Posts in Practical Parenting

From Abram’s Warriors to Our Children

November 10th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

Your Mother’s Guidance by Rebecca Masinter

One of the best-known transmitters of ancient Jewish wisdom, Rashi, gives us a definition of parenting in his remarks on Genesis 14:14.   His words are foundational to our understanding of our role as parents. Abram goes out to rescue his nephew, Lot, who has been taken captive and he takes with him, chanichav, his trainees, or the ones he had been mechanech, educating, in his home.  Rashi helps us out and defines the root of the word chinuch used to describe these people in words that I am roughly translating as, “This word chinuch is a term of the initiation or beginning of a person or tool’s usage in the manner he will continue in for the future, and this is the meaning of King Solomon’s statement, ‘Train a child…’ (Proverbs 22:6).” The Hebrew word in Proverbs, translated as the verb ‘train’ is the same as the noun for those men Abram took with him to war.

And there we have it—the idea that what we’re doing as parents is not scrambling day to day as we try to cope and get through one more bedtime or one more carpool. We are training and equipping our children for their life journey, for the path that is uniquely theirs and that they will continue on their whole lives long.  We see this idea in the verse that Rashi quotes from, “Train or educate a child according to his way.”  This in itself is a meaningful line and is quoted extensively in parenting classes, but it isn’t the entire verse.  The verse ends, “…even when he becomes old he won’t sway from it.”

Have you ever wondered why King Solomon uses the term, “even when he becomes old…”?  Why didn’t he say, even when he grows up or becomes an adult he won’t depart from it?  I think that this insight is at the root of all parenting.  King Solomon knows that chinuch isn’t about what the child will be like when he is 18 or 30, chinuch is about raising a child so that straight through to the end of his life, when he is an old man, he is still on the path his parents started him on.  Chinuch isn’t short sighted; quite the opposite.

The message is that that our task as parents is to begin with the end in mind.  Chinuch involves thinking about what our child’s unique path is that is truly inherent to him and that will carry him through his whole life, and what we need to do to develop, facilitate, and enhance that journey.

Those of you who have been with me on Your Mother’s Guidance for a while know that I really don’t like to share specific parenting how-tos.  I like to share concepts and ideas we can each think about and implement in our own ways for our own families.  The reason gets to this core definition of chinuch.  No two children will have the same life journey.  No two families are even remotely similar, and no one other than the two parents God has entrusted with the responsibility for those children can possibly know what is the right chinuch for that child. 

Mrs. Bruria Schwab once shared with me a lesson from her father who told her that chinuch is compared to a boat.  A boat travels on the ocean on its own path and no other boat can exactly follow the same path.  You can see where a boat is going and try to follow in the same direction, but you will be hit by different currents, winds, and tides, and even if you end up in the same place, you will not have gotten there exactly the same way. 

Parenting is envisioning the end goal for each child. Where can this child be as an old man or woman? What does he need to help him get there?  No two people will be the same.  This truly is the beautiful and crucial job of mothers. 

Find a few minutes to get out of the daily scramble every now and then and tap into the long term picture.  It may be that we will still do many of the same things we do now, but our motives and emotions will be completely different when we’re doing them as parents who are initiating our children onto the path of life that they will continue living long into the future.

2 Book Reviews: Girls on the Edge and The Collapse of Parenting

November 5th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how eye-opening I found Dr. Leonard Sax’s book, Boys Adrift. Since that time, I have read two more of the doctor’s books: Girls on the Edge and The Collapse of Parenting. I highly recommend them both. Let me share some of my take-aways from these books.

Dr. Sax spends a great deal of time visiting different schools. On one of these trips, he came across an optional physics class in an all-girl school that appealed to an unusually high percentage of the students. A conversation with the perceptive teacher revealed that she taught topics in a different order from that standardly used when teaching girls. Nothing dumbed down, nothing left out—simply starting with a concept that appealed more to the female mind so that the girls were interested and “hooked into” the idea of learning physics. (This works in the reverse as well, of course. Many of today’s literature assignments are geared for girls and our boys’ interest wanes.) That’s an insight I could have used when homeschooling.

