Posts in Practical Parenting

Parents Living in Fear

July 12th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

I often stand in awe of Israeli technology. This tiny country is the source of an unusual number of innovative, life-improving and life-saving techniques. However, not all innovation, brilliant as it may be, is positive.

I watched the following video highlighting a new product that lets babies “speak” to their parents. No more guessing whether your baby is cold or hungry, tired or thirsty—hook baby up to this AI-powered device and it will tell you!

At this point, I was figuratively shouting at my computer, “There already is such a device. God created it and it’s known as a mother or father.” What I was seeing was another nail in the coffin of parents trusting themselves and taking the time to learn their baby’s unique cries and responses.

But it got worse. The video went on to explain how this artificial intelligence gadget would give early warning about heart or breathing difficulties. It would let you know if there was a spike in temperature, perhaps reminding you that you left your baby in a hot car.  It would inform you if your baby was being abused by a caregiver.

Tragedies happen. And, yes, a device like this might prevent some tragedies. But, in my estimation, it will lead to more. Putting her purse in the back seat so that she remembers that her baby is in the car seat empowers a mother to protect her child. Trusting a machine to tell you there is a problem breeds both constant anxiety as well as dangerous mindlessness.

Suddenly losing a baby because of an undiagnosed health problem is heartbreaking. Living in constant fear of that happening slowly chips away at one’s happiness and mental health. Being given, even slightly,  the suggestion that you are a negligent parent if you don’t buy a certain product and the idea that you should drown in guilt if something bad happens is devastating.

Life is uncertain. Life holds risks. Loving someone with your whole heart, such as one’s children, means being vulnerable. It also means having a life filled with joy and meaning. Today’s trend of terrifying parents by emphasizing dangers that are inherent in being alive is not a positive innovation.

Keep it Simple

July 6th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

Deuteronomy 18:13 says, “You should be tamim with Hashem your God.”  Tamim is a difficult Hebrew word to understand. It is alternatively translated as simple, blameless or perfect. None of these capture the whole picture. One of the main transmitters of ancient Jewish wisdom, known as Rashi, beautifully discusses this Hebrew word. His elucidation here is especially appropriate considering that the verses surrounding this one deal with the forbidden practices of magic and sorcery.

We are not to try to uncover the future, to predict it, or stress about it.  Rather we are supposed to look to God as the one who gives us each moment, and we should accept each moment as it is, with simplicity.  At one and the same time, plan, work and strive for the future while also trusting in the moment. While “simple” has a negative connotation in English, simplicity is a different ball game. Here it is clearly intended as a lofty aspirational value. This is such a powerful statement and such a challenging concept. 

This idea may be especially challenging for mothers.  After all, we are the ones who are responsible for the future generation!  Surely we need to worry about the future!  Surely if anyone has a right to feel anxious about what is coming down the line it is a parent whose job is to raise a child for the future!  But, no.  Apparently, that isn’t our job.  Yes, we build for the future.  Yes, we do our best to help each child be prepared for his future.  But no, we don’t run in circles and try and make the future unfold the way we want it to.  No, we don’t get anxious or stressed about what will be.  We try to accept with simplicity everything that God brings upon us in the moment.

I’d like to suggest one reason why I think this idea is challenging for some of us and what we can do about it.  I think mothers tend to extrapolate from today’s reality and worry that what is today will always be the reality.  You know what I mean, don’t you?  For example, a mother who is worried that her son is bored in school can very quickly assume this means he will always be bored in school. Before you know it, her mind has jumped to what will happen if he’s bored in school forever: what if he starts disrupting the class, maybe he’ll be kicked out of class, eventually he’ll be kicked out of school, he’ll end up in the streets and be estranged from God.  All these calamities can run through a mother’s head simply because her son told her he was bored in his first week of school. 

Or maybe a mother got a call from her child’s teacher that her daughter was mean to a classmate today. That mother’s brain can jump right from today’s instance to the whole future of this child, worrying about what this means in a much bigger, more general way than the incident requires.

I think a message we can take from this verse is to accept life as it unfolds and let God take care of foreseeing the future and bringing it about.

