Posts in Practical Parenting

First Connect – Then Direct

April 2nd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

The first verse of the entire book of Leviticus seems to have a superfluous phrase.  It begins, “And He called to Moses, and God (God) spoke to him.”  One classic transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom from the 11th century focuses on that the extra phrase.  Why did God call to Moses before He spoke to him? What is that calling? 

The answer is truly mind-opening both in our relationship with God and with our children.  For all statements, and for all sayings, and for all commands that God gave to the Jewish nation, God preceded the instruction with a “calling,” which is a language of affection, a verbal expression love.  And here, at the beginning of God speaking to Moses from the newly constructed Tabernacle, is the right place to let us know that every time God spoke to Moses, He got his attention first by calling to him with love.

Ancient Jewish wisdom gives us a bit more detail.  Each time God was going to speak with Moses, He didn’t just start commanding him.  First God would call “Moses, Moses” and Moses would answer “Here I am,” “Here I am,” and after that God would speak to him about the commandments.

What I love about this idea is two-fold.  Firstly, the reminder that commandments are not cold, calculated commands, but rather each one stems from an expression of God’s love for us.  But secondly, and of vital importance for us mothers to know: God is modeling for us how to give directions and instructions to our children.  First connect. Then direct.

Imagine this.  Or if you’re brave you can try it yourself.  Picture a family of small children at the playground.  The kids are totally involved and focused on their games and activities and their mother is totally focused on her friends or her phone.  All of a sudden she looks at her watch, sees that it’s dinnertime and calls to her kids, “Children! Come off the playground now. It’s time to go home.”  Often, that won’t go over so well.

Now picture the alternative.  The children are playing, totally engrossed in their activities.  The mother may be talking to her friends, but she is watching her children, making eye contact, smiling at them, and being generally responsive to them. The mother looks at her watch, sees it’s time to go, but before giving the command, she walks over to her children, looks them in the eyes, calls each one by name, and connects with love.  Maybe she takes a moment to ask them if they’re having fun, or what their favorite activity was, or maybe she shares with them what she noticed them doing that looked like fun.  After 15 seconds of connection she says the exact same thing as the first mother. “Children!  It’s time to go home.” 

If you can’t imagine the difference I beg you to try it.  Children who have been collected by their mother emotionally with warmth and love are ready to be instructed and directed, and they respond naturally and positively to that direction.

This is what we learn from the very first sentence.  Before God spoke to Moses with an instruction, He always began with calling him with love and connection.  This tool is a powerful strategy for parents.  For today, try calling your child by name, making eye contact, smiling, giving warmth and love, before asking him to do something.  You may think this will take too much time, but my experience has been that it actually saves time, because a child so instructed is usually happy to run and obey his parent right away.

Let me know how it goes!

Who’s Your Tami?

March 31st, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

My children grew up before my husband and I got this parenting thing down pat, but we did get a few things right. One of them was forming strong relationships with other adults whom we were happy to have in our children’s lives.

I don’t remember how old I was when I observed that childhood ritual of running away from home. Old enough to cross (rather quiet and one-way) streets myself and young enough that I have a feeling I was influenced to leave home by an episode the Andy Griffith Show. The details remain hazy, but off I went from the place where I was obviously unappreciated and misunderstood.

The challenge when running away from home is where to go. I had the perfect solutionmy aunt and uncle who lived only a few blocks away. I had no doubt they would take me in, feed me, and make me comfortable. As you can imagine, my parents were fine with this. They knew I’d be safe with my mother’s oldest brother and his wife, who was one of my mother’s closest friends as well as her sister-in-law. In other words, everyone was happy.

Neither my husband nor I had siblings living near us for most of our children’s younger years, but we did have friends. Some of those friends became life-rafts for the times when our children needed an adult confidant who wasn’t their mother or father. Tami, in particular, served that role for a number of our kids. She was kind and loving, fashionable and ‘with it’, and despite a busy professional and social calendar, she seemed to have endless time to listen to the not-yet-grown-up set. Her husband Marty, a good friend who wisely married Tami, also adored and welcomed our kids.

Tami and Marty never betrayed our children’s confidences or called to share amusing stories they may have heard. At the same time, my husband and I knew that if anything truly serious or alarming happened, she and her husband would deal with it correctly and involve us if necessary. They weren’t usurping our role but rather supporting it.

I recently read an article that quoted a few mothers explaining that they never let their kids go on sleepovers. In some cases, they based this decision on bad experiences when they themselves were young. In others it was fear after hearing too many horrible stories of adults or older siblings and cousins who seemed honorable and good and turned out to be predators.