I found similar “aha” moments in The Collapse of Parenting. My husband and I certainly parented in the more traditional mold. I was still surprised to discover from this book areas in which I had been seduced by popular thought. Dr. Saks focuses a great deal on how to pass along your primary values to your children, especially in a culture that is working against you. His chapters on the fragility of today’s children and the importance of transmitting the value of humility (which paradoxically makes for stronger children) are tremendously worthwhile. 

On one hand, I find the plethora of books on parenting to be a disturbing phenomenon. I think that they add to parents’ feelings of incompetence and reliance on misguided “experts.” However, the reality is that our children are growing up in a world where we and they face unhealthy influences emanating from places ranging from their pediatrician’s office to schools to entertainment to the halls of Washington DC. These exert tremendous pressure whether or not we seek direction from them. In that atmosphere, we need to be extremely vigilant and deliberate in how and what we do. Books like those of Dr. Sax can raise questions, stiffen our spines and remind us to carefully choose and guard what matters to us.

(If you do like what you see and purchase using the links in this post, we will receive a small commission on the purchase.)

Mommies to the Rescue

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

Watching a child hurt isn’t easy. Whether the pain is caused by a skinned knee or a broken heart, loving parents suffer along with their children. Parents’ instinctive reaction is to prevent or alleviate the child’s distress. Unfortunately, doing so can sometimes lead to deeper and longer-lasting misery in the future.

I have (accurately or not) read of cultures that don’t make any attempts to keep toddlers away from fire or sharp knives. The logic is that the child will learn an unforgettable lesson before doing serious harm. That wasn’t my philosophy of motherhood for my own two-year-olds.

At the same time, a trend I recently read about doesn’t fit my philosophy either. Thanks to the electronic social networks available to us today, mothers whose children are homesick and lonesome on college campuses or beginning their careers in an alien city are reaching out to other virtual strangers who are also moms, enlisting them to personally bring a care package, extend an invitation for dinner or offer a hug and supporting shoulder.

A Facebook group for parents of 15-25 year olds facilitates these connections, allowing mothers to connect and ask for help from mothers living in the locations where their children are. One side of this is lovely. Making connections and extending friendship to strangers speaks of the best of human nature. My question is if there is potential harm to the recipients of the gracious behavior.

Learning to solve one’s own problems is a vital marker in the transition from childhood to adulthood. Running into difficulties is an unalterable reality of life. Responding to those difficulties builds us into greater human beings while avoiding or succumbing to them leaves us weaker and smaller. Sitting alone in your dorm room while imagining everyone else surrounded by laughter and friends is miserable. If you mom’s “friend” knocks on the door with some donuts and coffee or sends her own daughter to meet you, you will be happier in the short run. But you won’t have grown. You won’t have learned to navigate the world and make your own way to a successful life.

I have done my share of getting off the phone with crying daughters who are in far away cities. It is tremendously painful to listen to a suffering child. Had “virtual mommies” been available at those times, would I have taken advantage of that fact? I don’t know. I think the question to ask is whether the message being sent and received is, “I know you’ll be fine and you’ll figure this out, but I want to send some love your way,” or “You don’t have the ability and tools to handle this so I’ll rescue you.” The answer to that question shines a spotlight on whether our focus is on making our children feel better or only ourselves.

Stitch by Stitch

October 20th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 6 comments

Quilting is not in my blood. I possess no antique quilts handed down through the generations nor do I have fond memories of my mother and aunts socializing as they pieced together a quilt top. Nonetheless, I have been hanging out in the fabric store, reading quilting magazines and dreaming about quilt patterns.

