Posts in Practical Parenting

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.

Woman Up – and BTW Here’s a Hug

July 7th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Recently, one of our daughters sent my husband and me a link to a podcast that she thought we would find interesting. We did. We each independently listened and then we each responded to the podcast’s creator, Kate Hendricks. I asked if I could share the link to her podcast with my Practical Parenting and Musings audiences and she graciously assented. Here is the link and then the two, rather different, reactions from my husband and me.

https://soundcloud.com/user-933750849/permission-to-speak-freely-i

Here is my husband’s note to Kate:

Just listened to your “Women Can’t Have It All” podcast on the advice of my wonderful daughter #6, a recently married executive in NYC.  You sound so wonderfully genuine; I felt I was being granted a glimpse into your soul.  I travel a lot on business and the most heartrending sight I see on almost every trip (perhaps I am especially alert to it) is women with anguished expressions talking on their phones in the Admiral’s Club or the Red Carpet Club wishing their kids goodnight or trying to assure them of how soon they will be home.  It’s sometimes more than I can bear.  The women whose letters you read filled me with sadness especially since I am often asked to talk to husbands who are cajoling their wives back to work soon after a baby.  Just wanted to thank you.

Here is my letter to Kate:

Dear Kate,

My daughter forwarded me your podcast and quite frankly as I listened to it I had two conflicting emotions. At the same time I wanted to hug you and pat you on the back as well as bark at you like a Marine Sergeant and tell you to “Woman Up!”

The podcast I heard is titled, “I Don’t Think Women Can Have It All.” I would ask where you possibly got the impression that any human being can have it all except that I think this is a lie that society has been peddling for too many years. Do you honestly think that men can have it all? If nothing else, the rising male suicide rate should make you question that assertion.

The myth of “having it all” is exacerbated by social media. The ease with which we can share our emotions with others and share the emotions that thousands of people choose to share with us is the proverbial blessing and curse. On the positive side we can forge relationships with those we might never otherwise meet and we can feel less alone when facing a difficulty that those in our immediate vicinity are not facing.

On the negative side, it has encouraged us to feel like failures no matter what we do.  In the olden days, we had to cope once a year with getting Christmas cards from friends extolling the accomplishments and achievements of their children. Or maybe we received a few pictures in the mail from a friend whose professional performance allowed her to travel to an exotic locale when we are strategizing simply to make it to the drugstore to buy a new lipstick. Now, the accomplishments and achievements of strangers continually assault us.

On the flip side, we are also too easily tuned in to the frustrations and disappointments of others. When we were young mothers, a friend and I would sometimes telephone each other with a “poor baby” call. Maybe three kids had the stomach flu, maybe someone spilled cereal over the floor one too many times, maybe we just couldn’t handle constantly being on call. Not to mention having to make supper again and again and again. We would call, identify the call as a “poor baby” and get a few seconds of sympathy. We did not then call dozens of more friends and replay our self-pity party over and over. The expectation that life should be a breeze along with the ability to get positive feedback for complaining has turned us into a bunch of dissatisfied whiners.

Here are some truths. Life is full of challenges. There are challenges to working full-time, there are challenges to not working; there are challenges to being married, there are challenges to being single; there are challenges to being female, there are challenges to being male; there are challenges to having children and there are challenges to being childless. This is true whether one had a choice of didn’t have a choice in any of these things. As recent studies on grit have shown, there are even challenges to not having enough challenges. Welcome to the real world.

My dear Kate, I have so much more to say to you. Actually, I say a lot more regularly on my blog and I am currently writing a book that says much more on the topic. My bottom line in response to your podcast and to the women who wrote you is that in life there is no choice we make that doesn’t have trade-offs. We can spend the majority of our time choosing to be grateful for what we have or we can live in a constant state of disappointment. We can accept the difficult aspects of our lives as normal, shed a few tears and do whatever is necessary to pick ourselves up or we can keep reaching for “having it all” and fail over and over again.

If you are interested, here is a blog post I wrote in response to a card from one of my six daughters (we have one boy as well and no, he isn’t our youngest) expressing her thanks for the sacrifices I made as a mother. I appreciated her gratitude and rejected her premise. I title it: Having It All. https://rabbidaniellapin.com/having-it-all/

Hugs from one mom to another,

Susan Lapin

Decisions, Decisions…

June 30th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

“My parents forced me to continue with piano lessons for four years. They ruined my enjoyment of music.”

“I get so much pleasure from sitting down and playing. I’m incredibly grateful that my parents insisted that I stick with my piano lessons.”

