Posts in Practical Parenting

Girls in the Locker Room Meet Boys in the Boat

November 26th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Those of us blessed to be born during safe times in prosperous places  grew up with certain illusions. Among them was the confidence that we could plan reliably for our futures. Military veterans, refugees from war-torn countries, and those who have survived a critical medical situation know otherwise. While we can and must make our best personal efforts for a successful life, outside forces  will sometimes derail  us. At that point, we have no choice but to react.

That reality struck me forcefully when I read Daniel James Brown’s book The Boys in the Boat. The young men featured overcame adversity, persevering until they excelled at the sport of rowing. This they did, winning a gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Yet, the book doesn’t end there. Along with other men of their generation, their educational and individual aspirations soon took second place to the task of defeating Adolf Hitler, not in a series of games but in the arena of war. As such, this inspiring and uplifting book ends with the recognition that some of these young men ended up having their futures tragically cut short while those who survived the tumultuous years of World War II had to adjust and realign their plans.

Some threats such as approaching war are readily recognizable. Others—sometimes subtle warning signs of what is to come—are far easier to ignore or miss altogether. Threats are often camouflaged  and human nature makes us expect danger to look similar to how it looked in the past.

For this reason, I am writing to address parents who may not recognize potential perils facing their children. I am going to use one example to make my point, but I strongly urge each mother and father to take time on a regular basis to  ask themselves if anything  similar might be endangering their children. When our children’s physical and emotional health is at stake, waiting for others to sound the alarm and provide guidance isn’t enough. When we are surrounded by Neville Chamberlains, calling us warmongers and telling us that we are exaggerating the dark clouds on the horizon, each of us truly has to decide that the groupthink is correct or we must be willing to serve as our family’s own Winston Churchill—unpopular, derided and scorned until later years prove us right.

The issue that provoked these strong words is the decision of the school district in Palatine, Illinois to allow male and female students to access locker rooms based on “how they feel”. The ACLU helped a ‘transgender student’ bring this suit to the school board and, if you read or listen to many news reports, only the most backward bigots oppose letting children “be who they are”. Conservative news sites at least showed the other side. They featured a girl on the swim team, changing clothes multiple times a day, who is uncomfortable doing so next to a biological male. Yet, even as she squirms with embarrassment, she tries to sound loving and warm towards her fellow student. I assume that is because she has been trained through the years to distrust her own feelings in favor of minority ‘cultural darlings’. For her to be in public school at this point means that her parents, too, have made peace with a step-by-step normalization of views that were universally considered radically extreme only a short while ago. Each of us has to decide which straw will be the one that is too much for us to bear.

I don’t know this individual child or her family and wouldn’t presume to tell them what to do. But, if you are reading this and have not already recognized the unhealthy and insidious nature of society targeting your children, I am speaking to you.  Pulling your child out of school, either to a carefully vetted and chosen private school or to homeschool, may very well not accord with your child’s wishes. It means leaving friends and either being unable to participate in team sports or having to exert tremendous effort to do so. It may mean seriously considering a closer, or a new, attachment to your religion. Private school means added expense and homeschooling usually entails one parent needing to seriously curtail his, or more likely her, earning power. It very well might mean completely changing the trajectory of your family’s life, deviating from the future you so carefully planned.

There is no draft and no rampaging army forcing us to react at this point. Many parents are concerned about the direction society is taking and for this reason are paying attention to politics. That is important, but will not protect our children today. If you read about the increasing mental health issues presenting in our teens and college students, look carefully at what is being promoted in government schools and on college campuses, and contemplate what a different world we are living in, you may well decide that you are in a battle right now and doing nothing is a form of surrender. The stakes for your child and family are high.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

November 26th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

Recently, I found myself with two children who, one right after the other, made identical comments that were not appropriate for that time.  You may or may not be surprised to hear that I responded very differently to each child even though the issue was identical.  Why would I do that?  Well, the same reason you do it!  As any mother or teacher knows, the point of responding is not to get anything off my chest or to play my scripted role and simply say lines that are pre-determined as the response for this particular action.  No.  My response isn’t for my own sake, but for the sake of my child. Therefore, my reaction had to be different to each child because each child is different. Each one needed something different from me in that moment. 