My interest was piqued by a fictional series based around a group of quilters. The books are just what I sometimes seek: enjoyable, non-violent, non-offensive reads that don’t engage me enough to keep me up too late at night. Perhaps knowing that my husband’s abiding passion for sailing was triggered by reading a series of children’s books while growing up in his land-locked hometown should have served as a warning to me, but it didn’t.

All this explains how I found myself at a class teaching hand quilting skills at a local sewing store.  In addition to a quilting lesson, I received a lesson about life.

Like most people, I surround myself with friends who make my life happier and more fulfilling. Heading into the class, I thought my budding hobby might provide a source of new friends, bonding over a shared interest. In reality, one woman’s personality dominated the class chitchat, and her comments left me with no interest in pursuing a relationship.

What happened? More than once during the class, her cell phone rang. Each time she looked around the room, grimaced and said, “It’s the little wretches again.” After dealing with whatever child was calling, she loudly complained at how needy, incompetent and time-consuming her children were. It was most uncomfortable.

I have read parenting advice, on occasion, that warns against calling children stupid, lazy or other negative names. Such sage guidance usually has me rolling my eyes. Who in the world, I think, needs to be told that? My mother certainly never spoke to me in such a derogatory tone. Yet, here, sitting next to me, was a woman who clearly needed such direction.

My quilting acquaintance probably loves her children and puts time, money and effort into providing for their needs. Maybe she doesn’t call them wretches to their faces or within their hearing, though I think it unlikely. When we accustom ourselves to certain language, we rarely can confine it to specific circumstances. She may even think she is being funny.  How mistaken.

Aside from being unpleasant, her behavior seemed anachronistic to me. Parents today are far more likely to lavish too much praise on their children rather than an abundance of insults. Yet the challenge of intentional, thoughtful parenting remains. We still have to think through the consequences of our interactions rather than reacting to our children and to situations. Whether it is exploding in anger or surrendering authority to a tiny despot (of one’s creation), whether it is abdicating parental responsibility and following whatever the crowd is doing or encasing one’s habits in concrete and exhibiting no flexibility whatsoever, it is easier to parent poorly than to parent well.  Sadly, unlike a quilt, stitches of a child’s soul and character aren’t easily removed and re-sewn.

Boys Adrift – a must-read book

October 6th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 7 comments

You have seen those ads for medications that ask questions such as:

  • Do you ever have trouble falling asleep?
  • Are you ever anxious?
  • Does the world ever seem like a scary place?

They might as well ask: Are you human?

I have two questions of my own:

  • Do you have any sons? Daughters? Students? Neighbors? Grandchildren?
  • Do you have a stake in the future?

The 99.9% of you who answered yes need to read boys adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Dr. Leonard Sax. It will not be a pleasant read. Not because the book is poorly writtenit is very readable. But the information it contains and the questions it asks will make you uncomfortable. Truth often does that. While I have a few quibbles here and there and would like to see further information on some of the avenues he explores, overall this is a valuable read.

Dr. Sax is a family physician and an author. I have not read his other books yet, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this one is only of interest to you if you have sons. That is a bit like suggesting to the rest of your body that it should ignore an infection in your finger. It can’t. The body is interconnected and a danger left untreated in one area doesn’t stay confined. Society is the same. We all have a stake in understanding the ways in which we are failing boys. Things have only gotten worse since the book’s 2016 date of publication.

On the plus side, if you do have specific boys under your influence whether as a parent or grandparent, a teacher, an employer or through your church, synagogue or community, this book will provide you with tools to improve the lives that intersect with yours. Whether discussing ADHD, girl-centered education or endocrine disruptors, Dr. Sax makes a compelling case that, as a society, we are on a dangerous path. Like me, you probably know amazing, mature and wholesome young men. Yet they don’t spontaneously erupt. The more aware we are of the pitfalls on the road that impede boys from turning into men we can admire and upon whom we can rely, the more we can actively intervene to help them achieve that goal.