Well, which is it? If you are a parent with a child tearfully pleading to stop piano lessons, how do you know what he or she will say years down the road? You don’t, of course.

A good friend of mine faced a dilemma. Her son’s Little League team had an important game taking place at the same time as a momentous family occasion. Which should he attend? Because of the type of family event both her husband and son acknowledged that it was her decision to make. After weighing up all the sides, the baseball team came in second. Was she right or wrong?

The whole point of being human is that we don’t know the answers to these questions. Since the day that Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, our actions are almost never 100% right or 100% wrong. We can ruminate, ponder, ask advice and stress when we have a decision to make. But in the final analysis while we can hold conflicting thoughts in our mind, our actions must go one way or the other. Since we can only play out one script, even years later we often don’t know what would have happened had we chosen the alternate path.

When she was around five, one of our daughters found decision making almost impossible. She was paralyzed by indecision. One time, she was invited to a friend’s house but knew that our family was going out for pizza. Instead of seeing two fun options, either one of which would make for a lovely afternoon, she saw that no matter what she chose she would be missing out on something. As she matured, she learned to focus on the positive side of the choices she made rather than dwell on the negative.

In talking to young men and women who are searching for life partners, a common concern that surfaces is, “What if I meet someone more suited for me once I have made a commitment?” That way of thinking, of course, ensures never getting married. Surely, one of the signs of being mature enough to marry is being able to control one’s thoughts and concentrate on what is, rather than what might have been. Perversely, trying to keep all options open usually guarantees ending up with nothing.

We all do best when we realize that, “Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back,” works fine when choosing a toothpaste and not at all when choosing those things that truly matter. As I try to remind myself, we should work on cultivating an attitude of counting one’s blessings in ourselves and in our children rather than constantly tallying what went wrong. It will count for far more than piano lessons in determining whether or not we enjoy music along with all other aspects of our lives.

Am I Your Mirror?

June 30th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

A Your Mother’s Guidance post by Rebecca Masinter

You are familiar with the infamous story of the twelve spies who were sent to scout out the land in preparation for the children of Israel’s planned immediate entry into their land.  Catastrophically, ten of the spies came back with negative feedback about the land of Israel, and ultimately our entry to the land was delayed for forty years until that generation was gone. 

Today I’d like to look at one line the spies said in their report while describing the overwhelming size and strength of the inhabitants of Canaan.  “Van’hi v’eineinu kachagavim v’chein hayinu b’eineihem.” “And we were in our own eyes like grasshoppers, and so we were also in their eyes.” (Numbers 13:33)

Listen carefully: First they say we saw ourselves tiny and insignificant like grasshoppers and only afterwards do they say that others perceived them that way as well.

The message is obvious.  We aren’t defined or limited by how others perceive us; it’s the other way around.  We see ourselves one way, positively or negatively, and then broadcast that viewpoint to everyone around us. Ultimately others end up seeing us the same way we do.

This in itself is a profound point and one worth a few minutes of our thought today.  We each have tremendous power within ourselves, and our limiting factor is often not what others think, but it’s primarily that we don’t believe enough in ourselves and our potential and we then broadcast that to those around us.

However, this isn’t really what I wanted to focus on because Your Mother’s Guidance keeps the focus on mothering.  I believe this next point is urgent.  While it is true that we, adults, broadcast our self-image from the inside out and need to take responsibility to adjust our self-perceptions accordingly, our children’s self image is very much shaped by how they perceive we see them

When a child thinks we see them one way, good or bad, they then begin to perceive themselves the same way.  This is the opposite of the spies.  Sometimes, of course, parents and teachers send explicit messages to children about who we think they are and what we think they are good at or not. Sometimes our messages are so subtle that we don’t even know we’re broadcasting them, but our kids are listening and absorbing an image of themselves that stems from us.

Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are embarking on the beginning of summer vacation.  Many hours are ahead where we will be the central adult figure in our children’s lives and the lens through which they see themselves reflected and defined.  Let’s take some time to think through what messages we may be transmitting to our children about themselves.

Perhaps we recognize their good qualities, positive intentions, and purity, and convey that regularly.  And maybe we sometimes, very subtly or not so subtly, we give them negative messages or view them in ways that limit them or define them as less than they can be.  Our kids self-perceptions are heavily influenced by us.  We owe it to them to take time to think through each one, maybe taking a few minutes to write down what are the positive, infinite attributes we see in each child, to remind ourselves of what we want to convey.  Every attribute has its positive side; every incident has its positive angle. It’s up to us to see it in our kids and share with them the beauty and positivity that we see.  May God bless each of us with success in this giant endeavor.