I get the fear. I don’t know how to make the right judgment call. But I do know that there is a cost to restricting our children’s trusting and being comfortable with other adults. Those are the very people we need our children to turn to when they are troubled and down and for whatever the reason, look to seek guidance from someone other than Mommy and Daddy.

The Joy of Sadness

March 24th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

Ancient Jewish wisdom draws a connection between two months of the Jewish year that at first glance seem to stand in opposition to each other. We are told:  Just as when [the month of] Av enters, our joy is diminished, so too, when [the month of] Adar enters, our joy increases.

A connection and equality of sorts is made between the sadness of the month of Av, when both Temples were destroyed, and the joy of Adar, when the redemption of Purim took place.  Why?  I would like to share with you a thought I had on this.  Please know that I did not see a source for learning this lesson and I am not saying that this is what ancient Jewish wisdom is trying to teach us, simply, this is what came to my mind when thinking of this saying.

In the last month I have heard from several administrators in different schools that the line they hear most frequently from parents of their students is, “I just want my child to be happy.”  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Of course they want their children to be happy!  They’re not evil people!  But the truth is, if a parent’s goal is for his or her child to be happy, now, in their childhood, they’re  really not doing their best to align their child up for a lifetime of happiness.  In order to feel joy, we also need another part of our calendar cycle to instill in us the feelings of grief and sadness.  We can’t just experience happiness. To feel joy we also have to be open to feeling all the other emotions that are part of the human experience.

It isn’t easy to parent a child who is feeling grief, anxiety, fear, shame, or any other negative emotion, but it is important to let our children experience those feelings, to let them fall and fail but be there with them to help them get up again and process their feelings.  A child who is allowed to struggle and feel negative feelings, will be truly capable of feeling positive feelings of accomplishment, pride and joy.  Adar can’t exist without Av.  They’re related. We need to be capable of feeling each emotion at the right time, and we need to allow our children to experience all those emotions too, with our loving support.  It doesn’t work to say, “I just want my child to be happy!”

We also need to acknowledge how challenging it is on us as parents to help a child work through difficult feelings.  It can take a lot out of us and that’s normal and okay.  The important thing is not to dodge that responsibility because it is too hard or painful but to get ourselves the support we need while we parent unhappy children.  When a child of mine is going through something difficult, that may be when I need to make my life simpler, cut things out of my schedule, and ask for help because the reality is that parenting a child who is suffering is time-consuming, draining, and challenging.  But it is still necessary and valuable.  We have to help ourselves be able to help our children in their good times and their bad times, in the Adar of their lives and in the Av of their lives because we learn to live with joy by also feeling pain.

Memories or Remembrances

March 24th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Fine restaurants pay as much attention to the way the food looks on the plate as they do to how it tastes. When you’re charging a lot for a meal, every aspect matters. At home, while I don’t glop food onto a plate in an unsightly mess, neither do I spend time creating radish spirals or decorating our supper plates with blackberry coulis.  We will be quite happy if the taste is fantastic.

On the other hand, you know those pictures of food in magazines that make you drool? The sight of melted chocolate dripping down the side of the cake tickles your salivary glands and the spoon caressing the whipped cream makes you want to dig right in? When it comes to food photography, you actually don’t want to taste the product. That frothy cappuccino may actually be composed of foaming hand soap and the rich syrup  on those pancakes might be made from motor oil. What you see isn’t what you want.

That lesson is incredibly relevant to parenting. Surprisingly often, we have to choose between a meaningful experience versus one that looks great but lacks substance. As a preschool teacher, my friend Hannah’s students’ projects never looked as good as those of other classes. That’s because her four-year-olds actually did the work themselves. She didn’t guide their hands as they glued and she didn’t touch up their drawings. If the owl’s beak ended up where its eye was intended to go, so be it. The finished projects meant for parents’ refrigerators may not have won awards, but the kids in her class loved being there and by the end of the year they had acquired important skills.

As we all have cameras and video machines readily available in our phones, school performances have lost much of their charm. Little children looking at the rows of parents perched at the back of the room don’t see their proud mothers’ smiles or their fathers’ loving gazes. Instead their parents’ faces are covered by machinery. And those machines are largely focused on them, sending the incorrect message that the other children with whom they’ve been practicing are unimportant and irrelevant. The fun of presenting the show is diminished for the sake of being able to show how wonderful it was.