We have a reminder of this principle in chapter 20 of Numbers.  Here, we have the very enigmatic story of God commanding Moses to speak to the rock to bring forth water for the nation. Instead Moses struck the rock, leading to the decree that Moses wouldn’t lead the nation into Israel.  There are so many questions and so many lessons we can learn from this story, but I would like to share just one angle with you today.

Forty years before this point the nation also needed water (Exodus 17), and believe it or not, God commanded Moses to hit the rock to make water flow.  Why was hitting the right response at that time, but 40 years later hitting was inappropriate and talking should have occurred?  What’s the difference? 

The audience is different!  40 years earlier, the children of Israel had just left slavery.  They were just beginning to come together as a spiritual nation and they still, so to speak, spoke the harsh physical language of slavery. Hitting and physical force seemed a natural and appropriate step for people who had just come out of 210 years of physical slavery.  But now, 40 years later, it is a new generation which needs water. This generation has had 40 years of Moses’ leadership and Torah learning, and they are about to enter Israel, a land sensitive to subtle spiritual behaviors.  This generation didn’t need to learn about physical force, they needed to learn how to use subtle and spiritual powers like speech to influence nature. 

This explains why God tells Moses, “Since you HIT the rock rather than speaking to it, you will not lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel”.  The nation needed a different style of leadership at this point in time than the one they needed 40 years earlier.  The desired result was identical—water from a rock, but the response was different because the nation was different and needed to learn something different.

I believe this serves as a powerful reminder to us parents to modulate our responses to each child individually.  One size does not fit all; rather it’s different strokes for different folks!  It’s empowering for our children to know that we speak to each of them individually and treat them individually because they are individuals. We honor and respect their individuality by acknowledging who they are apart from their siblings and trying to give each one what they need from us one by one.   We can ask ourselves before we speak, “What tone of voice, what words, what response does my child need from me right now?” and try to act accordingly. 

Job Description: Willing to Be Unpopular

November 18th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 3 comments

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

Today, I’d like to take a look at the first unpopular stand a Jewish mother took. In Genesis 21, Sarah tells Abraham to banish Yishmael and Hagar from their home.  We tend to think of this as a straightforward decision but the verse tells us that Abraham was deeply pained by Sarah’s stand.  “And the matter was very bad in the eyes of Abraham…” (Gen. 21:11). He didn’t want to send his son Yishmael away.  God stepped in and told Abraham that Sarah was right, but initially at least, Sarah’s decision was made despite the fact that it would cause pain and be uncomfortable.  We aren’t told what young Isaac’s reaction was to losing his older half-brother, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that he may also have been disappointed and not enthusiastically happy the day Yishmael left!

Clearly though, Sarah was right.  Banishing Hagar and Yishmael was necessary for Isaac’s growth and destiny.  The lesson I’d like to look at today is simply that sometimes our job as mothers is to make unpopular decisions.  I just read a fascinating book by Dr. Leonard Sax called The Collapse of Parenting.  [Editor’s note: Yes, this is the same book that I previously recommended. Rebecca and I often share books and appreciate hearing each other’s input.] Over the last three decades as a family physician he witnessed the change in parents’ self-perceived job description.  Parents used to see their role as training children to participate in and contribute to their culture and society.  Now parents’ often stated goal is to make their children happy.  This is a disturbing trend and I think it would be short-sighted to claim that this is only true in the general society, and not in Bible-centric homes.   I think this shift is a reality today that we need to face.

Our job really isn’t to make our children happy.  On the contrary, we need to know and accept that part and parcel of our job is making decisions that make our children unhappy.  Sometimes, we see with our greater life experience and insight that something a child greatly desires is not best or that something painful is beneficial.  Good parents do this all the time from enforcing bedtimes to limiting desserts, playtime, or technology.