(If you do like what you see and purchase using the links in this post, we will receive a small commission on the purchase.)

Grandma Camp Lessons

September 24th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 4 comments

Our fifth season of Grandma Camp is over and once again I am grateful for time spent with five special little girls. (I do have to figure out a way to connect as strongly to our other grandchildren. These five just conveniently cluster in age and gender.)

This year it became clear that they are not so little any more. During year one I scripted and supervised almost each minute of the week. Each year, my involvement has receded a bit and this time around, while I still read aloud from our much-love Grandma’s Attic books and planned some crafts and outings, I was in the background a great deal.

On Wednesday, I overheard some prank calls being made, amid much giggling. As the recipients of the calls were their respective mothers/aunts, I felt no need to say anything. My daughters are perfectly capable of telling young ones to stop bothering them.

Thursday followed with more laughter and whispered consultations. As the girls headed out the door telling me, “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll be back soon,” this time I did ask for more information. It turns out that the success of the phone calls led the girls to think that prank visits on some neighbors might be a good idea.

Here is where the benefits of being a grandmother rather than a mother kicked in. I did not feel the need to lecture them. I didn’t feel the need to berate myself for not having taught them sensitivity and concern for others. I didn’t even mentally berate my own children for not having taught their children well. I simply redirected the girls, mildly suggesting that people wouldn’t appreciate answering the door and finding no one there. They would, however, appreciate finding a card under their door wishing them a great day.

For the next hour, the girls wrote message and drew matching pictures on construction paper, offering all sorts of good wishes and signing the cards, “The Grandma Camp Crew.” Those of our neighbors who know us smiled as they recognized the source of the greetings while those who don’t simply smiled. But no one smiled as broadly as me.

One More Time

September 23rd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

Deuteronomy 26:1 begins, “And it will be when you come to the land…” It continues with the laws of first fruits and other commandments that we are only obligated to do in the land of Israel which the Jewish nation was about to enter.  In truth, most of Deuteronomy is filled with commandments the Jewish people can fulfill fully only in the land of Israel.  Many of them we have actually already learned about earlier, but Moses reviews them here  in his final speech to the nation before they enter the land.  Nachmanides, a key transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, tells us that even the commandments that seem new to us here in Deuteronomy were actually taught earlier in the 40 years in the desert.  They just weren’t recorded in the Torah until this point when Moses reviewed them.

Here is a great parenting tip, straight from Moses!  When something out of the ordinary is going to happen, we should tell our children in advance and in detail what will happen and how they should behave. Then, immediately before the event, we should review again what to do. That’s how Moses did it! 

[Rebecca now gives an example that is relevant for Jewish parents as many mothers bring their young children to synagogue to hear the shofar  (ram’s horn) on the New Year (Rosh HaShanah) holy days. This includes children who may not be accustomed to being in synagogue as they usually go to children’s groups or stay home until they are older and able to behave properly.)  For example, now is a good time to talk to our little children about Rosh Hashanah and the shofar, and how we’re going to go together to hear the shofar, and this is what they need to know.  Synagogue is a place where we behave respectfully and quietly. We will walk, not run in the halls, and we’ll walk quietly to and from our seats, and we don’t talk, especially not when we’re there for Shofar blowing.  (I’m not suggesting this is what you have to say, just sharing what may come up when I do this.)  This conversation can happen now, and repeatedly over the next week as needed.

But then, right before we walk into synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, you can be sure, I, and many other mothers, will say, “Do you remember what we do and don’t do in synagogue on Rosh Hashana?  Can you remember to walk, not run, and be totally quiet once we’re inside?”  Effective mothers do this all the time before trips to the grocery store, museums, airplane travel, before guests come over and on and on.  We all do it, but now you know where it originated! The commandments concerning the land of Israel were taught over a period of 40 years, but now right before entering the land, we get a review, just like we give our kids!  That’s parenting the Biblical way!

