Posts in Practical Parenting

Olive Oil and Resilience

March 5th, 2019 Posted by Your Mother's Guidance 1 comment

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

Exodus 27:20 provides the direction to crush olives to prepare clear olive oil to use in the Tabernacle.  The children of Israel are often compared to olive oil.  One of these ways is that just as olives need to be pressed and crushed before they release their oil, the Jewish nation also reveals its beauty and greatness after going through periods of pressure.  History bears this out, where times of tragedy and oppression have led directly to periods of great spiritual greatness.  After the destruction of the Second Temple came a huge period of Torah learning as happened also after the Crusades.

We know this to be true in our own lives as well.  I, and I’m sure you too, can look back on periods of great difficulty with gratitude.  We know that we have become stronger, bigger, better people by going and growing through hardships.  Rabbi Hauer in Baltimore calls this Post Traumatic Growth Syndrome. He connects it to the month in which Purim falls, Adar, versus the month of Passover, Nissan. In Nissan the Passover redemption happens miraculously and completely.  Adar is more complicated. After Haman’s plot is uncovered Esther tragically remains in the king’s palace and the Jews remain in exile.  Sometimes we have to work through difficulties to reach complete redemption.

I believe that this concept is important to remember as mothers.  Often the “mama bear” instinct is so strong in us, that we may want to shield our children from pain or stress.  Yet, our tradition, as well as current research on resilience, or grit, stress the importance of even children persevering through difficulties and bearing discomfort to come out stronger.  I recently had the opportunity to talk with school administrators who shared that due to parents complaining whenever their children feel uncomfortable because of their school workload, they respond by continually lightening the curriculum.

I know it’s painful to watch our children in pain, and I really hope you don’t misunderstand me.  I am not promoting hurting our children!  Yet, by allowing them to persevere and struggle through discomfort, we are giving them the greatest gift.  We are helping them recognize that they have tremendous strength and resources, that they have God’s help and love, as well as our own, and that we believe in their ability to rise above their circumstances.  We can build resilience in our children, but not by shielding them from discomfort.

Let’s try to share our own resilience and experience with our children.  We can share with them a challenge we faced in our day and how we were able to work through it.  We can share with them the strategies that helped us work through our challenge. We can share how we felt during that difficulty, and how we feel at the end of it.  We can model that pressure and discomfort lead to growth and greatness, just as the pressed olive, yields pure oil that can illuminate the Tabernacle’s Menorah (candelabra).

What Are Your Limits?

March 1st, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Have you read, as I have, of church services in colonial times where very young children were expected to sit quietly for hours on end? Perhaps for entertainment a little girl was given a piece of cloth shaped into a doll, but basically sitting still was demanded. Forget getting up and running around —fidgeting was taboo!

I don’t know how true these accounts are, but I sometimes wonder why we can’t even imagine our three-year-olds being motionless for an extended period. Does our children’s level of activity have to do with antibiotics in our milk and meat supply and other chemical changes in our surroundings? Or is this a case of a lowering of social expectations? After all, few adults today are comfortable sitting with their own thoughts. Would a teen today find it far-fetched to believe that children used to sit on car rides for hours doing nothing other than looking out of the window?

Is a baby born today physically different from one born a few centuries ago? Is he different from one born today into a foreign country and culture where the expectations vary? The nature vs. nurture argument is never-ending because both elements contribute to human development.

A classmate of mine had a brother who was ten years older than us. He often scoffed at her schoolwork  complaints, claiming that the teachers (who had been his as well) were going easy on us. He was probably accurate. Standards do seem, in general, to be getting lower and lower. College students today would fail many an eighth-grade test from seventy years ago.

We can debate whether sitting still for a long time or knowing how to mentally calculate percentages are necessary and useful skills. (Yes, they are.) There are certainly many child-raising customs that none of us think back upon nostalgically. But, I do wonder if it would even be possible to expect fulfillment of some things that were considered standard and normal in the past.

We actually have no idea what our capabilities are. When we see a gymnast contort her body or a spelling champion familiarize herself with thousands of words, we marvel at what they can do but don’t expect the same of ourselves. And, certainly, we each have individual strengths, weaknesses and barriers to achievement. Nevertheless, it is intriguing to think what would happen if we stretched our demands of ourselves and our children just beyond what we think is possible? Might we actually rise to the challenge?