Rippling Out

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

Although the Temple is not standing right now and the priests, descendants of Aaron, are not able to fully fulfill their birthright mission, there is still much to learn from their obligations.  In Leviticus 16:17, Aaron is told to bring sacrifices to gain atonement for himself, his household, and the whole Jewish nation. First himself.  Then his household.  Then the nation.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that before one can attempt to change the world, one must first change his smaller sphere of influence, his family. Before he can even change his family, he must change himself. 

It’s a powerful moment, as our children grow, when a parent realizes he can’t change or control his child.  My child chooses at each moment how he wants to live his lifeit’s his life, not mine.  I, as a parent, have to recognize that I only have the ability to change myself. By witnessing my development and my improvement my child may be influenced to change.

In a book describing the life of an exemplary Jewish woman who recently passed away, it describes that when her child struggled with something like getting up on time for prayer, this woman wouldn’t go wake him. Instead she would go pray for him. 

When we notice areas we’d like our children to improve in, let’s work on improving ourselves in those areas.  Our circle of influence ripples outwards from ourselves, the center.  When we change, those ripples move through everyone around us allowing them to change too.

The Kohen Gadol, the High Priest atoned for himself, his family, and then his nation.  If we begin to purify ourselves, we end up with a purified family and a purified nation, but it has to go in that order.

The Not-Straight-A Report Card

June 21st, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

It is the end of the school year, which means that scores of children are bringing their final report cards home to their parents.  While one hopes that the image of the stern father overlooking the many ‘A’ s while focusing on the lone ‘C’ is apocryphal, there is no denying the myriad subjects in which most students are expected to excel.

Writing in the New York Times, opinion writer Margaret Renkl recently observed, “School is the only place in the world where you’re expected to excel at everything, and all at the same time. In real life, you’ll excel at what you do best and let others excel at what they do best.”

These are powerful words. As I look back at my elementary and high school classmates, some of the most successful among us were not honor students. Whether we measure success by income, public achievement, community involvement or having happy and fulfilled family lives, some of the best students certainly seem to be successful—but then so do some of the least scholastic. Even if we measure by professional and academic success alone, a classmate who struggled to maintain a barely passing average may very well be at the top of his or her field. After all, you can be a brilliant chemist who has trouble writing a coherent paragraph or a best-selling author who thinks that the San Juan Islands are in Puerto Rico. However, a D in English or geography is not going to give you a superlative report card.

I’m all in favor or getting a broad education. At the same time, let’s remember that school is an artificial environment which shares only a partial resemblance to the rest of life.

Saying Too Much?

June 17th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

As mothers, we sometimes talk from morning till night, whether we are saying, “Look at that beautiful butterfly,” to a two-year-old or, “Be back by ten,” to our teenager. Leviticus 25:7 provides a word of advice no matter what age group we’re dealing with. The Hebrew, via ancient Jewish wisdom translates as, “You shall not cause pain to your fellow with hurtful speech, and you shall fear your God, for I am Hashem your God.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that this means that we are not allowed to speak to someone in ways that will cause him or her pain because of the tremendous value of Shalom, peace, between people.  Here is my rough translation of one oral tradition transmitter’s comments:

And this mitzvah (commandment) also applies to children, and to one’s sons and daughters, that one should be careful to not cause them too much pain with our words, except for what they greatly need for their development, and one who is lenient with them so as not to cause them pain in this way, will find life, blessing, and honor.

Wow!  This sage is giving an immense blessing specifically to parents who are cautious not to speak hurtfully to their children!

Now of course he is not saying that this commandment negates the obligation of raising our children properly, or that we don’t have to sometimes speak to our children in ways that will be painful for them.  However, I think it is a fascinating reminder to us to be careful in what we say and how we say, it especially when correcting our children.

I don’t know how this will apply to each of you, but I’d like to share what I practically took out of this idea today.  Sometimes when I rebuke or speak harshly to my children I find that I say more than I need to.  Maybe this sounds familiar?  We might use three sentences where one would have been adequate.  Or bring an issue up again a few hours later after the situation is over and finished?  Sometimes, especially when we’re emotionally riled up by whatever is going on we say more than necessary or say it more frequently than needed.  For today, this is what I’d like to share with you:

“Don’t cause pain with hurtful speech.”

