Posts in Practical Parenting

Kindergarten Lessons for Teens

November 15th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Some book titles provide value even if you never read the book. (It’s quite possible that for some books, the title is the best part.) I never read All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum, but the title sticks in my mind as a clever one.

I don’t know if, “Reputation Matters,” is one of the lessons that Mr. Fulghum includes, but it  is certainly one of the crucially important messages we strive to teach our children. That lesson is front and center in politics today and worth discussing.

This message resonates on both sides of the political divide. Personally, I think that President Trump has been an outstanding president when judged in terms of policy results, both domestic and international. His unique personality and methods of communicating may not be my cup of tea but his bluntness and lack of polished political skill well may be the reasons he was elected. However, he knew that he faced a hostile press and many hate-filled enemies both in politics and the general media. For four years, the president’s persona was presented as a caricature, downplaying any speeches and events that contradicted that view. In my opinion, he made a big mistake when much of his re-election campaign, including the first debate, served to emphasize the negatives that these enemies presented as the whole picture. For too much of the past six months, he didn’t recognize the need to meticulously advance the more nuanced side of himself and to aggressively promote his many accomplishments that needed to be highlighted.

On the other side, newspapers, media outlets, and Democratic politicians were openly consumed with hatred for the past four years. When California Democrat, Maxine Waters, called on Americans to “tell them [those who work in the Trump administration] they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” and that was one of the milder displays of contempt, calling for unity in a contested election is futile. When you lie to the American people, publicizing debunked stories of Russian collusion and others with little chance of veracity while suppressing stories that are undoubtedly true, you don’t get to ask people to trust your judgment about whether or not the election was fraudulent.

We explain to our five-year-old that if she upsets a board game because she is losing, her friend may not want to play with her the next day. We tell our nine-year-old how important it is not to breach a friend’s trust. These are normal opportunities to talk about developing a reputation for fair play and trustworthiness. When it comes to our teens, the stakes get higher and our lectures get heard less.

We can take advantage of the real-life examples in front of us to spark discussion and spur thought among our young adults. No matter who you supported in the last election, reputations have been shredded and trust has been eviscerated. We may not be able to stop people from lying about us or control the words and actions of those with whom we generally agree, but that only means that we need to be more careful about developing and projecting a reputation we are proud to claim.

Are You a Noah or an Abraham?

November 8th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

As we read the section of Genesis about the Flood, we see the world being destroyed and recreated. Noah is the man who lived through the recreation.  When he left the ark, he emerged into a world that was fundamentally changed from what it had been before.  Unfortunately, Noah himself was also changed through witnessing the horrific destruction.  Noah, who before the Flood was an Ish Tzadik, a man of righteousness, was now an Ish Adamah, a man of the earth.  Noah got derailed. He wasn’t able to adapt to the new world with resilience and he fell from his original great height.

Ancient Jewish wisdom draws parallels and distinctions between Noah and Abraham.  Rabbi Berel Wein points out that this is one area we see the difference between them.  Noah couldn’t move past the flood.  He entered the new world, planted a vineyard, and drowned his sorrows.  We don’t see him re-emerging to build and recreate.   Abraham had ten challenges each of which could have derailed him. He kept going forward regardless.  Abraham had resilience.  He looked forward with hope and optimism, not backward at difficulties and destruction.

Yesterday I read an article discussing how society is changing because of corona and the author gave a prediction of how long it will take until life is back to normal.  The author claimed that this will take several years.  I realized then that we have a choice.  We too are witnessing a changing world.  Thank God, not anywhere close to the level that Noah witnessed, but we are living through an upheaval, and we suspect that our world for at least the next year will be unlike the world last year.

We have a choice.  We can look backward and feel stuck because life doesn’t feel normal, it doesn’t feel comfortable and it’s not what we’re used to.  Or we can look forwards like Abraham and focus on and embrace the reality we have been given today with optimism and energy.

On Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), I took my young son to an outdoor farm festival.  It was not crowded, we were outdoors and in masks.  At one time, he and two other children were playing in a big sandlot and I noticed that each of the three children was playing totally independently. They weren’t chatting or creating a make-believe game.  They were far apart and ignoring each other.  It felt surreal to me.  When my other children were this age and in a public park or play area, they naturally started interacting with other children, playing with, and talking to them.  I felt saddened that this was the new reality for little children, but I realized that the three kids were perfectly happy.  They may not even remember it being otherwise.  I was the one that could stew in the past and feel upset that today was different, or I could accept the beauty of today’s reality and face the new situation head on without contrasting it to last year’s scenario.