4 Strategies to Reduce Whining

September 16th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 4 comments

My mother rarely baked. There was no need to do so as she was blessed with her own mother nearby who happily delivered mouth-watering birthday cakes, challahs and holiday specialties. We even had a great kosher bakery only a few blocks away from our house. Between Grandma and Mottel’s Bakery, our home was well stocked.

Baking was not an easy activity to do in my mother’s  kitchen. The necessary utensils were kept either high up or low down. Mom stored roasting pans in the oven. This meant they needed to be moved elsewhere before you could bake. Making cookies or a cake meant spending a fair bit of time and energy just pulling the necessary items together and clearing space. Did my mother not bake because it was so much trouble or did she organize her kitchen in this way because she didn’t plan to bake? I do not know.

I do know that we can make many of the things that drain our energy much easier by organizing things differently. Whining and nagging children are a prime example. If we are at the end of our rope because of our children’s incessant demands, the good news is that the problem most likely lies with us, not them. While this may be a bitter pill to swallow, it means that the solution is in our hands. Even if we are willing to live with unpleasant brats, we owe it to our children to help them become individuals who others will also want to be around.

Children nag because it works. Every single time we say no and then change our minds after hearing a request repeated a few times, we teach our children to bug us. Every single time our “no” is met with sulking or aggression or tears and we respond with an emotional outburst of our own, we send the message that our children can control us. Whenever we agree to a an appeal that was delivered in a whiny or impolite tone we provide positive reinforcement for that method of communication, regardless of whether we are happy to say yes to the particular request.

Here are four steps that worked in our home. Obviously, it is easier to set up a relationship this way from the start and it takes longer and much more patience to break established bad habits. As with any new skill, these steps may feel unnatural at first and require intense concentration. When we make a mistake, we need to try over and over again, just as we do when learning a new sport or how to play a musical instrument. Eventually, we begin to do things instinctively and that is when we reap the benefits.

The happiest families I know are those where the parents really enjoy spending time with their children. No one that I know looks forward to stomach flu or lice infestations or some of the other accompaniments of family life. But there is every reason to expect to take pleasure in the majority of our time with our children. We are in charge of making that happen.      

1) Don’t respond to your children instinctively or with your attention focused elsewhere. From a very young age children can learn not to interrupt a telephone call or conversation. From a slightly older age, we parents can learn not to answer the phone, or respond to other attention-diverting technology, or to try to have an intense adult conversation at times when we know that our focus should be on our children. We need to be present in more than a physical sense when interacting with our children. 

2) It is completely appropriate to remind a two-year-old to say please. It is completely absurd to remind a seven-year-old of these same words. If they are missing, or if your child’s tone of voice is unpleasant or rude explain (softly and matter-of-factly) that you aren’t able to listen to a request presented in such a way and your child can try again in five minutes. Then set a timer so you both know when the time is up. Depending on the age, there might be an “X strikes and you’re out” rule.

3) When everyone knows the rules, life is simpler. If sugary snacks or computer time or messy arts and crafts are limited to certain times and occasions, then no one will expect them to be available around the clock. Very few children in Vermont beg to go to the beach in February. If you never allow the glitter to come out within an hour of bedtime, no one will ask for it. 

4) Some of the whiniest children I know are the children of complaining, less-than-grateful adults. Monitor your interactions with your spouse, parents, siblings and children. Do you speak to each other respectfully and in a pleasant tone of voice? Are you rude to other people in your life? Do you model gratitude or entitlement as you go through your day? We can’t expect young children to behave better than we do.

We spend a great deal of time with our children. Let’s not let whining ruin those special hours.   

