Posts in Practical Parenting

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.

Happy Anniversary!

January 13th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

A year ago, our daughter Rebecca began a What’s App group to share her thoughts on Torah and Parenting. Over the year, I have shared many of her teachings with Practical Parenting readers after editing them to make them available to those without a strong Hebrew and ancient Jewish wisdom background. I hope you enjoy her reflections on this anniversary.

Before I started this group I was feeling stuck.  I love teaching Torah, and I love teaching parenting, but I was so busy in the throes of parenting, working, and running a home, that I didn’t have time to teach any classes.  When I thought about waiting until all my kids were out of the house to begin teaching again, I was disheartened.  Frankly, I didn’t want to wait another 15 years to do something that is so important to me, and I also thought that at the pace the world is changing, in 15 years my perspectives on parenting may well be out of date and irrelevant. So I felt stuck.

Ironically, I felt barred from teaching Torah and parenting because I was taking my parenting so seriously that it filled up my days and I knew I didn’t have time to give to others or teach Torah to others.  I didn’t like feeling stuck.

That is when I realized that I can do what’s important to me – I can teach Torah and parenting, if I do it in bite sized chunks of a few minutes at a time only on the days that my life allowed me. This group was born.  Honestly, I didn’t know if anyone would join, and mostly I didn’t even care – I was doing this because this is what I wanted to do with my life!  On January 1, 2019, I shared the link with my sisters and a few friends—I really didn’t think most people would be interested.  But I was wrong.  In addition to being blessed by doing what I truly love, there is now a group of well over 200 women learning together about Torah and parenting.

I’ve been blessed with reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.  I’ve been inspired and blessed by friends who don’t have children, who listen and comment. I’m greatly inspired by grandmothers who have such vast experience in their own parenting lives who listen and graciously reach out to me.   I’ve been incredibly blessed by friends of my mother who listen and tell me I occasionally remind them of my mother and grandmother teaching Torah.  I’ve been blessed by each one of you who reach out to let me know that something I’ve said has touched you or resonated with your life.

I think there are things we all feel stuck about.  Goals that we once had, or may still have that we give up on, because life is too full and busy, to live our secondary dreams as well as our primary dreams of our homes and families.  And I’m sharing my story to encourage you not to give up, but to think of ways to reframe your goals in ways you can incorporate into your life as it is today.  I can’t possibly commit to teaching a regular class now, but on the days I have time, I can prepare a short Torah thought and it’s more than enough for me right now!  Maybe you also have a dream, a goal that you thought was out of reach.  Maybe, today is the day to brainstorm what is really important to you and whether you can change the scope or size of your dream to fit your world today.

Last January 1st,  I suggested we take time to brainstorm and take notes about our children’s development, physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and socially.  Today, I’m suggesting that we take the time to do that for ourselves.  If there is any way you can squeeze half an hour out of the day today, let’s use it to really think deeply about these questions.  What do I value most of all?  What arouses my passion?  What brings me joy?  What small step can I take today to bring me more in alignment with my deepest values? 

It’s Fettuccini, Not a Kidney by Randy Weiss

January 8th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Jim Weiss’ recordings are among my favorite homeschooling and mothering resources. For decades, this master storyteller’s work, produced with his wife Randy, have been favorite gifts for our children and now grandchildren. They range from CDs or downloads meant for four-year-olds to those that are more suitable for high school and up. If you aren’t familiar with JimWeiss.com do yourself a favor and check it out.

Every other month, Jim and Randy send out an e-magazine telling of appearances, new products and specials. Randy has her own column and graciously gave me permission to share her most recent offering, a piece that I loved. You can also access previous essays on the website. 

It was a few weeks before Thanksgiving and I was two hours from home for a variety of appointments. The emotional payoff for the day was that I could go to the community’s local Whole Foods (often referred to as my “Mother-Ship”). I wanted to pick up our favorite brand of eggs, challah, rye bread, and fish. And then something special for dinner.

I found myself in the fresh pasta section and I could instantly picture Jim and me savoring Fettucini Alfredo. Adjacent to the pasta section was the beverage bar, and behind it was the pasta guy. He was waiting on a young women with 3-year old twins in a double stroller who drew me into an intriguing and adorable baby conversation. The twins were charming entertainment as I waited for an exceptionally long time for their mom to make her purchases.