Weddings have changed.  Bar Mitzvahs have changed.  School has changed.  Our relationship with screens has changed.  And so much more. And yes, change is difficult.  But the choice is ours to learn from Abraham to choose to look forward with hope and resilience.  Our children won’t benefit from hearing us bemoan how different everything feels.  They will benefit from us making the best of our world as it is today.  We need to find the blessings and overcome the challenges.  It is on us as mothers to not to complain in front of our kids about what is currently gone and different, but to see with clear-headed eyes what our reality is today and make the right decisions to make the most of today’s opportunities.  This is resilience – switching our focus from what once was to what is today and what we look forward to tomorrow.

Faith Creates the Future

October 26th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 6 comments

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

I have a beautiful idea to share with you today.  We know that Noach spent 120 years building the Ark in preparation for the Flood, but when the time came to actually enter the ark, he delayed.  Genesis 7:7 says:

“And Noach went in, and his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives with him,
into the Ark, because of the waters of the Flood.”

He waited to enter the Ark until the floodwaters forced him to delay no longer.  Ancient Jewish wisdom says here that Noach was, “miktanei emunah” – “among the small believers,” because he only entered at the very last moment when the flood had already started.  How can it be that Noach didn’t have full faith?  He spent 120 years preparing for the flood; surely he believed that it was coming?

Rabbi Shimon Schwab, a great 20th century Torah teacher, teaches here a magnificent lesson about Faith.  Faith isn’t just believing in God’s promises, but Faith is itself a creative force that has the power to actualize promises and bring potential into reality.  Rabbi Schwab points out that the root of the Hebrew word for faith is O-M-N, caring for a child, like the words in the Scroll of Esther, “Vayehi OMeiN es Hadasa” “and he [Mordechai] raised Hadassah (Esther 2:7).  An OMeiN is someone who raises a child, one who works to bring out a child’s full potential.  An OMeiN doesn’t just have faith in the future reality of a child, he works actively to actualize the promise.

Faith, it seems, isn’t only believing that something will happen, but the nature of faith is that by having faith, we actually help fulfill that future.  Faith is an active, creative force, not a passive, ‘sit back and wait to see what will happen’.  Having true faith in a future contributes to that future arriving.  When ancient Jewish wisdom says that Noach was among the small believers, it is telling us that Noach didn’t want to be part of bringing the flood to the world.  He didn’t want to be active in bringing forth the destruction.  He hoped that if he didn’t intensify his faith, perhaps he could delay or prevent the Flood.  He withheld his faith power so as not to engage it as a creative force.  And it turns out, that was the wrong thing to do.  His job, like all of ours, was to do what God commanded him to do with full energy and vigor, and let God take care of His department, so to speak.

As we’ve discussed before, faith and motherhood are deeply intertwined.  Raising a child is an act of faith, but today’s message is that having faith is also part of raising a child.  Our faith in our children’s wonderful futures helps those futures become reality.  When we look past today’s challenges and have a clear vision of our child as a successful adult, when we refuse to get bogged down in today’s messes because we have faith that our child will grow out of this stage and into maturity, we are actively influencing that future. A child who has a mother who sees him, now, not as a  Terrible Two, or a cranky teenager, or today’s ordeal, but sees him clearly as a future source of delight and joy, is fortunate.  That very faith contributes to its actualization.

This is a powerful message both in how we see and raise our children and in our own lives.  Too often we accept our limited reality instead of opening ourselves up to an expansive Faith.  Rabbi Schwab’s point to us is just as true in our own lives as in our children.  Let’s have faith—a clear vision of hope—because that faith doesn’t just expect the future, it also brings it closer.

You’re So Lucky – Really?

October 19th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

Scott Adams is the talented cartoonist who draws the Dilbert comic strip. Dilbert pokes fun at work-related issues, so it wasn’t surprising that Mr. Adams tackled business ZOOM calls in the days of COVID. The comic strip I saw featured a call interrupted as a father trades in his professional persona for that of a frustrated dad responding angrily to children rampaging noisily in the background.

This cartoon sparked quite a conversation among a few mothers in my community.  A number of them told how they could relate to this scenario, while a few ventured to say that their children understand the need to be quiet while Mommy is on a business call or conference. What intrigued me was the language some of the mothers in the latter group used. They spoke of how lucky they were.