Walking this way with God, not stressing about the future, is also a great lesson to teach our children.  Especially as anxiety in children has skyrocketed in recent years, this may be a lesson we want to consciously teach them over and over.  We can share with our children that we can trust in God and accept what He gives us at this moment without worrying about the next moment.  It’s truly a lofty vision, but one that will help our children day today just as much as it helps us.

I want to thank each one of you who has reached out to me to tell me you appreciate the ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ column.  It really means a lot to me when I hear that you are reading and enjoying it.

 

It’s Not Fair!

June 30th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

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

How many times have you heard your children cry, “It isn’t fair!”  Children are born with an acute sense of what is fair and what isn’t.  They keep detailed track of who sat next to Mommy and Daddy last week at the Shabbat table, who got the extra piece of cake, and whose turn it is to take out the garbage.  The problem is that focusing on what is fair doesn’t make happy people because there is always something in our lives that isn’t fair or that doesn’t match up with our expectations of what we deserve.

Let’s take a look at Numbers 16.  Korach was upset that his father’s family had been unfairly skipped over when a younger sibling’s son was appointed to leadership. Surely it would be fairer for the older brother’s family to be honored first?  He gathered with him the tribe of Reuven (Reuben) who, in the words of the transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom known as the Kli Yakar, were bitter of soul because many, many years earlier, Jacob had taken away the firstborn privileges from their ancestor, Reuven, and given the privilege of the oldest to Joseph.  For generations, they had held onto a spirit of, “That’s not fair!” Korach’s group of discontents were all people who thought they deserved more than they were given, who perceived life as unfair. 

That is a very seductive way of thinking and incredibly contagious.  Who can’t jump on the bandwagon of something in our lives being unfair?  It’s no wonder that Korach was able to quickly attract hundreds of followers, and it’s no wonder that our children so quickly cry, “It isn’t fair”.

But we know that wallowing in victimhood doesn’t lead to a happy life. As parents, our job is to help our children move past the immature perspective that breeds misery when life isn’t fair.  How can we do this?  I think the answer lies in Moses’ response to Korach and the Levites in this section.  Moses says two things.  The first is, ”In the morning God will make known that which is His.” God has a plan for each person and He chooses who will be who and who will get what.  We don’t get to decide what is appropriate and fair for each person. That is God’s job, and when we accept His decisions as His perfect will to give us exactly what is best for us and to give our friends exactly what is best for them, we can discard discontent and be happy with our portion.

My children and I recently finished reading an inspiring book about the life of a woman in Jerusalem who recently died.  One lesson from her life really resonated with us. That is the recognition that whatever happens to you in life, even through other people, such as when someone yells at you, when someone breaks your toys, or any frustration you experience, is directly given to you from God as a way to help you grow in that moment.  Our lives are utterly and completely what God gives us and when you live with that consciousness, the whole notion of “Is it fair?” becomes ridiculous.  It doesn’t matter at all what someone else has or what I think I should have—I accept that everything I have is perfect for me because God made it so.

Moses’ second argument is, “Tribe of Levi, you have so much greatness that has already been granted to you!“

“Is it is a small matter that God has separated you from the rest of the children of Israel to bring you close to Him to serve in  the Tabernacle and to stand before the congregation to minister to them?”

Instead of focusing on what others have that you don’t, take a look at what you’ve been given!  Focus on the good that is in your life, the disproportionate good, the good that you have in ways that others don’t!  My mother had a great aunt who had a tragic life from beginning to end.  Yet my mother recalls that she was the most cheerful woman who, when asked to explain how she could be cheerful in the face of all her hardships, responded, “You can always look over your shoulder and find someone worse off than you.”  Moses is calling for a shift in perspective.  Don’t look at what you don’t have and others do, look at what you have despite the fact that others don’t.  Each of us can think of blessings in our lives that we were given “unfairly.” Each of our children can think of a time they got an extra treat, a special outing, special talents and gifts—focus on those!

I’m sure they can all relate to Korach’s bitterness over not being given what he thought was fair, but we have a powerful opportunity here to share with our children a different philosophy in life, one that will stand them in good stead for years to come.

Parents Disagreeing about TV Time (Part II)

June 23rd, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Last week, we discussed how parents can get on the same page when it comes to children watching TV/video or using technology. While I didn’t mention how important it is for parents to present a unified front, that is imperative. One of the biggest gifts parents can give children is predictability and security. When mothers and fathers enforce different rules, children are the losers. The discussions about watching TV, or any other area where mothers and fathers conflict, should not be in front of the children. Since children are equipped with X-ray eyes and hyper-sensitive hearing when they are interested in a conversation, these discussions should best take place out of the home or, at least, in a private room with relatively loud music playing (even if you are sure your children are asleep).

