Posts in Practical Parenting

Our Hearts – Then Our Children’s Hearts

August 20th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

I actually had many thoughts I wanted to share this week but, as happened most of this summer, I have raced through the days doing so much and also not being able to do so much. Let me try to get at least one thought down.

The words, “Hear O’ Israel the Lord our God the Lord is one (Deut. 6:4),” are known as the shema and observant Jews say it multiple times a day.  It continues: “And these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart.  You shall teach them thoroughly to your children and you shall speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you lay down and when you arise.” 

A great transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom known as the Alshich notes two powerful points for parents.  The first is that if someone wants to teach someone else Torah or character development, he or she must first embody and contain those qualities.  That’s why the words first say, “upon your heart”. First, we have to make sure that God’s wisdom and the fruits of that are in our hearts.  They have to be part of us before we can pass them on. 

Once we have made God, the Bible and Scriptural behavior part of us, then they will be part of our children too.  If Torah is in our hearts, it will enter the hearts of our children.  That, explains the Alshich, is why the next verse doesn’t use the Hebrew word for teaching “v’limadtem,” in the phrase “and you should teach them.” Instead, it uses the Hebrew word, “v’shinantem.”  The root of this word is “SHiNuN” and it means something sharp like a sharp tooth.  (SHeiN is a tooth in Hebrew.) If the words of Torah are sharp like an arrow, and if they are coming from our own hearts, they will naturally pierce our children’s hearts.  The influence will be natural, piercing, and intense, because it comes from our hearts.

In other words, what excites us, excites our children.  What bores us, will also end up boring our children.  We can spend these last few days of summer developing ourselves, learning, growing, and strengthening our own connection to God and His wisdom. That alone will have a powerful effect on our children.

Journeys

August 12th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 1 comment

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

The Torah calls Numbers 33 through Numbers 36 by the collective name, “Journeys of.”  In these chapters, the Torah records all the journeys and encampments of Children of Israel during our 40 years in the desert.  Numbers 33:2 says, “Vayichtov Moses,” “and Moses wrote” their goings out and journeying. Then verse by verse the Torah tells us where we started to travel from and where we camped and again where we journeyed from and where we camped.  Over and over, 42 times!  We know the Torah doesn’t waste any words and we also know we don’t need these places as an exercise in mapping skills or historical geography.  It must be that we are supposed to learn something vital from this list of our journeys.

One lesson we can glean here is recognizing that it isn’t only destinations in life that are important, but the journeys are as well.  We fall into the trap of living our lives waiting for the next big accomplishment or stage; our own and our children’s. We miss treasuring the process day by day independent from when we actually reach the goal.  We wait eagerly for the time the baby will finish teething, the preschooler will be toilet trained, the teenager will wake up early on his own, and on and on.  The message for us here is the process is also valuable, not just the end product.  Enjoy the journey!  Appreciate it!  Recognize the process as being worthwhile and beneficial, apart from the hoped for future accomplishment.

Interestingly, the great transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom known as Rashi, provides an allegory to help us understand these 42 journeys. He tells a story of a king whose son was ill. Father and son traveled far away to find a cure.  On the way back the father recounted to the son each place they stayed on the way and what had happened there.  This is a message of being able to look back in time and retroactively appreciate the process that led to healing and growth. 

I’m sure we can all relate to this and look back in our own lives at our own life journey where looking back allows us to see how each step led us to where we are today.

Another great transmitter, the Ohr HaChaim, says that Moses actually had a little notebook and each time they traveled and camped he wrote down a verse describing that journey in real time.  Then when they reached Arvos Moav, God told Moses to assemble all the verses recounting the journeys and put them in one place, the section we are looking at now.  In other words, Moses recorded the journeys as they happened, place by place.  To me, this is a message of valuing and appreciating life’s journeys as they’re happening, not only looking back in time but finding the meaning in our journeys day by day, in real time.  Together, these two transmissions tell us to focus on each journey as we are on it as well as looking back and getting the bigger picture that is only available over time.

For today, let’s try to savor each stage our children are in and the stage we’re in as well.  The journey itself can be beautiful and meaningful.  This section reminds us to appreciate the process rather than just the destination.

Talking Down to Me

August 7th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 5 comments

My friend Chana Jenny often writes about lessons she absorbs from things that happen in her daily life. I enjoy reading her inspiring posts and when I read the following one, I asked her if I could share it with you. She graciously agreed. I hope its message of monitoring how we speak to ourselves uplifts you as it did me.

Yesterday, at 4:29 I got a text message from my kids’ speech therapist asking why we hadn’t shown up for our 4 and 4:30 appointments.