A Child’s Coat; a Mother’s Love

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

A Your Mother’s Guidance post by Rebecca Masinter

Exodus 28 details the clothing that the Priests and High Priest wore while doing the service in the Tabernacle and Temple.  The Torah describes them as “Bigdei Kodesh” “holy clothing”  because of their function of being worn in holy service. I’d like to share with you another instance in Scripture of holy clothing and this one came about through a mother’s love!

I learned this many years ago from Rabbi Meir Prengler, currently of Los Angeles, and it was so powerful and beautiful that it stuck with me. 

When Hannah brought Samuel to serve in the Tabernacle under the priest, Eli, she was giving up her beloved son obtained miraculously after years of childlessness.  Out of her great love for her son, Samuel,  she made him a special coat – a meil, so he would have something of hers with him even when they were apart (I Samuel 2:19). 

With each stitch she sewed, she imbued the coat with her love, and a mother’s love is eternal.  This explains why the coat grew with Samuel as he grew, and even remained his after his death.  Later,  after Samuel died, King Saul needed to talk to him from beyond the grave and how did Saul identify Samuel?  The man with the coat (I Samuel 28:14).

Rabbi Prengler told us that the great love that Chana instilled in this coat made it an item of holiness, so spiritual that it even surpassed death.  We can’t begin to comprehend the power of our actions or the effect that our love has and will continue to have on our children. The truth is that a mother’s love is powerful beyond belief.

Eleanor’s Eleven Keys to a More Fulfilling Life

February 21st, 2019 Posted by Reading Recommendations, Susan's Musings 29 comments

Have you noticed how many books have a number in the title, like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People?  Or how many articles are enticingly entitled “The Top 5 Reasons We Fall Out of Love”?  We human beings love lists. Who wouldn’t be smitten with the idea that if I only do these seven or ten or fifteen things, my life will be better, my marriage will be stronger and my career will flourish? Of course, it is easier to read the ideas than to put in the hard work of executing them. And, of course, no list—even the most marvelous one—hits every area every time.

I recently read a book from decades ago, with a subtitle that still resonates today. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, one of America’s most admired women, wrote You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life only a few years before her death (decades after her husband’s presidency). The advice she gives holds up rather well, though I think she would be shocked to discover that by today’s standards she might very well be considered a hard-core conservative rather than an icon of the Democrat Party.

(more…)

Frustrate Your Child Today

February 18th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 4 comments

The above words may not sound as nice as, “Do a random act of kindness today,” but they may be just as important. Stick with me as I make a case for following them. First, let me give you a few suggestions how to go about accomplishing this aim:

  1. Make clear that the newest, greatest, best birthday present they ever received will not be available for use until a hand-written thank-you card is ready for mailing.
  2. Respond to the words, “I’m bored,” with a grateful smile and a broom or mop.
  3. Meticulously follow through on carefully thought out statements such as, “Any clothing/shoes/toys/stuff left lying around the living room after bedtime will be quarantined for seven days.
  4. Present an age-appropriate poem to each child (and adult) and pick a date where only those who recite their poems will be invited to a family ice-cream social. Be flexible here and allow everyone to pick his or her poem as long as it meets approval. (The poem Fleas: Adam had ‘em should not be admissible for anyone over two-years-old.)
  5. Have a policy that unless there are the type of extenuating circumstances that occur no more than once a year,  whining never turns a no into a yes, a yes into a no, or a whining child into a quiet one watching a video or playing a game on your phone.
  6. Refuse to complain to your child’s teacher because the work is too hard unless your grandmother would have complained to your mother’s teacher over similar work. (In other words, the 8X table does need to be memorized.)

I think you get the idea.

