Posts in Practical Parenting

The Wrong Medicine?

March 31st, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

The kids are not going back to school for the foreseeable future. If your family is smiling, laughing, physically active and relatively nutritiously fed, please pat yourself on the back. Every day is another triumph. But, if you will allow me, I diffidently would like to suggest that (some of) you might be making your life a little harder than necessary.

I’m talking to those of you who responded to news reports like this one, “Inevitably, children will be having more screen time,” with a huge, OH, YEAH! For many kids, schoolwork now demands hours online and with venues from opera houses to museums to astronauts reading stories from outer space, there are multiple educational and healthy resources available.

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking. Maybe it is worth remembering that families who were quarantined during the horrific flu epidemic of the early 20th century had no recourse to digital entertainment. For most families, financial limitations ruled out large choices of games and toys as well. Paper, scissors and crayons, a bag of marbles and a homemade doll or truck somehow kept kids occupied. They had one more special ingredient—imagination.

I, too, have succumbed to the lure of easily available entertainment. After years of neither watching nor even having a TV in our home, now movies and shows are showing up on my phone and iPad! I admit that some evenings (perhaps too many) I now watch something instead of reading. As my husband teaches, the word amusement derives from a-muse, with the ‘a’ serving as the word ‘not’ as in atonal or amoral. Since the word ‘muse’ is an old synonym for ‘think,’ amuse literally means “not thinking.” Books can take me out of my world as well, but it takes more work and concentration to lose oneself in a book than in a multi-colored, fast-moving digital world.

I understand and empathize with parents whose children are going stir-crazy. If the parents are both working from home things are even more complex. But, maybe, just maybe having the kids home is an opportunity for boot camp to cut down on screen time. Life may be more miserable for a few days as children go into withdrawal, but re-learning how to play, putter, create and entertain ourselves using non-technological means is a worthwhile endeavor.

At the risk of sounding like a visitor from the 19th century, I’d like to share my experience at home a number of years back with six children who had chickenpox. They were all under the age of twelve (the baby did not get it at the same time). We were blessed with a yard so they could run around a bit, and I put other responsibilities aside to make “Mommy Camp” my focus. We did lots of arts and crafts, read hundreds of stories and played endless board games. They also created their own worlds: they were spies and parents, storekeepers and teachers. We did have a new device—a magical machine known as a VCR that could play movies. We acquired the tape of Mary Poppins, and for five days, the children watched a portion of the movie each evening while I relished making supper without help. When the twenty or thirty minutes of watching was over, no one nagged for more. They were overflowing with gratitude and excitement at what they had just experienced.

That scenario seems ludicrous today. But I would suggest that if your children constantly nag you to watch more videos and play more games online, then increasing the hours in which they do so will end up making them and you more miserable, not less. Technology, screens, TVs and other devices function in some ways like drugs do. What sufficed to give a high yesterday is no longer enough today. The more they (and we) watch, the less capable they (and we) are of keeping ourselves happy, of daydreaming, of being creative with the resources around us.

A few days ago, one of my daughters whose children have very limited screen time, received delivery of a new refrigerator. Four of her children, ranging from fourteen to four disappeared with the huge cardboard packing box. Hours later, they were still in the basement—or more accurately, they were in outer space. Just like children from a generation or two generations ago, one box and four imaginations served to provide a bonding experience that will give them happy childhood memories for years to come. I’m pretty sure those four are watching and playing online more than usual these difficult weeks. But their starting level was very low. For some children who were already spending too much time removed from the world of spontaneous creativity, perhaps this is a chance to reverse the trend rather than succumb and surrender.

3 Tips for Isolation and Quarantine

March 16th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

In a way that you neither anticipated nor planned for, your children are now home. All of them. All the time. In addition to that, there are added worries on your plate. Will your business/job survive this economic crisis? More importantly, will all your loved ones, including aging parents, be healthy and well? Will there be shortages…? Anxiety abounds.

Making things more complicated, libraries and other attractive venues are off-limits. Your children might have on-line learning organized by their schools or they might not. If the above scenarios don’t describe your city at the moment, they may very well in the next few days.