What 4 and 4:30 appointments?!

Yes, I did remember setting up appointments. But for some reason, they weren’t on my calendar.

The speech therapist was rightfully upset. Her schedule was full, she would have seen other clients if she’d known we weren’t coming. And, since we were her final appointments of the day, she ended up waiting around when she could have already been on her way home.

So I went back and looked at my calendar, and figured out what had happened. A few weeks ago I had moved our appointments from an earlier day to yesterday so my two kids could go together. And later on, looking at the calendar while I was distracted on the phone, I had seen yesterday’s appointment and thought (with 1/8 of my distracted brain) that the new appointment was the one I’d canceled, so I crossed it out.

Anyway, you can imagine how I felt, and the kind of mental self-flagellation that ensued.

“How could you have missed 2 appointments? Why did you cross out that appointment! What a scatter-brain you are! Hopelessly disorganized!”

And then the phone rang again. It was the speech therapist’s secretary. Calling to give me a piece of her mind.

Which led to more: Scatter-brained! Disorganized! Hopeless…

And then I caught myself.

And remembered one of my all-time favorite workshops with one of my favorite rabbis called: “The Belief Notebook,” in which every day we would write down a false belief we were having that had been triggered by a certain event. And then we would write down a true belief regarding the upsetting event to replace the false one.

During the workshop, I spent several months responding to my false beliefs with true beliefs morning after morning. And it made a huge difference, reducing my daily self-flagellation dramatically.

So this is what I did yesterday.

I thought of my disempowering false belief: “I am hopelessly scatter-brained and disorganized.”

And I thought of the trigger: Not taking my kids to their speech therapist appointments.

And I thought of a true belief: I am almost always on top of appointments. I show up more or less on time, and cancel at least 24 hours before if I can’t make it. But occasionally, as a person juggling a lot of schedules and information, there are mess-ups.

Ahh, that felt much better. True beliefs generally do.

Over the next few hours, I felt the false belief (“scatterbrain!”) bubbling up within me. But with a firm hand I replaced it with the true belief (You’re not scatterbrained, you’re just human).

Anyway, I wanted to share that with you, for the next time you start thinking stuff about you that isn’t true 😀.

Smile – Your Parents are Watching

August 4th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 4 comments

Sometimes, the connection between my childhood and that of my children and their children seems as if it should span hundreds of years rather than decades. That is certainly how I felt reading an article guiding parents who are considering allowing  the use of facial recognition technology by their children’s camps. After all, who wants to scroll through dozens of pictures of other people’s children in order to find pictures of one’s own offspring? The technology would allow parents to immediately zoom in on their child as the counselors and administrators document activities throughout the day.

To be sure, as the article mentions, there are privacy concerns. Will others have access to the pictures, what if they are stolen, etc., etc. I want to raise a different concern. Do our children really need us looking in at every moment of their lives? Maybe, any pictures at all beyond the official bunk shot are actually an intrusion that we should reject.

In the quaint, ancient times in which I went to camp, our lives there were separate from our lives at home. Once or twice a week, camps demanded postcards or letters to our parents as the price of admission to dinner. Some kids wrote one sentence, others wrote missives. We did not have to worry that our disappointment at being the last one picked for softball or our elation at winning color war would belong to anyone other than ourselves. Camp was a place where we could break out of molds, explore new interests and flex our personalities. It was a medium of growth partially because only we chose what to share with our parents. Did a “non-sports” kid spend extra time shooting baskets? Did a quiet dreamer try out for the play? Maybe the picky eater devoured everything in sight when no other options were available and fresh air and exercise stimulated her appetite. No one was going to ask us about inconsistencies with year-round behavior.

We read of parents calling college professors and even bosses to advocate for their children. We read of twenty-somethings unable to transition to adulthood. We see how many people live their lives with an eye to how they look on social media rather than on who they are. There are all sorts of technical concerns with using face-recognition technology, especially as it relates to children. Yet, it might still be damaging even if it is 100% secure.

  

Shhh! It’s Private

July 28th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

Numbers 24 contains the blessings that the prophet Bilam said to the Jewish nation when he was hired by King Balak for the opposite purpose.  Perhaps the most famous line of all of his prophecies is one that Jews say as part of each morning’s prayers, “Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenosecha Yisrael.” “How good are your tents, Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel.” 

Rashi, one of the great transmitters of ancient Jewish wisdom, explains that the goodness of the Jewish people’s tents is that they were arranged so that the doorways of the tents were not facing each other.  No family could look through their tent entrance and see into another family’s home. Even though a camp of over a million people may seem to be a place where privacy is lost, the Jewish camp was deliberately structured to create and protect privacy.