What can children do instead of watching TV or videos? Let’s compare this to food. What would you do if your family was accustomed to a diet of nutritionally empty snacks and fast-food main courses washed down by soda and you reached the conclusion that this wasn’t a great idea?

Here is what you would not do: You would not get up and lecture about the dangers of sugar and the importance of cruciferous vegetables. You would not insist that you could only switch to a healthier menu if it took exactly the same time and cost the same as a fast-food supper. You would not choose to make this change the same week as you have two overdue projects at work, your daughter’s best friend was moving out of town or your annoying cousins were coming to visit.

What you would do (I hope) is recognize that often the immediate reaction to making an improvement seems to make things worse. Do you want to renovate your house? Get ready for expense, dirt and noise. Do you want to get in shape? Prepare for sore muscles and aches. You get the idea.

Make a strategic plan. Pick a stretch of time when you and your wife will be more available than usual. Make time each day for playing with your children. If your children are not accustomed to imaginative and independent play, you are going to have to help ease them into this.

Invest in art supplies, games, building and construction toys, puzzles and books. Don’t overbuy—too many “things” tend to lead to boredom. You have lots of supplies already at your fingertips: empty paper towel and toilet rolls, empty matchboxes, socks without matches, etc.

If you and your wife’s imaginations could use a boost, there are thousands of ideas online as well as tons of craft books in the library. Spend time together discovering if your children enjoy board games, books on tape, building towers or having relay races. If you invest time doing these things with them now, they will grab the initiative down the road and be able to do these activities on their own.

Yes, this will make for a messier house. Establish ground rules for cleaning up after each project/game before beginning a new one. Make designated places for library books and art supplies. The time and thought the two of you put into converting your household from passive to active past-times will pay off down the road.

You mentioned “young children,” but did not designate an age. Toddlers can entertain themselves as can eight-year-olds, but obviously not for the same amount of time. Be realistic. If your children are very young, you and your wife may well have to take turns being on call and playing at any designated hour. Maybe a pre-teen or young teen-age neighbor can play with your children while you are in the house getting some work done.

I don’t think of watching TV as the equivalent of giving a child arsenic, but I do think of it as junk food. In small amounts, it is a treat. In large doses, it is harmful. I hope this discussion helps you and your wife figure out your own views on the subject.

Best,

Susan Lapin

Parents disagreeing about TV time

June 16th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

The following question came into our office and I think this is the best venue for a response.

My question is what if your wife does not share the same thoughts of watching tv and reading. What do you do? 


Also if you have young children who watch tv but sometimes it’s difficult not to allow them especially if you are busy doing other things such work, studying. How do you balance things?

Cheers,

H

Dear H.,

Because TV watching is a relatively unemotional topic, it is a wonderful opportunity for a couple to use to learn how to discuss conflicting ideas with affection and respect. Start by acknowledging your common ground. Both of you love your children and want the best for them. Once you recognize that, you can explore together the potential benefits and/or harms of TV (or video or technology) time. You are no longer in opposition to each other; you are on the same team.

Share with each other articles and/or books presenting different sides of the issue. There is physiological evidence on what watching TV does to children’s brains.  Educate yourselves together. Discuss the cultural views that your children will acquire through commercials as well as through programs and ask if these are ones you want in your house. You may find that learning more is enough to change one of your points of view.

I imagine that your disagreement partially hinges on your second question. We are busy and TV certainly provides an easy way to keep kids sitting in one place quietly. The problem is that this is a temporary solution that can produce long-term difficulties.

What do I mean? You have probably heard about the concept of an “emotional bank.” This is based on the idea that interactions work more smoothly when positive comments and actions far outnumber negative ones. For example, if your children are in school, make a point of letting a teacher know when an assignment is clever and enjoyable, when the book chosen as a classroom read-aloud is one you love, or about the days your child comes home brimming with excitement. Should there be a time when you have a complaint, a teacher who has received approbation from you will be much more willing to listen to what is wrong. This concept is true in all relationships. Recognizing the good is a powerful tool.