I beg to differ. Children are not born with a “don’t-interrupt-mommy-when-she’s-on-an-important-call” gene. Until they are past babyhood, they cannot understand that their parents have lives apart from them. For those months and years, it is up to mothers and fathers to make plans that will allow them to conduct uninterrupted adult conversations. Once children have passed that point, not interrupting is a lesson that needs to be taught. Some children will accept guidance easily while others will need a slower and longer learning curve. However, unless there is a severe underlying condition, even older toddlers can be taught not to talk loudly, run around or interrupt parents for a reasonable amount of time. Wise parents understand that the length of time reasonable for a seven-year-old isn’t reasonable for a three-year-old, but the younger child certainly can and should be expected to begin regulating his behavior. Luck isn’t the operative word; the applicable words for parents to employ are patience, persistence and positive consequences.

Many years ago, my mother-in-law was chatting with a young mother whose four-year-old kept on interrupting their conversation. After continually shushing her daughter, the somewhat embarrassed mother said, “I can’t wait until my daughter outgrows this stage.” With more candor than tact, my mother-in-law replied, “Children outgrow shoes, they don’t outgrow bad manners.”

Can you have an adult conversation while your children are awake? My guess is that time, effort and loving guidance have more to do with that reality than does luck.

Maps, Graphs and Charts: Yes, They Still Matter

October 6th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Over the course of the festival of Sukkot, Jews who follow a Torah path make every effort to eat outdoors in a Sukkah (a temporary “hut” built to certain Biblical specifications). This year, my husband and I did not build a Sukkah of our own as we do most years. Instead, we are relying on sharing the Sukkot of our gracious children and neighbors. In that way, we found ourselves this morning having breakfast with a 20-something young man, son of one of our host families.

This charming and accomplished youth asked us a question about our beloved boat trips in the Pacific Northwest. As my husband replied, he realized that our young neighbor, an east coaster,  wasn’t familiar with the area. From experience, I knew what was coming.

“When you are going on a journey or to a new place, do you look at a map to get the lay of the land?” my husband asked.

“No, I use my GPS,” came the expected reply.

Even today, our home is stocked with maps. We do not set out on a long trip without a paper record of the areas through which we will be going. The above conversation is one that my husband frequently has, especially with those under the age of 35. Each time, he is amazed at the answer. While GPS has its highly respected place in our lives, my husband cannot imagine not having a mental overall picture against which the GPS voice can be measured. Leaving oneself open to befuddlement if the directions mess up, as they certainly sometimes do, is anathema to him.

As the discussion continued, I remembered a homeschooling resource that I valued and enjoyed. It is possible that my children enjoyed it as well, but whether they did or did not, it bore its fruit. The series, Maps, Charts and Graphs by Modern Curriculum Press began with a first volume geared to second grade and then increased in complexity for quite a number of years. It taught how to read maps, graphs and charts, explained different types and uses of each of these tools, and imparted interesting information along the way.

I did a quick search and found that this series is still available. In all honesty, I last saw it many years ago so I cannot guarantee that the product hasn’t changed. I’m sure there are many newer competing products available now as well. But I do think there is value in practicing this material on paper rather than only via a computer or an app. This recurring conversation with young men and women who have little or no familiarity with maps led me to want to share this resource with you.

The Squabble – er, Debate

September 30th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting 1 comment

A number of parents sat with their children to watch the first presidential debate of 2020. They hoped to teach their children about the importance of being able to articulate one’s policies, how to carefully frame one’s arguments and what issues affect this great country. That is not exactly the lesson that emerged.

The debate (which admittedly I turned off before it was over because I was so  dismayed) seemed to be an enactment of a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle story that was beloved by my children. For those of you who are not familiar with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, this fictional character is the source of wisdom for neighborhood mothers, adored by their children, and the solver of all sorts of parenting dilemmas.

In the story I am recollecting, a mother approaches Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for advice because her son and daughter are always squabbling. Breakfast means an exchange of, “His piece of toast is bigger than mine,” and “She’s sitting too close to me.” That bickering continues through the whole day, exhausting both the parents. (Confession – I don’t have the story before me so these examples may not be accurate, but I am capturing the idea.)

After consulting Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the very next morning the mother and father begin to implement the recommended cure. Instead of greeting their normal, pleasant parents, the children awaken to a mother and father who are whining about unfairness, carping at each other and complaining about the slightest thing the other one says or does. It doesn’t take long before the little boy and girl realize how unpleasant it is to live in a house where family members talk over each other, call each other names and moan and whine, treating each other and everyone forced to listen to them with gross disrespect,

If your children saw the first presidential debate of 2020, hopefully they learned that same lesson.