There is so much I want to say on this and so much for each of us to think about!  For today, I’d like to focus on the value of creating and protecting privacy for each family.  We live in an age where on all levels, privacy is being lost.  Basic assumptions that we used to have of what was protected and private information are overturned as so much information is now public and easily accessible.  Since the culture is so overwhelmingly one that does not protect privacy, I believe we, as mothers, need to be proactive in teaching our children the Biblical value of privacy, and not just assume they will pick it up or understand it on its own.

For example, I live on a block with many wonderful families and many, many precious children.  Fairly frequently an emergency vehicle is called to our block.  The innocent natural inclination of children is to stand around in groups watching. What child isn’t fascinated by fire engines and ambulances?  In order to teach my children privacy I make a point of calling my children inside when an emergency vehicle is outside and we close our window blinds.  They know that at that moment we aren’t able to help the family that called for assistance, but we can give them the dignity of privacy. We can proactively choose to not look.  I feel strongly that this is important for me to teach my children.

Similarly, when I get off the phone there is often at least one child who asks, “Who was that?”  You would think they would learn by now that I don’t answer that question!  I say, “It was someone calling to talk to me, not you, so I’m not going to give out their name.”  I’m not trying to hoard information or act as if I’m not being open with them, rather I am teaching that privacy is important and if there isn’t a need to share someone else’s information, I won’t do so.

I believe that the message my children also receive is that just as I’m protecting other people’s privacy, so too I will do that for them as well.  I hope it’s understood that I won’t read their diaries, listen in on their calls, or enter their rooms without knocking.  Privacy is important!  (Just so you know, as far as computers in my home we stress that nothing that happens on a computer is private.  Anybody can access it even if you think it is secure, and we do monitor our children’s computer usage, openly telling them that we are doing so.)

As always, and I haven’t said this in a long time so new readers may not know how I feel: I can only share with you what works for me and my family, I don’t believe that I or anyone else can tell you what you should do with your family.  God gave each of us the wisdom and insight to know what is best for our families and please don’t take anything I share as anything more than what works for me.  As always, my hope is that you will listen with an open mind and then apply these thoughts in a unique way for your family.  Privacy is an important Jewish value, and I believe we can all think about how we teach it and model it in our homes, but your ways may be different from mine and that’s terrific!

First Do No Harm

July 26th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

As a young adult, I spent some time in Israel. One bonus of being there was meeting people who came from so many different places and backgrounds. When a rare snowstorm hit Jerusalem it was the very first time that a number of my friends had ever seen snow fall. While there is always something beautiful in watching falling flakes, it was especially exciting experiencing that event alongside those for whom it was new.

As adults, parents and teachers have the awesome opportunity of introducing so much of life to innocent children. We may take snow or stories or physical laws like gravity for granted, but one of our gravest responsibilities is making sure not to diminish the wonder of these things for the next generation.

Ann Patchett is a successful novelist and the co-owner of a bookstore in Tennessee. In that capacity she said, “I find myself flipping through the giant green binder of summer-reading lists from all the area schools and being struck by how many seem committed to wringing every ounce of joy from a young person’s relationship to a book.” She then proceeds to describe the often boring and cumbersome instructions that accompany the list of required reading.

What a condemnation! I can think of few skills more important than knowing how to read, but it is a wasted skill if a passion for reading doesn’t accompany it. A talented parent or teacher can peel open a book revealing depths not necessarily evident on a first reading and guide a young reader to get more from a story. A mentor can point a child towards books that will help the youth become a greater person. Those same educators can crush a love of reading, impoverishing and harming a child.

There are a few more weeks of summer. What books have you been reading aloud to your children during these longer days? If you aren’t confident in your reading, there are wonderful audio books to listen to alongside your children. One can hope that their teachers are not among the Grinches stealing the pleasure from reading. If they are, your role is even more important. Just as I enjoyed my Jerusalem snowfall more because of the friends sharing it, little will make your children enjoy reading more than sharing it with you.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

July 21st, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

Recently, I found myself with two children who, one right after the other, made identical comments that were not appropriate for that time.  You may or may not be surprised to hear that I responded very differently to each child even though the issue was identical.  Why would I do that?  Well, the same reason you do it!  As any mother or teacher knows, the point of responding is not to get anything off my chest or to play my scripted role and simply say lines that are pre-determined as the response for this particular action.  No.  My response isn’t for my own sake, but for the sake of my child. Therefore, my reaction had to be different to each child because each child is different and each one needed something different from me in that moment. 