I’d like to share three tips from my daughter, Rebecca.  While four of her children homeschool, her two high-schoolers are now home as well. The tantalizing playground next door is off-limits as are the many friends with whom the family usually plays and the homeschool activities they usually attend.

  1. Children crave routine. Whether or not your children are expected to keep up with their studies, let them know that the day is not open and endless. The schedule will look different depending on the ages of your children as well as your own personality, but you will all benefit from knowing what time to get up, what chores are expected and when meals will be. Setting times for family reading, for a walk around the block, for crafts and for other activities will make life easier than having a laissez-faire attitude. For younger children, use pictures to share the schedule.
  2. Give Mommy-time to children before they feel the need for it. Pay attention to them before they demand that you do. If you start the day by giving your children your full focus, share time with them before you need to make a business phone call and offer yourself to them first rather than last, you will probably find that they are more willing and able to be on their own and let you have the time you need (in reasonable quantities) to do what you need to do by yourself.
  3. Keep your frustration and anxiety to yourself. Vent in your room and to a friend when you need to, but recognize that the most important lesson you may be providing for your children right now is how much you enjoy being with them. Let them see you rejoice in time spent together. When they are older, they will also look back with wisdom born of maturity and recognize that you modeled how to handle difficult times with grace, prayer and love.

Rebecca always makes a point of saying that each parent needs to know what works for him or her. If her words are helpful—use them. If at this point, they aren’t appropriate for you and yours—ignore them with confidence that you are the leader that God provided for your unique family.

What’s Your College Admission Scandal?

March 5th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 19 comments

We have been having stimulating and entertaining conversations in our America’s Real War Master Class. One topic we discussed had to do with the terrible job our generation, in general, has done in passing on the values of gratitude, hard work, faith and patriotism to the next generation. Not only has this left younger people vulnerable to warped ideologies but it has also resulted in many of them feeling depressed, anxious and lonely.

There are many reasons, but I’ve been thinking about one potential culprit in particular. Whether articulated or not, many parents have turned their children’s education into a false god. Many of us may have expressed disdain at the recently exposed college admissions scandal. In the desire to see their children attend “top” universities and/or the school of their choice, parents became embroiled in lying, bribing and other underhanded activities. Yet, since few of us have the monetary resources that would make us susceptible to that scheme, honesty demands that we ask if we have done even slightly similar things on a smaller level.

It is no secret that many parents arrange to get their children labeled with a ‘disability’ so that the kids will be given accommodations. These may range from being prescribed stimulating drugs to being given extra time during a test. If that is something that never crossed your mind, how about excusing a child from a family occasion so that he or she can study? While missing some events may be appropriate, is it possible that we sometimes enlarge the window to include times when our teens would be better off hearing that they need to be there no matter what? Maybe getting a lower grade or burning the midnight oil or missing out on partying with friends would help them recognize that sharing in family joys and sorrows is part of being a good and connected person? Maybe juggling a job alongside school would teach teens lessons as, or more, important than the facts they are learning in class?

As well-intentioned and loving parents, we can easily give a damaging message to our children when we venerate school above almost all else.  After all, we don’t tell ourselves that we should only focus on one thing. We expect ourselves to balance conflicting needs including career, spouse, children, extended family, community and associated responsibilities and we call that having a well-rounded life. Why would we deprive our young adults the same opportunity? Telling a teen that this time of life is meant only for studying, participating in activities that pad college or graduate school applications and, incidentally, having a good time, promotes egocentrism, entitlement, immaturity and vanity. Not incidentally, those four paths usually lead to miserable lives. Let’s not wish that on the young people we love.

What’s at the core of socialism?
Go back to the source.
Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel

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Sale!

A Mother Gives Life

March 4th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

I would like to share a story with you from a friend (with her permission), a mother in Jerusalem. I have added translations for Hebrew terms and some other clarifying information in brackets. 

On the other side of my wall, there is a shiva [week of mourning] taking place for my 84-year-old neighbor, Yosef, [Josef] who passed away last week.