But Everyone Else Does

September 12th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

When school starts, fads tend to pick up.  Remember fidget spinners?  Deuteronomy 17:14 gives mothers a perspective on trends and fads that we may find helpful.  It says, “When you come to the land that Hashem, your God, is giving you, and you inhabit it and settle in it, and you will say, ‘I will place upon myself a king like all the nations around me…’” 

Sure enough, this is what happened.  When the prophet Samuel was nearing the end of his life, the Jewish people came to him and said,  “Make for us a king to judge us like all the other nations.”  (1Samuel 8:5) Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that the concept to appoint a king is one of the 613 commandments of the Torah. (Deut. 17:15)  We were supposed to have a king once we were settled in Israel. 

But, the line, “just like all the nations that surround us,” was not part of the original idea. That is included in Deuteronomy as a prophecy, describing what will happen—and it was not a good thing.  We were supposed to ask for a king because it was the right thing for us, but not because  any other nations had monarchies.  Right request, wrong reason.

I don’t know if you have kids at all similar to mine, but pretty much as soon as I give something or permission to do something to one of them, someone else is bound to come to me and say, “Since you said so and so can do this, can I also do it?”  Probably, just as you do, I respond, “What your sibling does has no bearing on what you do.  Ask me again for what you want, but this time don’t tell me what someone else has, just focus on yourself.” 

This is the message we can learn from the way the Jewish people ended up asking for a king.  Monarchy may be the right choice, but not for the wrong reasons.  We were supposed to ask for a king because we were commanded to do so, not because the neighboring countries did.

This is an important message for us to give to our children. Life is not fair, and we are not given equivalent gifts in this world.  Our children will be in situations their whole lives long where they see other people having things and doing things which they won’t be able to, or shouldn’t, have or do.  If we can help them learn from a young age that we should each focus on what is right for us, regardless of what anyone else has or does, we are giving them a valuable tool for life.  Yes, everyone else in your class may have a fidget spinner, but even if you should have one, the fact that others have it is not the reason for you to get one.

What about Socialization

September 5th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 31 comments

Today’s Musing is actually a triple-header. It was inspired by an Ask the Rabbi question. In order not to make that answer too long, I intended to follow up with a Practical Parenting column. Finally, I decided to bundle all my (our) reflections  into one Susan’s Musing.

Here is Dave’s Ask the Rabbi question and our answer:

Greetings Rabbi and Susan,

I’m a long-time listener and grateful beneficiary of Ancient Jewish Wisdom, the Podcast, Thought Tools, Susan’s Musings and your books.

My question is in regards to the most recent podcast on “Dealing with Death.” In it, Rabbi, you mention that most mass-shooters are basically lonely men; unmarried, childless, disconnected, involuntarily celibate, etc. I completely agree. However, you mention that if these men were more connected to family, friends, sexual relationships, etc., the problem would be virtually resolved.

When I heard this, I couldn’t help but think about homeschooling. As a homeschooler (which as I understand your family did also), I often find myself defending our decision to homeschool against naysayers who argue that my children will not receive the necessary social skills they’ll need to function in society. Usually, it goes something like this: “You’re sheltering your children; they’ll never make any friends being cooped-up in your house all day.” Surely they’d receive all their “necessary social skills” in public school. I was the product of a GIC [Government Indoctrination Camp] (one of my favorite acronyms or yours, I must tell you) and will never be an apologist for them. In retrospect, it seems that being forced to go to a place with thousands of my peers every weekday provided harmful “over-socialization” if there is such a thing.

I remember from my school experience is that there wasn’t much learning going on. Instead it was an utter fashion show. I spent every day being hopelessly obsessed with girls, the latest loud music and my own popularity. Now twenty-five years removed from high school, I can’t think of even one life-affirming or life-enhancing connection that remains.

Still, it seems that homeschooling is antithetical to your point about mass-shooters needing more connections. Is this a legitimate disparity, or one of life’s many paradoxes? Furthermore, I’m sure you and Susan heard the same objection to homeschooling. How did you defend your decision?

Thank you again for all you and Susan do. It is more valuable to Christians like me than you might ever realize.

Dave

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