We have a reminder of this principle in chapter 20 of Numbers.  Here, we have the very enigmatic story of God commanding Moses to speak to the rock to bring forth water for the nation. Instead Moses struck the rock, leading to the decree that Moses wouldn’t lead the nation into Israel.  There are so many questions and so many lessons we can learn from this story, but I would like to share just one angle with you today.

Forty years before this point the nation also needed water (Exodus 17), and believe it or not, God commanded Moses to hit the rock to make water flow.  Why was hitting the right response at that time, but 40 years later hitting was inappropriate and talking should have occurred?  What’s the difference? 

The audience is different!  40 years earlier, the children of Israel had just left slavery.  They were just beginning to come together as a spiritual nation and they still, so to speak, spoke the harsh physical language of slavery. Hitting and physical force seemed a natural and appropriate step for people who had just come out of 210 years of physical slavery.  But now, 40 years later, it is a new generation which needs water. This generation has had 40 years of Moses’s leadership and Torah learning, and they are about to enter Israel, a land sensitive to subtle spiritual behaviors.  This generation didn’t need to learn about physical force, they needed to learn how to use subtle and spiritual powers like speech to influence nature. 

This explains why God tells Moses, “Since you HIT the rock rather than speaking to it, you will not lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel”.  The nation needed a different style of leadership at this point in time than the one they needed 40 years earlier.  The desired result was identical – water from a rock, but the response was different because the nation was different and needed to learn something different.

I believe serves as a powerful reminder to us parents to modulate our responses to each child individually.  One size does not fit all; rather it’s different strokes for different folks!  It’s empowering for our children to know that we speak to each of them h individually and treat them individually because they are individuals. We honor and respect their individuality by acknowledging who they are apart from their siblings and trying to give each one what they need from us one by one.   We can ask ourselves before we speak, “What tone of voice, what words, what response does my child need from me right now?” and try to act accordingly.

Summer Homework – for Mothers

July 17th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 4 comments

I loved our family’s summer boating trips for many reasons. Among them was, that as long as my husband and son were willing to heave and ho, I could bring along as much stuff as I wanted. This meant boxes and boxes of books and supplies that I used to plan the coming year’s homeschool.

Doing this in the lazy days of summer was so much fun. I could be swept away by a period of history and spend more hours reading about it than I would ever share with a ten-year-old. I could explore craft ideas and experiments without any pressure to have them ready by the next morning. Most of all, I could imagine that our children would be engaged by everything I was excitedly choosing for us to do. Of course they would want to dissect a cow’s eyeball—who wouldn’t? (That would be each and every one of my children including the future doctor and the future nurse.)

If you are a homeschooling mom who takes things easier in the summer you, too, probably use this time for planning, ordering and organizing. If you are not homeschooling, this time is valuable for you as well. A September reset button allows us to review what worked well and what didn’t over the previous year.

Maybe there were just too many activities and we became chauffeurs more than moms. Maybe our kids’ lives were so structured and busy that they had no time to be creative. Maybe we turned into grumpy crones every afternoon when a hungry family and tired mother faced each other.

Perhaps we read some books out loud and we still hear our children referencing them. Or we might have cut back on screen time, endured grumbles and whines for a few days or weeks and then found that our children were quite able to entertain themselves. Maybe we need to take the time to notice that a child we worried and worried about matured and is in a new and much more pleasant space.

Make some time this summer to think through the past year and plan for the next one. Turn off your auto-pilot and figure out what will work best for each of your children and your family as a whole. Enjoy these precious days before ads for school supplies set you back on a treadmill that may not be the one you want to ride.

If you do want to watch TV, check out our newly downloadable sets
of the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show. (Introductory pricing right now!)

 

When Our Kids “Hate” Us

July 14th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 3 comments

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

I think all mothers should read the story of Korach’s rebellion (Number 16).  Can anyone at all relate on some small level to Moses?  Moses, who never even used a donkey that belonged to anyone else (verse 15) but, on the contrary, devoted his life to doing for the Jewish people, teaching them , praying for them, and leading them as they developed from slaves into a free and spiritual nation is attacked.  Korach, his group and 250 others rebelled against Moses’s leadership. 

Nachmanides, a transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, explains why Korach picked this particular time to rebel. The issue he was upset about, the appointment of Elitzafan, happened much earlier.  Nachmanides’ words are poignant to me; he says Korach didn’t rebel when Eltizafan’s appointment was made because life was good for the Jewish people then.  After the terrible sin of the Golden Calf, Moses saved the nation with his 40 days and nights of prayer, and, “They loved Moses like themselves and listened to him.” If any man had rebelled against Moses at that time the nation would have stoned him.  So Korach bided his time and waited until things weren’t going as well and the nation just heard the decree that they wouldn’t enter Israel but would finish their lives in the desert.