I think that, similarly, there is an “imagination bank”. For every activity that stifles imagination or puts it on ice, there should be numerous activities that encourage creativity. Watching TV is a passive activity. The more TV children watch, the less capable they become of entertaining themselves. The less capable of entertaining themselves they become, the greater the urge to resort to TV to keep them quiet. The vicious cycle continues. By the way, this is true whether or not the shows are of positive, negative or neutral value.

This means that while TV can give peace and quiet, it is somewhat like taking a sleeping pill rather than acquiring habits that lead to a good night’s sleep. Eventually, the dose needs to be increased and, in the process, you may be harming your body. Some of the studies you should read together show how children can be more agitated and harder to manage after they have been watching TV. Forewarned is forearmed.

So what is a parent to do when they need quiet time? I hope to follow up next week with suggestions.

Talking to Our Children

June 9th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 5 comments

I admit to being so disturbed by an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “How to Talk to Your Children About the Protests,” (June 8, 2020) that I put the piece away for a day before finishing it. While I don’t disagree with all the advice per se (though I did disagree with quite a bit of it), there was one major theme that was missing.

One of a parent’s major jobs is to protect his or her children, allowing those children time and space to grow and mature. We do this physically by providing food and shelter. We do this psychologically by providing security and a peaceful home. We do this spiritually by providing a world that isn’t random and scattered, but one that has order and purpose. We also do this by presenting the world as a safe place.

To be fair, the article didn’t seem to aim the question of how to talk to your children at parents of a particular age group. Obviously, a four-year-old, a ten-year-old and a teenager need different approaches.

Before the Coronavirus and before George Floyd, articles abounded about how rates of anxiety and depression were soaring. In particular, teenagers (especially girls) seemed to be more insecure and less resilient. I think it safe to say that the past few months have the potential to exacerbate the problem. However, and this is so important, sheltering at home also provides the opportunity for parents to have more control over their children’s lives and counter the negativity that most schools and our society in general promote.

The “experts” quoted in this article missed that point entirely. Let me suggest what was lacking. If your children are young and they are not forced to deal with the unrest in this country face-to-face because it is taking place in the streets outside their windows: TURN OFF THE RADIO AND TV WHEN THEY ARE PRESENT (and don’t foolishly think that because they aren’t in the room they aren’t listening). At the moment, with schools and churches closed, you are your six-year-old’s interface with the world. He needs to learn that every human being is created in God’s image just as he needed to learn that six months ago. She needs to read about heroes who do great things, including fighting injustice, just as she did six months ago. He needs to know that he has infinite potential just as he needed to know six months ago. She needs to know that being a decent and moral person is a choice that she can make, just as she did six months ago. Our small children do not need to know that policemen can be murderers or that people can easily turn into mobs,  randomly destroying the life-work of their neighbors. That is a burden for adults to shoulder, not children.

At the right time and in the right way, children need to be exposed to reality. Exposing them in the wrong way makes them fearful, nervous and less capable of becoming successful adults.

Do children need to be kept safe from pools and lakes? Yes. Should we teach them to be terrified of water so that they don’t go near it? No.

Do children need to be protected from bad people around them? Yes. Should we teach them that relatives and strangers want to harm them and that they should be afraid of all people? No.

Do children need to learn of the sins of their country? Yes. Should they be taught that these sins are universal, irrevocable and control their destinies? No.

In February 2017, I wrote a Musing called “Wanna Talk About Me.” Towards the end, I wrote the following words:

“We walk a fine line between educating our children about issues of the day and passing on our own convictions, and betraying our trust as their guardians. Even when real and immediate danger is present, thrusting our fears onto our children’s fragile shoulders is wrong.”

I still believe in those words.

Devotion on Steroids

June 3rd, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

Numbers 7:1 says, “And it was on the day that Moses finished erecting the Tabernacle…” Ancient Jewish wisdom asks why Moses is credited with the Tabernacle when we know that Betzalel, Ahaliav, and a team of others actually did the work.  The answer is that Moses is credited with the Tabernacle because he dedicated himself to it with devotion. The Hebrew phrase is mesirus nefesh, which implies devotion and dedication on steroids.  Even though others actually did the work, Moses was completely dedicated to making sure each piece was made according to the dimensions and descriptions Hashem had given him.  Because of his devotion for the Tabernacle, he gets the credit.  Similarly, even though King David’s son Solomon built the Temple, it is called “House of David” because of his mesirus nefesh for it. 