Life frustrates babies and toddlers. They cannot communicate as well as they would like to and learning to walk automatically includes a great deal of falling and bumped heads. Generally, babies aren’t able to control their lives very much. The good news is that we can’t fix their deficiencies. We can certainly smooth the way by understand their abilities, clearing obstacles from their path, and setting routines in place that help them thrive, but we cannot yell at the pediatrician because our six-month-old isn’t walking or expressing himself in full sentences. If we saw a mother who never let her child try to crawl or walk out of fear of the child falling, we wouldn’t applaud her but hope that she found a mothering mentor. And when, after lots of failed attempts, an upright little one navigates his way across the room or builds a tower of blocks that stands, his beaming face tells us that the reward is a function of the effort.

As our children get older, their frustrations come less from the tremendous physical and physiological growth they are undergoing and more from character, intellectual and self-discipline development. Yet—and this is true for adults as well—without hitting limitations, being frustrated and overcoming those hurdles, they and we do not grow.

A thirteen-month-old crying in frustration raises our sympathies or, at least, our understanding. For the most part, we can deal with him. We can distract him or hold him or put him in his crib to fall asleep. Assuming a healthy child in a healthy atmosphere we can be pretty sure that today’s challenge will disappear over the next few weeks.

An older child yelling in frustration often scares or angers us. She may blame us for her unhappiness or demand that we fix things. After all, no one else’s parents demand written thank-you notes rather than a quick text, the other teachers let their students use calculators and everyone else her age is allowed to own a smart phone. We are the problem.

Responding in kind by yelling back and threatening punishment or, alternatively, complaining to her coach or teacher may provide temporary relief, but long-term damage. Clearing the roadblock by letting her drop a class or even by arranging prematurely for a tutor, teaches that she cannot help herself and find her own solutions. It sets her up for a life of passivity and failure rather than the joy of accomplishment.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that frustrating your child should be the sole guiding path in your parenting. But in a milieu of love and support, staying out of the way and letting our children fall down, bump their heads and get up and try again can be one of the kindest actions we take.

Everyone Needs to Give

February 12th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

A “Your Mother’s Guidance” post by Rebecca Masinter

In the Sinai desert, the Tabernacle was the place where human beings could get closest to God.  Building it was a project for everyone—no exceptions.  Everyone in the nation contributed to it.

In our homes, we often have different people with different strengths, weaknesses, and contributions to make.  Just as the Tabernacle needed to come from men and women, leaders and laymen, our homes are also built when everyone has a role and can contribute and be a giver in his or her own way. 

Here’s the kicker: it’s not that the Tabernacle needed to come from everyone as much as that everyone needed to build the Tabernacle.  The Israelites were fresh from generations of slavery and poverty and needed to see themselves as people with great resources and skills.  By having all the Jews contribute to the Tabernacle, God was showing them their abilities, wealth, and talents.  Through being givers of such magnitude, they could recognize their worthiness and value.

There are two ways we can ask for help in our homes.  One is focused on our need,

“I need help.  I’m overwhelmed.  Can you do x, y, or z?” 

That is not bad or wrong and is certainly sometimes the reality.  But think for a moment of the same help being contributed but with a whole different attitude.  What if it’s not about me, it’s about my kids? It’s important for our children to know they have worth, resources, skills, and talents that contribute to our families.  What if I ask my child for help not because I desperately need it, but because my child needs to give? 

When we need help in the moment we tend to ask the one who is most capable or easily available, but in truth, it’s a good idea for us to think proactively about what each child can contribute and how we can make that happen in the best times in the best way.  Here’s a simple example: for many years I have kept a lightweight battery operated vacuum cleaner in the kitchen.  This vacuum can easily be operated by a 3 year old and it is a real help to have my kitchen floor cleaned!  I also store dishes in bottom cupboards to allow younger children to unload dishwashers and set the table. 

My older kids also need me to think through how I can facilitate their contributing.  The older they get the less frequently they’re home!  But even my high school son who’s rarely home knows that he is a huge contributor to our family; we need him and count on him.

Finally, it may not be easy or obvious to figure out how a particularly challenging kid can be a meaningful contributor to the family.  This child needs it even more than the others!  We have to see and believe in his strengths and give him the responsibility to contribute positively to our family, so that he can begin to believe in himself and his abilities too.  The lessons from the Tabernacle are so profound! No one is exempt.  Everyone needs to be a giver, and everyone has what to contribute. By giving, we all, in actuality, receive far, far more.