Sometimes, we just have to choose between creating real memories or building contrived remembrances. The picture snapped of the child we forced into what we thought was an adorable outfit even though he hated wearing it (yes, I have one of those pictures), the smile that came out only because we bribed our daughter with a candy if she pretended to be having fun, the precious moments we missed as we focused on freezing them for eternity may all look wonderful but in actuality be a breathtaking looking but completely inedible feast.

No Results Guaranteed

March 17th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 4 comments

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

The book of Exodus ends with the completion and assembly of the Tabernacle.  The description of assembling the materials, building the vessels, and sewing the tapestries and clothing for the Priests are in the active tense, “and he made,” “and he placed,” with one exception.  Verse 40:17 says,  “And it was in the first month of the second year on the first of the month that the Tabernacle was erected.”  The actual assembly of the Tabernacle is said in a passive voice, “was erected.”

Why? Ancient Jewish wisdom describes that after the children of Israel brought all the components of the Tabernacle to Moses it was time to assemble it.  God wanted to give Moses the honor of actually assembling the Tabernacle but the planks and pieces were so huge and heavy that Moses knew it was impossible for a human being to lift them and put them in place.

As ancient Jewish wisdom beautifully states, Moses said before God, “How can it be erected by a human being?” 

God said to him, “You do your part—make an attempt so it looks as if you’re doing it, and it will rise and be assembled by itself.”

And that is why the verse says, “…the Tabernacle was erected” in a passive voice. It assembled itself.

Wow!  I’m going to share with you an idea that I would have rejected as a mother of young children, but has become very dear to me as they have grown older.  We put in our effort.  We make an enormous effort to parent well, to be good mothers.  And that is our responsibility. We have to make our attempts. To the rest of the world it may look as if we are raising our children!  But the truth is that just as it appeared as if Moses was lifting the Tabernacle and it was really happening independently of him, the development of our children is really independent of us.  The outcome of how our children turn out, what type of person they become—that is up to God. 

I have a friend who went to speak to a Torah scholar about one of her children who was born with innate behavioral challenges. Despite years of various efforts and therapies, my friend was still very concerned about what would be with this child in adulthood.  The Torah sage told her, “That’s not your concern.  You put in your effort to be a good mother.  You make an effort to research doctors, providers, and treatments within reason, and that is all!  What will be with him and who he will become is not dependent on your actions.  That is up to God.” 

Our children’s successes are not due to us, and our children’s struggles and failures are not ours either.  Our job as mothers is about effort;  the outcome is independent of us and dependent on God (and the child’s own input).

This is really a mind-blowing idea and it may not resonate with each of you, and that’s okay.  For me, it resonates.  We put in our best efforts, do our best and have faith in God who can bring about the results without our help, in the same way as the Tabernacle was assembled.

Family and Work or Work and Family?

March 12th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 6 comments

As so often happens in life, I had two starkly different experiences within close proximity of each other. Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a wonderful woman who passed away at 93 years young. I was fortunate to sit near her in synagogue and at a weekly Torah class for the past few years and sharing a greeting and a few comments with her always gave me a lift.

As he eulogized his mother, her son provided some context for those who, like me, knew his mother as a vital, active, loving senior but who hadn’t known her in her younger years. He spoke of his mother going to work as a secretary in order for his parents to afford a private Jewish education for him. When she was directed to post an ad for a regional sales manager, she told her boss that she could do the job. Although in those years a woman sales manager was highly unusual, he gave her the chance to prove herself, which she proceeded to do. Yet, as her son pointed out, while she certainly took satisfaction in her work, the goal of working was to build her family and its future. Family and faith were always the priority. Yesterday, about sixty of her descendants paid loving tribute to that choice. 

Today, wanting to get a feel for what the general culture is offering, I tuned into a podcast aimed at young mothers. The hosts of the show were interviewing a successful writer who has two children, an infant and a toddler. The guest made the point that it is vital to get as much help as one can during the fleeting years that one has small children, so that one can retain focus on one’s career. After all, she said, (and I’m paraphrasing), your career is going to be the entire rest of your life.

Being able to choose to hire childcare so that one can focus on work is, of course, a privileged woman’s option. Mothers who are working so that there will be food on the table and a roof over their family’s head do not have that choice. But, the bottom line is, that while working for money and family may need to co-exist for many mothers, there is a subtle and not-so-subtle difference in how one lives based on which is the priority. Do we take time off from work in order to have children or do we take time away from our children in order to work?

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…)

X