Finally, the pasta guy came rushing over and slipped behind the pasta counter and apologized profusely for the wait. He went on to say that his work partner was nowhere to be found and how he hates to keep people waiting. I appreciated his customer care ethics but my immediate response was, “It’s fettucini, not a kidney.” His frazzled demeanor suddenly relaxed and he laughed and agreed with me as we engaged in a discussion about working with the public and dealing with all sorts of personalities and expectations.

I often refer to my fettucini/kidney quote in my own mind. It’s important to consciously acknowledge what is important and what is not. I am not the most patient person in the world-all the more essential for me to work on this characteristic. Sometimes I rush around like a chicken with its head cut off and in those instances, waiting for service can seem unbearable. That’s when I need to reign myself in and choose to slow down and be patient.

It’s all about perception and perspective, isn’t it?

In my experience most issues heat up or calm down depending on how we view the situation. I have come to realize that ones’ perspective and perception can both be influenced by a choice to be in the here and now and in the process be grateful that “It’s fettuccini not a kidney”.

The Gift of Deprivation

January 6th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 5 comments

One of our darling daughters (henceforth DD) recently told me the following story.

DD had taken four of her daughters, ages 5-11, clothing shopping. When she was checking out, the store proprietor pointed to a bowl of chocolate coins and told her that each chocolate had a discount coupon inside the wrapper. Picking one, our daughter received a percentage off her purchases and was left with a circle of chocolate about one inch in diameter.

DD proceeded to give each of her girls a ¼ of the chocolate coin, and they responded by thanking her. She was rather astonished to find the store owner gaping at her. “I’ve never seen that,” the owner said. DD actually didn’t know what she was talking about, so the woman explained that mothers shopping with children tended to fall into two categories. One group pocketed the chocolate making sure that their children didn’t see it, while the other group was besieged by children complaining about how small the chocolate was, or each particular child whining about why she should get the whole coin. Tears, rudeness and whining were not unknown. Frequently, the mother ended up promising more chocolate to everyone. In the best scenario, the children simply gulped down the chocolate.

This story brought to mind a friend, now married for many decades, who had a rather rough adjustment in his newlywed phase. Brought up in an upper-middle-class home, he and his siblings had separate bedrooms. He never went to sleep-away camp nor did he dorm at college. After he married, he was shocked to discover that his wife (and new roommate) expected to have a say in what the bedroom looked like and even had clothing and other items that demanded closet and dresser space.

Loving parents want to give their children everything. Doing so, however, means that they are not giving them the gift of deprivation. In general, my husband prefers teaching adults to children. He once made an exception and agreed to learn with an American boy approaching the bar-mitzvah age of thirteen. At their first meeting, in an attempt to break the ice, my husband shared an exciting story from one of his safaris in Africa. The response he got was heartbreaking. At twelve, this boy was completely jaded. The son of very wealthy parents, he had been everywhere and done everything. The proceeds of a garage sale of his possessions probably would have yielded enough money to support the average American family for a month.

Some of us who grew up wearing hand-me-downs may get a thrill in buying our children new clothing. If a highlight of our childhood was seeing a performance on ice, we may want to make that an annual outing for our own children. Maybe we only read library books and can think of nothing greater to give our kids than crisp, new books.

If they fit in our budget, here is absolutely nothing wrong with new clothing or books or expensive family outings. Certainly, much that I take for granted, my grandparents would have seen as luxuries. Yet, in one way or another, each of us should make sure to never give so much to our children that a small gift or pleasure cannot be appreciated.

Caveat Parente!

December 30th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 4 comments

If your five-year-old cannot translate the above title or write an essay about the play on words with the better know phrase ‘caveat emptor,’ perhaps you should hold off sending him or her to kindergarten.

Ok. I’m exaggerating. But if an article in Psychology Today reflects current trends, I am not off by much. The article focuses on the anguish of kindergarten teachers as they are instructed to treat their young students in ways that they, especially those teachers with years of experience, feel damages the little ones psychologically and educationally.

These teachers speak of pressure from the government (Common Core) via the administration insisting that they do age-inappropriate activities in their classrooms. They find themselves needing to ignore the tears, frustrations and growing hatred towards learning that they are seeing. The teachers’ other option is to quit their jobs.

