted to give Moses the honor of actually assembling the Tabernacle but the planks and pieces were so huge and heavy that Moses knew it was impossible for a human being to lift them and put them in place.

As ancient Jewish wisdom beautifully states, Moses said before God, “How can it be erected by a human being?” 

God said to him, “You do your part—make an attempt so it looks as if you’re doing it, and it will rise and be assembled by itself.”

And that is why the verse says, “…the Tabernacle was erected” in a passive voice. It assembled itself.

Wow!  I’m going to share with you an idea that I would have rejected as a mother of young children, but has become very dear to me as they have grown older.  We put in our effort.  We make an enormous effort to parent well, to be good mothers.  And that is our responsibility. We have to make our attempts. To the rest of the world it may look as if we are raising our children!  But the truth is that just as it appeared as if Moses was lifting the Tabernacle and it was really happening independently of him, the development of our children is really independent of us.  The outcome of how our children turn out, what type of person they become—that is up to God. 

I have a friend who went to speak to a Torah scholar about one of her children who was born with innate behavioral challenges. Despite years of various efforts and therapies, my friend was still very concerned about what would be with this child in adulthood.  The Torah sage told her, “That’s not your concern.  You put in your effort to be a good mother.  You make an effort to research doctors, providers, and treatments within reason, and that is all!  What will be with him and who he will become is not dependent on your actions.  That is up to God.” 

Our children’s successes are not due to us, and our children’s struggles and failures are not ours either.  Our job as mothers is about effort;  the outcome is independent of us and dependent on God (and the child’s own input).

This is really a mind-blowing idea and it may not resonate with each of you, and that’s okay.  For me, it resonates.  We put in our best efforts, do our best and have faith in God who can bring about the results without our help, in the same way as the Tabernacle was assembled.

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