Apparently, when someone has mesirus nefesh for something, even if they don’t actually do the job completely themselves, the job becomes entwined with their essence and it becomes their own.  Do you know when else we see this?  A high school teacher of mine years ago pointed out to us that often in the Book of Kings, kings are identified as the sons of their mothers.  This isn’t what you expect—kingship passes from father to son, so why does the prophet tell us their mothers’ names?  For the very same reason as above.  Mothers were moser nefesh to raise children who became kings, so of course they have to be credited.

There is a lot of mesirus nefesh going on in all of our homes these days.  Every time we push ourselves to answer one more request, to read one more story, to speak calmly one more time, to bite our tongues from criticizing just this once, we are showing our devotion and dedication to our families and raising our children.  The problem is that sometimes we downplay our mesirus nefesh.  Maybe we get upset with ourselves when we don’t live up to our hopes, yet we don’t credit ourselves for all the times that we do.  We don’t even notice when we do a good job, but we notice when we fall short of what we expect.  Mesirus Nefesh doesn’t mean doing a perfect job or finishing the job completely.  It means staying dedicated, staying devoted.

Moses kept checking with the artisans: “Are you making it the right size, the right way?”  He stayed with it from beginning to end. He didn’t hand it over to Betzalel and walk away to something else. 

We do that too.  Day after day we try to be present, patient, calm, consistent, and that counts for a lot.  The question of whether we attain our goals all the time is not relevant when it comes to mesirus nefesh. What matters is that we keep coming back and trying again.  It is the dedication mothers show by working on themselves and their parenting day after day that translates as mesirus nefesh. And that counts.

Children Raising Mothers

May 20th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

While discussing the role of the Levites, Numbers 3:4 mentions Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu who had previously died.  The verse says:

“Nadav and Avihu died before God when they offered an alien fire before God in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children…”

This verse makes it seem as if they died for two reasons; first, for bringing a sacrifice they shouldn’t have and second because they didn’t have children. What is that about? 

The Chassam Sofer, a transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, explains why their not having children contributed to their deaths.  Having and raising children is the ultimate path to self-development.  I have a friend who has a blog about her homeschooling family.  Her motto is “Homeschooling builds character….In the mother.”  She is so right, but it isn’t just homeschooling, it’s parenting.  Raising children forces us, their parents, to stretch and grow way beyond any measure we did before having children.  You thought you had cultivated the character trait of patience when you were in high school?  Wait until you’ve been kvetched (whined, complained) to all day long and then you get woken up right after you’ve fallen asleep.  That’s when you begin to learn about patience! 

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No Cameras, Please!

May 13th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

My husband recently shared a family legend, describing how he decided to add joy and mirth to our young daughter’s birthday party by joining the festivities in a gorilla costume. The screams and tears of the young girls attending were not part of the original plan.

One of the column’s readers asked if we had pictures, saying how much she would enjoy seeing them. My reply was that we were too busy coping with hysteria to run for a camera. That reply inadvertently revealed how long ago the botched birthday party was.

Today, most of us are within inches of our phones at all times, if not unremittingly clutching them in our hands. Our ubiquitous camera phones are constantly ready to capture the moment, often with accompanying audio.

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Words Build Worlds

May 5th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 3 comments

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

Leviticus 16 describes the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).   An integral part of both the High Priest’s work on Yom Kippur as well as each individual’s Yom Kippur and repentance process is an oral confession (16:21). It isn’t enough to feel regret for one’s sins or to think about changing or even to make a decision to repent and improve. Speaking aloud is a necessary component.  Why?

We all know how many thoughts move through a person’s head each day.  We have so many ideas, plans, inspirations, resentments that pop into our heads and most of them fly right out.  Ideas are filled with potential, but unless we do something concrete to actualize them, they disappear.  Their energy dissipates. The very act of taking an idea and verbalizing it, saying it out loud so our ears can hear it, makes it real.  Our ideas begin to have power when we verbalize them, because only after we say a thought and hear ourselves say it, does it become real to us.  A thought is fleeting, but a word begins to build reality.

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