There are many reasons why too many of America’s schools drastically fail those they are supposed to be serving, whether we are speaking of elementary, middle, high school or college. At the same time, as a society we are encouraging parents to put their children into organized, structured groups at earlier and earlier ages. It is not unusual today for kindergarten to be a youngster’s third, fourth of even fifth year of day care or schooling.

We can certainly get involved and try to solve society’s ills. However, as parents, our first responsibility is to those lives we brought into the world. We cannot afford for our motto to be, “See no evil; hear no evil.” Our eyes must be open and we need to be ready to act.  The onus is on us to know whether those teaching our children nod in agreement to the horrific comments below the article. Are we harming or helping our children by sending them off to school? Isn’t that an important question to ask?

From Hair to There

December 25th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

Genesis 37:2 introduces us to Joseph at 17 years old, described in Hebrew as a “na’ar,” a lad.  The transmitter of Biblical wisdom known as Rashi quotes an earlier source on the words, “and he was a lad,” and tells us that he acted like an adolescent fixing his hair and eyes to look attractive.  Doesn’t this sound out of place? The righteous Joseph was a typical teenager?  Does that sound right to us? Is that the message of the word “na’ar”?

Rav Shimon Schwab helps us understand the meaning of “na’ar” by looking at Genesis 34:19 where Shechem, the son of Chamor, is also described as a “na’ar.”  Rav Schwab notes that in that context, na’ar can’t mean young and adolescent, because Shechem was described as the “prince of the land,” certainly not a boy.  The word na’ar is teaching us here that Shechem acted impetuously and impatiently, like a young lad who jumps into action without thinking carefully.

This is the explanation of Joseph too being a na’ar – no he wasn’t acting like a teenager, he was jumping the gun, showing impatience.  How? Joseph knew that his dreams weren’t only dreams, but were prophetic visions. He was destined to be a king.  Jewish transmission teaches that a king must spend time grooming himself, to the point of cutting his hair daily, so he looks the part.  Joseph’s mistake here was youthful impatience.  Instead of waiting patiently for the day in the future when he would be crowned king, he started preparing prematurely.  The self-grooming Rashi describes is what he would, indeed, one day need to do when king, but it wasn’t right to impatiently begin preparing until the time was  right.  Being a “na’ar” is equated with a level of impatience.

We all recognize impatience and impulsivity as a youthful trait.  From the very first car ride when your preschooler asks,  “Are we there yet?” to a teen desperate to drive before getting his license, that is the way youth are!  I’d like to suggest that being an adult, specifically a parent, requires a person to put aside this youthful attitude and cultivate its exact opposite, patience and perseverance.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe wrote a masterpiece on education, called (in translation) Planting and Building.  Rav Wolbe tells us that there are two parts to child raising and the first relates to planting—plants grow in a natural organic way, on their own time-table.  You can’t force the plant to grow more quickly by tugging at the stems or leaves.  You can’t even force them to grow more by drowning them in extra water or giving them trellises and extra support. They will grow at their pace.  As we’ve talked about before, raising children is a long-term project; impatience really can’t play a role. 

We, mothers, are the ones who can put aside the youthful impatience we once had, and develop long-term patience as we help our children grow and develop at their own pace and in their own time.  We all know this is easier said than done, especially when our children’s timetables may seem to be too slow in one area or another, but this principle is very real and profound. The perspective of  patience, perseverance, and long-term thinking are gifts that mature parents give to their immature children.

No Friends?

December 19th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

The following question came across my desk. Teachers know an old truism that when one student  verbalizes confusion about material being taught, it usually means that more than one student needs help. I imagine that the many parents agonize over their children’s relationships and this is not a unique scenario.

 

 I am writing to you regarding my 7 year old son.

Recently he asked me to pray with him to ask God to give him more friends. He’s been sad because (according to him) he has “only one friend” at school and he sees that other kids don’t want to play with him.

I would love to hear what an ancient Hebrew perspective would be on how to help a child be more likable and make more friends. What principles can be learned on in this situation and how to relate them to a 7 yet old?

 Thanks again,

 J.D.

 

Dear J.D.,

I imagine that your son is not the only one in your family who is sad. It is hard for any loving parent to watch a child be unhappy. Yet, we are called on to empathize with our child and at the same time to step back and see if we can help our child to help himself. It sounds like you are doing both those things, which is a good start.