Book Recommendations: Navigating Early and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

February 11th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

I am rather excited at finding not one but two books to recommend for pre-teen and teenage boys. Girls will enjoy these books too, but I find that a disproportionate number of fiction books cater to girls and frequently many boys aren’t interested in them.

I assume that I picked up the first on someone’s recommendation, because the title would not have enticed me. I’m sorry I don’t remember who it was so I could direct my appreciation their way. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster might be a title that you too would overlook, but in my opinion it is worth serious perusal.

Jonathan Auxier crafts a gripping story that is, in his words, “a tangled knot of fantasy and fact.” He inserts the legend of the golem—a creature brought to life by Rabbi Loew in 1500s Prague to protect the Jewish community from vicious anti-Semitism—into the life of a young female chimney sweep in Victorian England. The book provides fertile ground for a homeschooling unit study and I hope you will consider it as a read-aloud that might spark numerous important conversations with your child.

The second book I heartily recommend is Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. While all children are different, my teenage grandson who read this on his own did not enjoy it while his younger siblings (ten and up) who heard it as a read-aloud by their mom loved it. I can’t stress often enough how a well done reading aloud experience can transform a complex, sometimes confusing, story into a gem. Like Sweep, Navigating Early inserts serious topics, in this case, autism, resilience, and appreciating those who are different into an adventurous tale.

Though both these books touch on important issues, they are enjoyable reads that include wonderful story-telling and language. I’d love to hear what you think of these books and whether you agree with me that they deserve a place on your bookshelf.

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

 

Alexa and the Next Generation

February 5th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

The temperature last week was frigid. When my great-grandmother, or perhaps great-great-grandmother, was growing up, someone in the household used to awake and build a fire so that the rest of the family could have at least minimal warmth in which to get dressed. I am immensely grateful that all I have to do is press a button on a thermostat to be more comfortable than my ancestors could even imagine.

This is to say that I do not nostalgically want to return to days of yore. However, having just spent two days in an Alexa-filled home, I am not sold on the technologically brilliant invention’s overall benefit, particularly where children are involved.

Other than on Shabbat, during which Alexa was thankfully silenced, the machine was a constant presence though my son-in-law may have used it more than usual in order to tease me. Let’s start with the idea that I am breaking precedence by calling Alexa “it.” As the machine’s name implies, we are meant to think of her as “she.” It has a female voice and since having a machine listen to every word you say and being omnipresent is creepy, perhaps that encourages seeing this intrusive computer as a benign fairy godmother. (I still found it creepy.)

Alexa turns lights on and off, plays music on demand, tells the outside temperature and performs a host of other actions. Those of us who grew up in the olden days—say, more than five years ago—find it odd, but to my three-year-old grandson, it is normative. His parents are concerned that the polite phrases they usually require from him, like please and thank-you, must be dropped when speaking to Alexa. It is a real concern. It is incredibly cute to hear him say, “Alexa, turn on the kitchen light,” but it is also incredibly cute when little children attempt to call their parents by their first names. Cute, but not something to encourage. 

I doubt that calling out a command like a Grand Pooh-bah rather than walking over to a light switch is going to automatically result in a generation of lazy and insensitive slackers. Perhaps, it is simply one of modern life’s blessings. I in no way have the industriousness and strength of my great-grandparents. Physically getting through the day in their times was difficult and challenging in ways I can’t even imagine. Weaker people didn’t thrive and often didn’t survive. Is Alexa simply an extension of electricity, running water and automatic heat? Or is it different in some troubling way that will only become evident down the road? Even as I write, I just don’t know. If you are raising young children today, you don’t have the luxury of indecision.

Oops! I Didn’t Mean To

February 4th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

Hello!  Exodus 21: 12-13 introduces to us the concept of the cities of refuge.  If a person kills another accidentally, God provides for him a place of refuge where he can run and be sheltered.  God takes into account the motivation of a person, even when he has participated in a most terrible action, that of ending someone’s life!

