Posts in Practical Parenting

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

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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.

Journeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking Down to Me

August 7th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 5 comments

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

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

What 4 and 4:30 appointments?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I caught myself.

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

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

So this is what I did yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smile – Your Parents are Watching

August 4th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 4 comments

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

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

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

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

  

Shhh! It’s Private

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Do No Harm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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