The debate has not change how I plan to vote. The two men represent two very different visions of America, one of which I see as a road to improvement and the other as the road to destructive socialism. That isn’t a choice that foolish statements or a show of poor character is going to affect. However, both President Trump and Vice-president Biden acted more like badly behaved ten-year-olds than adult statesmen. That is embarrassing and disappointing and an apology is due by both to the citizens of the United States.

Two Mountains; Two Choices

September 22nd, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

I have been spending a significant amount of time listening to and speaking with mothers who are trying to determine what is best to do for their children this school year.  It is clear to all of us is that this won’t be an easy year, not for teachers, not for parents, and not for children.  No matter what decisions the mothers I’ve been talking to end up making, they are decisions that many of them never wanted to make, never wanted to think about. They, and all of us, have been forced into a situation that wasn’t our preference.

There is an insight in Deuteronomy 11:29 that can help us all realign and greet the upcoming school year, whatever choices we make, in an optimal way.  Moshe begins the section by saying,

“See I am setting before you today blessing and curse and you have a choice, you can pursue the blessing by following Hashem or you can choose the curse by turning away from  Hashem.”  (Deut. 11:26-27)

Then Moshe gives us a tiny glimpse of what will happen later on as he continues, “and you shall deliver the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Eival.”

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) beautifully points out that Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival are the perfect mountains to illustrate the difference between a blessing and a curse.  He says:

The two mountains, located side by side, present the most striking, instructive visualization of a blessing and a curse.  Both of them rise from the same soil, both are watered by the same precipitation, rain and dew.  The same air passes over them both, the same pollen is blown over them both.  Yet Eival remains starkly barren, while Gerizim is covered with lush vegetation to its very top.  Thus we see that blessings and curses are not dependent on external circumstances – but on the manner in which we react to these circumstances.  Hence, whether we are blessed or cursed is not dependent on the superficial conditions that are imposed upon us, but on how we deal with them—on our attitude toward that which should bring us blessing.

Wow!  Blessings and curses are not dependent on external circumstances but on the manner in which we react to those circumstances!  That is exactly what I need to hear, what my children need to hear, and what each mother I’ve talked to this week needs to hear.

It is easy to fixate on the external circumstances: how can my child learn in a mask all day?  How they can handle socially distanced lunches and recesses?  How can my child cope with more Zoom classes?  Lots and lots of external circumstances which we may be tempted to think are the problem!  But no, it’s not the circumstance that are the problem;  it is our attitude to them that can be the blessing or the curse.

This is such an empowering message, for ourselves, and to give over to our children.  Yes, the circumstances are out of our control, but our attitude is within our control and at the end of the day, our attitude is all that matters.  We can fill ourselves with delight and anticipation of all the growth, all the learning, all the new opportunities that are coming our way and we can share that with our children. That is the message of Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival.  External situations just don’t matter all that much; it’s what’s inside of us that counts.

Keep It New and Exciting

September 15th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Two weeks ago was our grandson’s first day of school. He isn’t a five-year-old starting kindergarten, but rather a fourteen-year-old beginning high school. As a homeschooler, he learned a great deal, but he never set foot in a formal school environment.

His parents were not compelled to send him; one of his older brothers is homeschooling high school and he could have taken that path as well. However, our daughter and son-in-law, in agreement with their son, thought that this school would be a perfect match and offer him a great deal.  It has been thrilling hearing his reactions. His excitement as he leaves for school each day (a day that runs from 7:45 am to 9:30 pm as it includes a great deal of Torah study) is a joy to behold. We laughed with delight at his exclamation, “Math teachers are awesome!” when an obviously talented teacher explained a difficult concept.

He is confused by one thing. While some of his classmates—none of whom were homeschooled—are eager learners, others slump into their seats as class begins and prepare for a nap. He cannot understand their lack of interest.

As adults, parents and teachers have the awesome opportunity of introducing so much of life to innocent children. One of our gravest responsibilities is making sure not to diminish the wonder of life and learning for the next generation.

A talented parent or teacher can peel open a book revealing depths not necessarily evident on a first reading. A mentor can point a child towards an understanding of history that will help the youth become a greater person. A science teacher can reveal the wonders of the universe and God’s creation to thirsty minds and hearts. Those same educators can crush a love of learning, impoverishing and harming a child.

Maybe your children are going back to school, either in person or online. Maybe you are taking those first exciting, scary and momentous steps and homeschooling for the first time. Let’s hope, and what’s more take steps to ensure, that whatever teachers our children have, we and they are not among the Grinches stealing the pleasure from education.