When we moved into our home 4 years ago, Yosef’s wife of almost 60 years was already very ill, and within a few months she had passed away. She died from a foot infection, a common and often fatal complication of diabetes.

Yosef grieved terribly after his wife died. But he was still sharp as a tack. Whenever I’d run into him I would ask which of his four awe-inspiringly dedicated children he would be spending (or, depending on the day of the week, had spent) Shabbat with. And whenever he told me that he was going to his daughter,  I would say, “In Maaleh Adumim?” And Yosef, who had spent most of his life teaching grammar, would correct me: “Maaleh EDumim! EDumim, not ADumim!” [Think – you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to, but where only one is correct. It’s a grammatical rather than an accent thing.]

Within a year after his wife died, Yosef’s condition had visibly declined. He stopped correcting my Hebrew grammar, but not because my Hebrew was suddenly grammatically correct. One day, on my way out to run errands, I saw Yosef waiting by the sidewalk. His son was coming to pick him up, he told me. But when I got back home an hour later, Yosef was still waiting there. It turned out Yosef had gotten the day wrong.

Two years ago, on the way out to the light rail, I thought I heard a soft voice. I looked around and saw Yosef sitting on the ground by his house. Yosef told me that he had been on his way to the corner store, but had fallen and hadn’t been able to get up. He had been calling out for help for a long time, he said, but nobody had heard him. Yosef’s voice, which for decades had commanded a class of 35 Israeli high-school students, had become so weak that it was nearly inaudible.

People who knew Yosef when his wife was healthy told me how things had once been. What a lovely, lively person she had been, always ready to lend a helping hand when a neighbor or family member was in need. But now, Yosef’s wife was gone. And, in a way, Yosef was too.

Around a year and a half ago, a caretaker moved in to take care of Yosef. Yosef could no longer walk or remember much about his life.

Last week, Yosef and his children marked his late wife’s 4th yahrzeit [anniversary of death], and two days later Yosef passed away as well. From a diabetic foot infection, just like his wife had.

Before I left for my trip last week [the author – and mother of a large family – went to visit one of her daughters in India], I made a detailed schedule so that everything and everyone would be taken care of. And, more or less (or maybe less or more) things functioned as usual while I was away.

But the day after I came home, and took [my son] to gan [kindergarten] for the first time, his teacher told me, “Good you are back! [He] just wasn’t the same when you were away!”

When a mother is in the home, I was reminded, she doesn’t just provide food, clean clothing, and reminders about tomorrow’s swimming class and zippering up coats. A mother, more than anything or anybody else, has the ability to transform a 4-walled structure from a house into a home. She doesn’t just nurture her family, the shiva [mourning] next door has reminded me, she gives life.

Your Children, Their Values?

February 23rd, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 4 comments

During the almost two decades that I homeschooled, I tried hard to let my friends whose children were in school know that I wasn’t judging them. And, I usually wasn’t. I was too busy being hard on myself and wondering if I was making the right decision. When mothers would say to me, “I wish I could do homeschool, but…” I responded that it wasn’t for everyone and that there were many good educational paths.

In hindsight, my husband and I are thrilled that we homeschooled. Of course, our children missed out on certain positive experiences, but that is part of real life. Since no children are always in the perfect class in the perfect school with the perfect teacher, everyone misses out on certain positive experiences.

However, hindsight has also revealed how too many of my peers didn’t realize that the messages their children were receiving in school frequently ran counter to the family’s values and beliefs. They thought their children were learning math, literature, history and science; they didn’t realize that these were being packaged in an anti-faith, anti-patriotic and anti-family container. Even if the early years’ teachers were neutral, their children were ill-equipped to counter the hard-sell propaganda on college campuses.

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Much to Say and Not Saying It

February 18th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

Mothers are supposed to talk. A lot. That is one of our strengths. When we walk with a young child, we point out leaves and caterpillars. When we read aloud with our children we share our opinions about the characters’ choices.  We show interest in our children’s lives by asking questions that lead to more than one-word answers. Sometimes, however, we also must stay silent.