While the verse about accidental murderer may not seem to directly parallel parenting, it did make me think of how we as mothers can best react when a child does something wrong and immediately claims, “I didn’t mean to!  It was an accident!”  Whether or not we believe ourselves that our child’s intentions were pure, there are compelling reasons for us to give him the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that his intentions were positive.  What are those reasons?

According to developmental psychologist, Gordon Neufeld, our aim as mothers should be to change our children’s minds, not their behavior.  Instead of obsessing over bad behavior, we can solicit our children’s good intentions and their desire to do the right thing even while acknowledging that they can’t always follow through. It seems so much simpler for parents to be behavior focused – use star charts, prizes, or consequences, but those tools aren’t really helping our children develop the values we want them to have in life.  On the other hand, if we help them reach a place of good intentions, our children are aiming in the right direction and that starts the process of them developing their internal sense of right and wrong and strengthens their desire to do right.

You and I know that despite many of our good intentions, we, ourselves, often fall short, but it is the very fact that we are aiming for something meaningful and positive that inspires us to get up and try again and again and again.  By showing our child that we believe in their innate goodness and their desire to do the right thing, even when sometimes they mess up or give in to an urge to do wrong, we are demonstrating our belief in their greatness. 

Accepting their claims of positive intentions or accidental errors, even as they mess up, lets us validate them and help them think through future situations without feeling defensive or shamed.  For example, “I like that you were trying!  This situation didn’t work out the way you were hoping it would, let’s see what we can do to help you do better next time?”

Rabbi Meyer Schwab of Denver explains that although the rest of the tribes of Israel are counted in the desert from the age of 20, the tribe of  Levi is counted from one month old. Why?  Levi served in the Tabernacle directly before God.  They had extremely lofty goals and standards of behavior. When someone knows they are aiming for greatness, you can count on the fact that their education will be successful even while they are still babies. 

If we can come alongside our children’s positive intentions, even while they make mistakes, they will know we believe in their goodness and their intentions to always keep aiming for greatness.

I wish you a day filled with great intentions!

Therapy as First Resort

January 27th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

Have you noticed a number of recent articles encouraging new mothers to consider therapy? Some of the articles reassure pregnant women that various emotions after childbirth are normal and a therapist can help work through them.  Others suggest that preventive therapy is a good idea. Line up someone to talk to so that when you have trouble coping you will have where to turn. The underlying message is that there is no shame in asking for help, a concept that is certainly true.

However, I have the same problem with these articles as I have with the terms, “terrible twos,” or “teenage rebellion.” They frame future occurrences in a negative light. We all know how often self-fulfilling-prophecies come to pass. That is entirely different from recognizing and educating oneself about upcoming physical, emotional and psychological developments and equipping oneself with tools to make these transitional times mostly positive and joyous.

Postpartum depression is a serious condition requiring medical and psychological intervention. Postpartum blues are a different matter altogether and are almost universal. Faced with massive hormonal changes, seriously impaired sleep, the disruption of routine and a new identity among other things, it’s no surprise that new mothers have trouble concentrating and find themselves weepy. This has been so for centuries. Why should women in our day need to pay a professional and fit extra appointments into their schedules, incidentally adding two additional sources of stress into a naturally stressful time?

I don’t have a politically correct answer. All I can suggest that we are structuring society in ways that set us up for difficulties when it comes to family life. We are causing many of our own problems and then providing solutions that may well be needed, but only because of our previous decisions and actions.

What do I mean? Ideally, new mothers should have support. Not only do their bodies need to recuperate from childbirth, but they often have little experience and confidence in their new role.  Watching family members calmly handling the newborn and having someone available to answer questions allows women to adjust. Simply having someone to give a hug and a hot drink can go a long way. Mothers, aunts, sisters and neighbors used to fill that function.  Today, geographical distances between close relatives are often huge and the women who would most naturally move into a caregiving mode are themselves busy earning money. It isn’t usually a question of choice anymore; taxation, the cost of living and a societal structure that presumes women working at an outside job rarely give women the option of helping out even if they yearn to.

Under these circumstances coping with a newborn does become more fraught with tension. It is completely understandable that a therapist might be helpful. Rather than seeing this as a welcome sign of progress, I see it as a sad consequence of years of devaluing the instincts and power of women and motherhood.

X