Here is where you need to be a bit of a detective. There are so many possible scenarios as to what the problem could be, or even if there is a problem. Don’t forget that seven-year-olds don’t have perspective.  The here and now is magnified. However, assuming that this wasn’t just a bad week your son was having or a rejection by one boy that he is assuming goes beyond that, here are a few ideas you might want to explore.

How about finding out more about this “one friend”? Can your son invite him over to your house for a play date? Watching their interaction will give you lots of information. Maybe he’s a charming kid and the boys really are compatible. Or maybe the only thing the boys have in common is a lack of popularity and this isn’t a healthy relationship. Is your son a gracious host? Does he pick up on emotional cues? Observing from the sidelines will provide a wealth of information.

In a similar vein, do you belong to a church that has a youth group or does your son play any community sports? Are his interests very different from most boys his age? Does he have cousins and neighbors with whom he interacts? Is this problem isolated to school, in which case there may be a problem with the classroom rather than with your son, or do you see it in other parts of his life as well? Does he see you and your wife modeling friendship both to each other and to others? I know you love him, but do you find him “likable”? Have you met with your son’s teacher? He or she probably has insight into the situation.

Two of the Hebrew words for friend are ‘YeDiD’ and ‘CHaVeR.’ The first literally means hand/hand while the root of the second word is obligation. Reciprocity is a basis for friendship. One needs to be able to be both a giver and a taker in a relationship. Young boys’ friendships are often based more on shared activities than on the above. School is an artificial environment in that it uniquely groups people together based on their age. I certainly do not limit my friends to those born within X months of me and I’m sure you don’t either. With maturity that you have, but your son does not, you know that many of the “less popular” kids in school turned out to have the most successful lives and vice-versa.

At the same time, much of how we view ourselves is formed in the school environment and you want to make sure to take your son’s concerns seriously.  You can certainly help your son work on developing social skills and awareness that will serve him well throughout life. If the classroom is a healthy environment, there are most likely specific steps that can be taken once you pinpoint what the problem is. However, don’t underestimate the importance of his feeling that you and his mother and God are in his corner. Make sure to let your son know that he is valuable and loved no matter what his current social status at school.

Hope some of these ideas help and I hope that readers can share some of their thoughts as well,

Susan Lapin

My Children, My Brothers?

December 11th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 6 comments

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

The Torah stresses respect from children for parents, so a verse in Genesis should raise eyebrows. Let’s take a look at Jacob’s relationship with his sons after they have left Haran and are on their way back to the Land of  Israel. (Genesis 31) Rachel and Leah’s father Laban pursued Jacob and eventually Jacob and Laban made a non-aggression pact over a mound of stones.  Verse 46 says, “And Jacob said to his brothers, ‘Gather stones,’ and they gathered stones and made a mound.” 

Jacob spoke to his brothers?  What brothers did he have there?  Rashi, a key transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, tells us, “heim banav,”these were his sons who were his brothers in arm, and partners joining with him at times of trouble and hostility.

Isn’t that interesting?  Is this similar to modern touchy-feely philosophy of being your children’s best friend? Not at all. Jacob’s children, at times, became his partners, like brothers, to join with him and come to his aid, not to reduce him to come to their level. 

I like this verse because so often parents feel unsure about asking their children to contribute and help out at home.  They wonder when it’s okay and how much is okay.  While it is possible to have unhealthy dynamics when a parent relies on a child’s help too heavily or uses a child as a crutch, this verse is a good reminder to us that it is important for our children to be partners with us.  Helping out at home, not only gives a child important opportunities to build life skills and confidence, but it also makes them feel important and valuable because they have contributions to make to their family.

I recently went with my mother and one of my children to watch a documentary about adolescence, technology, and mental health.  They reported a study where researchers put mothers and their children alone in a room and gave each child a puzzle to solve that was meant to be too hard for him or her. The researchers were inducing failure in the child while the mother watched.  The mothers were told not to interfere or help their child with the puzzle, but inevitably, the mothers stepped in and helped their kids with the challenge. 

Here’s the fascinating piece.  When the mothers stepped in to help, their own stress levels (heart rate, cortisol level, etc.)  went down, but their children’s stress levels went up!  By taking away their children’s opportunity to work through a difficult challenge on their own and stepping in to take control of the situation, the mothers felt better but their kids felt worse. 