Genesis 34:5 says, “And Jacob heard that he [Shechem] had defiled Dina while his sons were in the field, and Jacob was silent until they came.”  He didn’t rush to respond, but kept his counsel and waited.  Even after the whole story is over Jacob doesn’t rush to press his opinion on his children.  He tells Simon and Levi a short rebuke, but Simon and Levi answer him back and they actually have the final word in this section.  Jacob doesn’t respond back to them, he bides his time and holds his tongue until the very end of his life when he addresses their role in this story. (Genesis 49:5)

Similarly, when Reuben moved Jacob’s bed to his mother,  Leah’s, tent, the verse says, “and Israel heard.”  Jacob noticed what happened but he waited and didn’t respond immediately.  Here also, he waited until Genesis 49 in his final blessing to rebuke Reuben for this action.

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After the Crisis, Time to Fall Apart

February 10th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

Genesis  46:29 has the most tear-jerking scene of all time, the reunion of Jacob and Joseph.  We all remember the story. Joseph harnessed his chariot and went up to meet his father, and when they met he threw himself upon his father’s neck. The verse says that Joseph wept very, very much, but it seems that Jacob remained dry-eyed. Why didn’t Jacob weep as well?

Rabbi S. R. Hirsch reminds us that Jacob had grieved and mourned for Joseph for many years while not doing anything else.  He was all cried out.  He had spent the last 22 years focused on the loss of Joseph – there weren’t other emotions that distracted him. All he had been doing was living with the loss of his son each and every day and he had processed that loss fully.  From the day that he was sold into slavery, Joseph, on the other hand, had been living a busy and vibrant life.  He had gone from being a servant to being second to the king—each day had been eventful and interesting and he really hadn’t had the time or space to feel the pain of separation from his father or to grieve it.  Now, when he saw and hugged his father again, all those hidden emotions of 22 years came to the surface and overwhelmed him in a flood of tears.  We see that in this verse, Jacob is called Israel. His personal pain had already been subsumed in his national role of Israel, but not Joseph’s.  Joseph cries and cries as, for the first time, he deeply feels the grief of 22 years.

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A Mother’s Message: Hannah Nixon’s Foreign Policy Advice

February 1st, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

It all comes back to mothers, doesn’t it? In a poem published twenty years before the birth of Hannah Milhous Nixon, poet William Ross Wallace wrote these words, “For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.” Yet, he might well have been talking of President Richard Nixon’s mother.

I have been watching a series online called Against All Odds: Israel Survives. While I find the premise of the series a bit silly—a reporter who is searching to find out whether miracles are real—each twenty-seven-minute episode highlights a fascinating piece of Israel’s history. The segment featuring the Yom Kippur War of 1973 included an amazing snippet. In 1973, Israel was unprepared when Egypt and Syria both launched massive attacks. 1400 Syrian tanks faced 189 Israeli tanks in the North and similar imbalances loomed on the southern Egyptian front. Looking at it rationally, the country’s chance for survival seemed hopeless.

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Families Make the Nation

January 28th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

The book of Genesis focuses on the families of our Matriarchs and Patriarchs. In contrast, Exodus is the book of the formation of the Jewish nation.  Surprisingly, Exodus, the book of the nation, begins with— families! We are told (Exodus 1:2) that Jacob’s sons came down to Egypt, each man with his household. 

The book of the formation of the Jewish people is also the only book that ends with families. The final verse includes the words,  “Beis Yisrael” the families of Israel, whereas the remaining books of the Torah end with the words “Bnei Yisrael”, the children of Israel.  Exodus begins with families and ends with families.

This is a profound lesson and it is a theme that is repeated over and over as the Jewish nation is formed. The people exists only as an outgrowth of the family.  To build a nation, we must begin and end with the family.  More specifically, not just with a family, but with a wife and mother.  When the beginning of Exodus describes that Jacob’s children came with their households, ancient Jewish wisdom tells us, “That is his wife.”  The nation begins when the tribes come to Egypt with their wives.  The women, the builders of the families, play an outsized role in the beginning of Exodus as the Jewish nation begins to form.