Within our families, with our children, let’s try today to focus on this mitzvah, to bite our tongues. Even when it is necessary to point out something that needs correction, we can make an effort to do so in a manner that is short and sweet.

Dragons in Bureaucratic Clothing

June 16th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 1 comment

Gazing at their newborns, most parents are ready to slay evil ogres and behead fire-breathing dragons to keep their precious new baby safe. Unfortunately, over the years, the perils facing their child will rarely appear in such easily recognizable forms.  Instead they will often be cloaked in commonly accepted norms and standard practices.

How many young mothers today shake their heads condescendingly at the memory of their own great-grandmothers meticulously preparing bottles of formula? Yet the prevailing notion of that day was that scientifically engineered nutrition was better than breastfeeding. The trick is not to feel superior but instead to ask what might be today’s equally foolish and unsupportable fallacies.

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Vacuous Vacation or Summer Holiday?

June 3rd, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 8 comments

Marrying a man born and raised in the British Empire, who speaks “authentic” English expanded my vocabulary. While some words, like queue, made it into my daily speech, others, like bonnet for the hood of the car, never did.

But there is one British word that I have gladly adopted and think is much more joyful and suitable than its American counterpart. I love the way that the British go on holiday rather than vacation. After all, vacation focuses on what you are leaving behind. You are vacating work or school or your daily routine. Holiday is full of mystique and charm, focusing on thrilling activities that will take the place of everyday life.

Holidays are distinct from “holy” days, set aside by religious or even civic duty. When Arthur Ransome titled one of his children’s books, Winter Holiday, he wasn’t talking of Christmas, but rather of what Americans might call winter break. Not surprisingly, as a winter holiday it was not used for going to the dentist, watching TV and sleeping late but instead was a period of adventure and excitement for the protagonists of his story. You might sleep away a break but who would so mistreat a holiday?

There is another dimension to this seemingly minor vocabulary difference. When you vacate or take a break from something, there is an implication that it is a burden you are happy to shrug off. In contrast to that, a holiday means that there is a fleeting (after all holidays can’t last forever) opportunity on the calendar. A subtle point, perhaps, but subtleties can have big impact.

So, as students come to the end of their school year, I don’t want to wish them a happy vacation. Anyone with a few unencumbered days should have plans to execute, ideas to implement, and dreams to realize. If imaginations are too shriveled to think beyond the ordinary, I would suggest tossing the electronics and investing in copies of some classic British children’s literature like that of Richmal Crompton, Enid Blyton, E. Nesbit, and of course, Arthur Ransome. Expand your vocabulary as you read them aloud to your children on a blanket at the beach or park. After all, how often do holidays come around?

 

Take Time to Make Time

June 3rd, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

Our son celebrated his bar-mitzvah this past Shabbat, which included reading aloud in synagogue from the weekly Torah portion. His portion began with the words,  “If you walk in the way of my laws,” Leviticus 26:3.  The obvious question is why the Torah uses the word  ‘walk’?  Ancient Jewish wisdom says that this phrase is referring to Torah study.  How is walking part of studying Torah? 

We can learn an answer to this question from the behavior of King David.  David, like mothers, had many competing demands on his time.  He was the king of the nation and had national, political and military decisions to make.  He was also a Jew who carried his own personal obligation of Torah and self-development.  How did he balance the competing demands? 

The answer is that each morning instead of just waking up and starting to tackle his to-do items, King David would go to the Torah study hall to gather his thoughts.  There, in the study hall, he would organize his schedule for the day and decide how much time to devote in each part of the day to each of his responsibilities.  By making these scheduling decisions in the inspiring atmosphere of the study hall he was able to prioritize more effectively and leave more time for Torah study in his day than he would otherwise have had.  So in essence, walking to the appropriate place to plan his schedule led to more spirituality in his day. This is one of the reasons that walking in the ways of God is the introduction to this section of the Torah.

You and I probably can’t go to a study hall as we plan our day each morning with our cups of coffee.  But we can learn not only the importance of planning our days and schedules but doing it within the context of a spiritual connection. This will help us align our priorities correctly and schedule accordingly.  For me, spending time each morning, not just praying, but taking a few minutes in my room for what my children call, “Mommy’s private prayers,” gives me a chance to connect to God, orient, and center myself, and think through my day with my head in the right space.  When I come out from my private time I feel more prepared to tackle the many items on my calendar for the day wisely and well. 

We can all learn this lesson: taking the time to plan our daily schedules within a context of connection to God will enable us to focus on what is truly important to us and must be in our schedule, and which items can be dropped or delayed on each day.

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