Posts in Practical Parenting

Boys Adrift – a must-read book

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

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

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

They might as well ask: Are you human?

I have two questions of my own:

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

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

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

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

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

Grandma Camp Lessons

September 24th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

One More Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Strategies to Reduce Whining

September 16th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Everyone Else Does

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Socialization

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

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

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

Greetings Rabbi and Susan,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave

(more…)

Holiness with a Side of Cheerios?

September 3rd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

Leviticus 19 opens with the words: “And God spoke to Moses saying.  Speak to the entire assembly of the children of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your God, am holy.’”

Let’s not get into what exactly we are supposed to do to be holy.  Today, I’d like to contemplate that this commandment was given with all of us standing together; men, women, children.  Often, when we think of holy people, we imagine someone living alone on a mountaintop with hours to meditate and learn and grow.  Or maybe we’re  more realistic, but we still think of a holy person as a person who has hours of solitude to learn and pray while sitting in his or her quiet book-lined study.

The Alshich, a transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, writes that the Torah is not asking us to isolate or live alone and separate from each other so we can work on being holy and fully self-developed people. Rather, he says, that we specifically should  be amongst other human beings, in the assembly or congregation as the verses above teach.  In order to achieve holiness we have to be with each other.

I find this very relevant in my life as a mother.  Firstly, it is tempting to look back and perhaps think how much more holy I was before I had children.  I prayed much more, I never lost my patience, I learned Torah more, I was more active in charity organizations… But that is incorrect.  Becoming holy happens amongst other people and I am much more deeply entrenched with other people surrounded by my husband and children than I was alone. 

God wants me to be holy as I live closely together with my family. 

And yes, that means that I won’t have as much time to devote to prayer, to learning, to charity organizations.  And yes, it even means I won’t have as much time to devote to my personal growth and development, but that’s the point.  Holiness doesn’t really come from isolation.  Holiness is something I can develop and attain as I work on myself amongst my family and amongst the other people in my life.  Developing good character traits is much easier before you live with others!  But true good character traits come when we live with others and still work on becoming better, more sensitive, caring, and giving people.

By being mothers, having little time for ourselves, we may incorrectly think we’re not attaining holiness.  In reality, the opposite is true.  By working on self-development even as we’re distracted and tired, by giving, by stretching ourselves to greater heights of patience, self-control, and love, we’re attaining holiness the way we’re meant to, not in isolation but among the entire assembly of men, women and children.

Book Review: 2 Thought-Provoking Reads for Parents

September 2nd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 4 comments

I did not expect to enjoy, let alone agree with, Esther Wojcicki’s book, How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results. I was wrong.

If her difficult-to-pronounce last name sounds familiar, it may be because two of her daughters are well-known business leaders (Youtube and 23andMe) while the middle daughter is an anthropologist and epidemiologist. Because of her daughters’ professional prominence I expected the book to be a guide to raising career women and minimizing, perhaps even disparaging, the roles of wife and mother. I was wrong.

While I did cringe at Mrs. Wojcicki’s mistaken description of Judaism’s attitude to women based on her personal experience as the daughter of struggling immigrant parents, I found the book full of (unfortunately uncommon and counter-cultural) common sense, warmth and interesting anecdotes and ideas. Esther Wojcicki focuses on values that she used both as a teacher and as a mother and that she denotes by the acronym TRICK: Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration and Kindness. There is a great deal of thought-provoking material in this book and I do recommend reading it.

At just about the same time I read, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. Written by psychoanalyst Erica Komisar, to my surprise (since I certainly agree with the premise of the title) I found quite a bit to disagree with in this book. The tone is a bit grating and there are some strange statements as well as an annoying demand for government intervention.

However, I do think that this book is worth reading if only because the idea that a mother has unique gifts to offer her child is routinely rejected in today’s culture. This book will make uncomfortable reading for many parents whose children have already passed the ages being discussed but for those who are making decisions for the future it will raise worthwhile points to ponder. Among other nuggets, it raises fascinating questions that should be addressed by those couples planning on having a stay-at-home father and out-of-the-house working mother.

So few young couples today have a healthy grounding for raising a family. Many haven’t grown up in or near thriving families. The current educational system as well as government interference in family life sends confusing, misguided and mistaken messages. Without thinking, repeating patterns from childhood becomes the default and today’s cultural institutions do little to inject wisdom. If these books can provoke thought, discussion and  deliberation they serve a valuable function.

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

Don’t Say It – Don’t Think It

August 23rd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 10 comments

What three words can undo your child’s fond memories of summer? What eleven words can seriously damage your relationship with your child?

Imagine this scenario: You and your children are at the beach, or the park, or the market. School starts in a few days. A fellow mom says, “Aren’t you counting down the days?” Without thinking and maybe with an exaggerated eye-roll you answer, “I can’t wait.” Or worse, you say, “I’d go crazy if I had them home for another week!”

What message have you just given your children? The message that having them around is a burden. The message that they go to school, not for their own benefit, but for yours.

I was speaking to a long-time pre-school teacher over the weekend and I asked her what she sees as the biggest difference in her students’ parents from twenty years ago to today. One of her answers was that many of today’s parents are at a loss when they have to spend time with their children. Some of them actually seem afraid of that scenario. They are comfortable driving their children from one activity to the next and they can plunk their kids in front of screens to entertain them, but they are unsure of themselves when it comes to simply being together.

How we talk affects how we act. I don’t know one woman who wouldn’t cringe if her husband referred to her as his “ball and chain.” Yet, that language was actually once pretty widely used in banter.  It didn’t serve to make men adore and admire their wives or make wives feel appreciated. It is good that it is no longer socially acceptable to speak like that. Let’s make an effort to hear how we talk about our children and insure that they—and we—know that if we send them to school it is for their benefit and that we sacrifice our time with them for that reason alone.

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.

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