The first women mentioned are the Jewish midwives,  Shifra and Puah.  Interestingly, this is the only time in the Torah these women are called by these names.  Elsewhere, their true names are given, Yocheved (Jochebed) and Miriam, but here, in our first introduction to them, they are Shifra and Puah.  What do those names mean?  Shifra comes from the word “l’sha-per” to beautify, and Puah is a term that means vocalizing or speaking.  We are told that these women were called these names because of the way they cared for the Jewish infants: Shifra would beautify the Jewish babies, washing them, rubbing oil into their skin, and Puah would coo or murmur soothing words to the babies. 

It’s good to remember that Yocheved was the wife of Amram, the leader of the Jewish nation. Surely she was an exemplary woman and leader in her own right. Miriam spent the rest of her life as a leader of the Jewish nation and as a prophetess.  These women had important roles and there are other talents of theirs by which they could have been known aside from their role as nurturers of Jewish babies.  Yet, we know them first as Shifra and Puah, women who wash and sing to babies.

I think that one lesson we can all take from these verses is very simple.  We live in a mixed-up world, where things of lesser importance seem vital, and truly vital and significant jobs seem trivial.  Exodus tells us that the foundation of the Jewish nation doesn’t rest on its synagogues, schools, charity organizations, fundraisers, or kosher grocers, but on each individual family.  And each family rests on the foundation of the woman of that home.

What does that woman do that is so valuable?  Maybe Shifra and Puah are here to remind us that it isn’t the big, glorious projects as much as the small, mundane acts of loving, caring, and nurturing.  Brushing our kids’ teeth and hair, singing songs, telling stories, and nursery rhymes to them. We sometimes get confused.  Why should I sit on the couch and read them a story when they can watch an adorable animated version on my phone?  Then I can be doing something really important at the same time.  No!  Exodus is here to remind us that it is each small moment, each seemingly trivial act that women and mothers do that is at the foundation of the entire nation.  We think it is small, but really, each small act of care and love in a family builds our entire people.

PAL – Parents Against Leeches

January 19th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 2 comments

No matter what brought you to his office, your doctor has probably not prescribed leeches or blood-letting. Thinking of those once-common medical remedies may even make you question whether George Washington and others might have survived longer without medical assistance.

That doesn’t mean that the medical advice we get today is necessarily foolproof. Yes, there have been innumerable advances, but new challenges arise and medicine is a field that is constantly developing. How does a parent decide to listen to medical direction or to ignore it?

I was thinking of this when re-reading Small Steps by Peg Kehret.  The author tells her story of contracting polio in 1949 when she was in seventh grade. It is a book worth sharing with our pre-teens and teenagers both as a depiction of a polio epidemic that, thankfully, we no longer see and as an evocative piece of writing. As a mother, one section particularly resonates with me.

Shortly after Peg was first diagnosed and hospitalized, she was running a fever. Worried about dehydration, the nurses encouraged her to drink. After she aspirated some soda, they restricted her to water and juice. However, largely from fear of aspirating again and being put in an iron lung, Peg barely swallowed anything. Day after day, her parents watched her grow weaker. Finally, they asked Peg if there was anything she would like to drink and she responded, “A chocolate milkshake.”

The nurse on duty told Peg’s parents that she was forbidden to have either milk or ice-cream as they would cause her to choke. The nurse held up the specter of their daughter choking to death because of their actions. Her parents responded that they were watching her slowly die anyway and went out and got her a milkshake. Within an hour of sipping the shake, Peg’s temperature dropped and she began her road to recovery.

I know that we now have IVs and that if parents today tried to behave in that way, social services would be called. But I still find myself asking if I would be so confident that expert advice was wrong and able to accept responsibility for ignoring it. This question isn’t limited to medical advice. We are besieged by authorities ranging from politicians to psychologists to schools pronouncing what is best for our children and families. Sometimes they are right; oftentimes they are wrong.

Here is my blessing to parents. May God guide you to have the humility to listen to advice and the wisdom and courage to know when to pay attention and when to ignore it.

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