  

Honey vs. Stings: Talking to Our Children

September 8th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin,

    I have listened to your podcast “The one big thing you can do now to improve your finances & family and your social life” several times now, but I still have questions.  I am a mom of 4, and as such I do a lot of teaching, guidance, correction and discipline with our children, throughout the day. 

How does one teach, guide, correct,  and discipline with honey always on the lips instead of stings? 

I know that G-d has given us as parents the responsibility to train up a child in the way he or she should go, so when they are old they will not depart from it as Proverbs 22:6 says.  So how can you keep your mouth always honey with your kids?  Maybe it is harder for me than some because we homeschool, instead of using a G.I.C*., but I don’t think so.  I think probably most parents have this problem.   

Thanks for the suggestions. 

Much Love,

The C. Family

Dear C. family,

You are absolutely correct that most parents have this problem. It is also true is that many spouses have this problem as well, not to mention friends and employers.

But for now, let’s stick with parents. Let’s look at the four verbs you used when you said that you, “teach, guide, correct and discipline.” Those all are jobs for parents, and the real question to ask is how effective we are at that job. In other words, the job isn’t, for example, to say to our children every morning, “Did you make your bed?” If that behavior is one that we value, then our goal is to have our children eventually value that behavior as well.

When it comes to instilling more important values like telling the truth, being kind to others, expressing gratitude and others (because let’s face it, if our children grow up and don’t make their beds every day it won’t define who they are) our focus, once again, isn’t on how much we lecture but on how our words are received. It is much easier to receive guidance that is given softly and with love.

Children are by definition immature and they are also human beings so that we can assume that they, like us, don’t like following orders and they have better and worse days. As a parent, that means that you will sometimes need to provide consequences and even punishments. Here is one tip: In general, the fewer words you use, the better they will be received. Saying, “If the toys are cleaned up in ten minutes, we’ll have time for a story,” and then not reading the story if clean up hasn’t happened is enough in itself. It does not demand a lecture to go with it.

However, the biggest change parents can make is to be aware of the good. It is so easy to notice the messy room, the missing shoes, the scowl on a face. And it is so easy to take for granted the puzzle cleaned up, the tied shoelaces and the pleasant agreement. Orally acknowledging the positive means needing to verbalize the negative much less frequently. When chastisement is needed, it still can be delivered without anger.

Easy? No. Start by paying attention. In the quiet of the night, replay the events of the day in your mind and ask yourself how else you might have phrased something better or reacted more calmly. Challenge yourself only to give positive feedback during a specific time of day and expand that time as this becomes more natural. If you do have to give a reprimand, pay close attention to your tone of voice and choice of words. You will be shocked to hear how the way your children talk to you and to each other changes as you change.

Don’t aim for perfection overnight. Actually, don’t aim for perfection. Aim for improvement.

Wishing you success,

Susan

*Government indoctrination centers formerly known as public schools

What’s Positive about Pigs? (and camels)

August 30th, 2020 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ by Rebecca Masinter

Chapter 14 of the book of Deuteronomy lists two signs that kosher mammals must possess: they must have cloven hooves and chew their cuds. A few animals have one sign but are lacking the other one, rendering them non-kosher. The Torah lists these animals.

We would have expected that when listing these animals that are not kosher because they lack a required feature, the Torah would have said, for example, “Don’t eat the camel, hare, and hyrax because their hoof is not split even though they bring up their cud.”  Since we’re explaining that they’re not Kosher, let’s begin with the quality that makes them not kosher!  But the Torah does exactly the opposite in Deuteronomy 14:7 and in Deuteronomy 14:8 when it discusses the pig.  First, the Torah lists their kosher attributes and only afterward their non-kosher one.  The verse says, “Don’t eat these animals, for they do bring up their cud which is a kosher quality, but their hoof is not split, so you can’t eat it; it is not Kosher.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches us here that even when its necessary to point out a negative quality or disqualify something for a valid reason, we always should begin by pointing out a positive trait.  Every situation and every person at every time has something positive about them and we learn from here to begin by noticing and complimenting the positive even when it may be necessary to continue on to what is lacking.

What a lovely lesson for mothers!  Maybe our children don’t have their shoes tied but we can compliment them on their brushed hair.  Maybe they forgot to do their chores, but they helped a sibling in need.  Mothers surely have many opportunities to point out deficiencies, but let’s take this message from Deuteronomy and remember to stress the positives.  If the Torah can introduce non-Kosher animals with their pure characteristic, we surely can focus on the positive qualities of our pure children.

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