Our children need to have opportunities to tackle big jobs, they need a chance to be our “brothers” and partners, helping us with cooking, yard maintenance, cleaning, and many other areas where we can allow them the opportunity to stretch, grow, and be in partnership with us. Rather than focusing on how we can help them, let us allow them to help us and stretch and grow in the process.

Gifts Galore

December 9th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

A lot of presents will be given over the next month, many of them to children. While some of the presents will come from aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends, parents will also spend a great deal of time and money choosing just the right items for their children. After all that work, they might expect to sit back and relax.

Not so quickly. Shopping for and distributing presents and watching your children receive gifts from others brings with it a number of parenting opportunities. Preparing in advance will make the entire episode not only more positive but also more pleasant. Let’s divide them into before, during and after.

Before: Discussing in advance how to react to a disappointing or duplicate gift, practicing saying thank you out loud and with a smile (and maybe a hug), and making clear house rules such as, “No using a present until the thank-you card is written” is so much better than waiting until those discussions are needed.  Here’s where role-playing really shines. Have fun with little ones (and not so little ones) by pretending to give gifts that are not on the “most desired” list. You play Aunt Matilda giving Ashley math flash cards and when Ashley actually gets a box of handkerchiefs (do they still make handkerchiefs?), hopefully she will muster a big smile.

During: One of the frustrating things about holidays is that the reality often doesn’t match the anticipation. Some kids (and adults) have a really hard time when schedules, menus and sleep are off kilter, as they often are during special occasions. Preparing easy-to-access healthy snacks, monitoring sugar consumption, and scheduling in quiet time can make all the difference.

After: Even in our virtual world, physical thank-you notes matter. Learning to express  detailed gratitude in writing is one of those old-fashioned lessons that will yield unexpected benefits down the road. Of course, role modeling this idea is more valuable than lecturing about it.   

I’m sure you have many more practical life lessons for this time of year. I’d love to hear them.

The Lads Grew: a Problem in the Making

December 2nd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

Let’s look at a parenting lesson from Yitzchak (Isaac) and Rivka (Rebecca) through the eyes of Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch, a leading transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom in the 1800s.  Genesis 25:27  tells us, “And the lads grew up and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, and Jacob was a single-minded man, living in tents.”   Rav Hirsch points out a critical parenting mistake Yitzchak and Rivkah made that we can and should learn from.

Rav Hirsch focuses on the words, “Va’yigdilu hanearim”, the lads grew up—noting that they grew together and undifferentiated.  In fact we see that it was only after they grew that their differences were noticed, that Esau was a man of the field and Jacob a man of tents.  What about when they were little?  No differences—they were raised together.  Rav Hirsch points out that the basic tenet of education is Proverbs 22:6, that each child should be educated according to his inner tendencies and individuality.  Esau and Jacob didn’t belong in the same school and shouldn’t have had the same routines, schedules, or activities.  Rav Hirsch says that if only Yitzchak and Rivka had studied Esau’s nature and tried to develop his strength and skills in a way fitting for him, he would have become a a mighty man before  God, not a mighty hunter. 

This is a fundamental lesson that I believe we all know, and it is still a worthy message to remind ourselves of and take to our hearts.  It isn’t enough to think about our family as a whole, and define what are our values, what are our routines, but also to think through each child individually.  What are this child’s strengths?  Natural inclinations?  Personality?  Temperament?  What education does this child need?  What schedule? What waking time, what bedtime? What extracurricular activities? What chores and contributions should he make?  What unique support does he need from us?

We allI know that it is challenging to tailor a unique approach to each child.  It requires time and energy to think deeply and then research options, let alone put them into practice.  I also know that it can be difficult within the framework of traditional schools to work with a school to make changes for an  individual child in the school day.  It isn’t easy, but it is a most basic principle of instructing children. It’s our job to understand each child as a unique individual and work to tailor his or her upbringing appropriately.

One final note: I have found that when parents make decisions based on what is best for each individual child, their other children respect the differences and don’t complain, “It’s not fair.” I think it’s valuable for our children to know that we don’t all need the same things and we don’t all get the same things, as long as they also know that we are committed to each and every one of them to give them what they uniquely need for their individual growth and development.

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