Now Korach knew the time was ripe to rebel as the people’s mood was beginning to turn against Moses’ leadership. Nothing had changed in Moses’ attitude or behavior to the Jewish people but when they began to feel disgruntled, upset, and disillusioned, who are they ready to turn against?  Their leader, Moses.

I’m not sure why I find this particular Nachmanides so moving.  Maybe it’s because on some small level I can relate.  Within a family, there are times that everything is going well and smoothly, and everyone is happy.  And at those times, just like Nachmanides says, the children love their parents as themselves and listen to them.  Lovely!  But when troubles arise, even difficulties that children bring upon themselves, do you know who they take it out on? Isn’t it often Mommy?  The truth is that when a child is distressed, the safest person to attack is the person he or she know loves them despite all. So  they snap out at you and me.  And it doesn’t feel good.  No one likes to feel like the bad guy, especially when we’re exhausted from caring so much, loving so much, and doing so much good for the very people who are striking at us.  But this is the way the world works.  It happened to Moses and it happens to you and me.

What can we do in times like this?  I’d like to make two suggestions. The first sounds simple but takes a lot of work. 

Don’t take it personally. 

I know it feels very personal when your child makes a snide comment, rolls his eyes, or rebels in any which way, but we have to work on ourselves not to take it personally.  This is something I’ve worked on for a very long time and still have to work on again and again.  I can’t say it enough: sometimes our children hurt and they lash out against the person who loves them the most, similar to the children of Israel and Moses. We can’t let it be about us.

The second suggestion I am taking is from Moses’ reaction to Korach’s initial complaint.  The verse says, “and Moses heard and he fell on his face.”  One transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom adds this word, l’tfilah—for prayer.  At those times of attack and complaints, let’s try to take a moment to whisper a small prayer, maybe one asking for help remaining calm, maybe a prayer to help us not take it personally, maybe a prayer for God to help this child who is in so much pain and doesn’t want our help right at this moment.  We can take a parenting challenge and turn it over to God who has the ultimate power and ultimate love to help both us and our children grow through the hard times together.

Peer Pressure -and Press Your Peers

July 9th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

In the car one day this week, one of my daughters told me a story that resonates with a lesson we learn from Numbers 13. Last summer she had been in day camp for a few weeks, and one day she had been on a bus with the camp going to some fun destination.  She thought it was funny that in the parking lot the girls all began filing off the bus silently or talking to each other, but not thanking the bus driver.  When she got to the front of the bus, she said thank you to the driver and then heard the girl behind her say thank you and the one behind her and the one behind her until the bus driver didn’t stop repeating “You’re welcome” over and over.   

What does this have to do with the twelve spies sent to see the land of Canaan?

Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that when Moses sent the men to spy out the land of Israel he prayed for Joshua, “May God save you from the advice of the spies.”  Moses saw his primary student Joshua had learned from Moses’s outstanding quality of humility and was himself a most modest and humble person.  The problem Moses recognized was that sometimes modesty and humility can lead a person to stay quiet about his own views, instead adopting the majority viewpoint of those around him. 

Joshua’s humility and modesty put him at risk of  ceding to the majority opinion of the spies instead of holding fast to his own views, and so Moses prayed that God should give Joshua strength to resist the viewpoint of the majority.

Even without Joshua’s humility, we, and especially children, can be easily swayed by peer pressure or the behavior of the majority of those around us.  The girls on the first half of the bus weren’t intending to be rude or inconsiderate. Each one was simply doing what the girl ahead of her did, following her peer as she silently walked out of the bus.  The girls in the back half of the bus were fortunate that each one heard the girl ahead of her thank the bus driver. They too were affected by those around them and followed their peers in thanking the driver.  I believe this is a lesson for us to be aware of and to teach to our children. 

When we are in groups of people it is very easy to just do what everyone around us is doing instead of stepping out of line to do what is right.  The pressure of the majority is real and often leads to a lowered standard of behavior.  Have you ever noticed that kids in groups tend to behave differently than any one of those children would alone?  I see it all the time and I discuss it with my kids.  I want them to be on guard that even when they are among friends, they should be careful to do what they know to be right and best, regardless of what the norm is in the group.  This is a powerful lesson.  Even Joshua, the great student of Moses, needed Divine help to stand apart from majority opinion.  Surely, we can learn from this to talk to our children about the subtle realities of peer pressure and maintaining their individual sense of right and wrong even when in groups.

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