What I’d like to point out today is that the benefits to our children when we say no and enforce limits is even greater than they may appear at first.  In addition to the obvious value of getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy food, or whatever the other immediate benefit may be, is the emotional health that only comes from children coming to accept a parent’s decision that goes against their desires.  Developmental psychologists understand the process of children being disappointed and coming to accept situations where they don’t get what they want as necessary and integral for emotional growth and development.  A child who doesn’t experience sadness or doesn’t run up against a wall of parental futility can’t emotionally mature into a healthy adult.

For today, perhaps the lesson we can think about is a message from Sarah first difficult decision.  Sometimes mothers are unpopular.  If we are clear on our goals and values as parents we will know when and how to enforce limits, knowing that parenting is not a popularity contest, and that our children’s maturity and health depend on our ability to say no.

From Abram’s Warriors to Our Children

November 10th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 3 comments

Your Mother’s Guidance by Rebecca Masinter

One of the best-known transmitters of ancient Jewish wisdom, Rashi, gives us a definition of parenting in his remarks on Genesis 14:14.   His words are foundational to our understanding of our role as parents. Abram goes out to rescue his nephew, Lot, who has been taken captive and he takes with him, chanichav, his trainees, or the ones he had been mechanech, educating, in his home.  Rashi helps us out and defines the root of the word chinuch used to describe these people in words that I am roughly translating as, “This word chinuch is a term of the initiation or beginning of a person or tool’s usage in the manner he will continue in for the future, and this is the meaning of King Solomon’s statement, ‘Train a child…’ (Proverbs 22:6).” The Hebrew word in Proverbs, translated as the verb ‘train’ is the same as the noun for those men Abram took with him to war.

And there we have it—the idea that what we’re doing as parents is not scrambling day to day as we try to cope and get through one more bedtime or one more carpool. We are training and equipping our children for their life journey, for the path that is uniquely theirs and that they will continue on their whole lives long.  We see this idea in the verse that Rashi quotes from, “Train or educate a child according to his way.”  This in itself is a meaningful line and is quoted extensively in parenting classes, but it isn’t the entire verse.  The verse ends, “…even when he becomes old he won’t sway from it.”

Have you ever wondered why King Solomon uses the term, “even when he becomes old…”?  Why didn’t he say, even when he grows up or becomes an adult he won’t depart from it?  I think that this insight is at the root of all parenting.  King Solomon knows that chinuch isn’t about what the child will be like when he is 18 or 30, chinuch is about raising a child so that straight through to the end of his life, when he is an old man, he is still on the path his parents started him on.  Chinuch isn’t short sighted; quite the opposite.

The message is that that our task as parents is to begin with the end in mind.  Chinuch involves thinking about what our child’s unique path is that is truly inherent to him and that will carry him through his whole life, and what we need to do to develop, facilitate, and enhance that journey.

Those of you who have been with me on Your Mother’s Guidance for a while know that I really don’t like to share specific parenting how-tos.  I like to share concepts and ideas we can each think about and implement in our own ways for our own families.  The reason gets to this core definition of chinuch.  No two children will have the same life journey.  No two families are even remotely similar, and no one other than the two parents God has entrusted with the responsibility for those children can possibly know what is the right chinuch for that child. 

Mrs. Bruria Schwab once shared with me a lesson from her father who told her that chinuch is compared to a boat.  A boat travels on the ocean on its own path and no other boat can exactly follow the same path.  You can see where a boat is going and try to follow in the same direction, but you will be hit by different currents, winds, and tides, and even if you end up in the same place, you will not have gotten there exactly the same way. 

Parenting is envisioning the end goal for each child. Where can this child be as an old man or woman? What does he need to help him get there?  No two people will be the same.  This truly is the beautiful and crucial job of mothers. 

Find a few minutes to get out of the daily scramble every now and then and tap into the long term picture.  It may be that we will still do many of the same things we do now, but our motives and emotions will be completely different when we’re doing them as parents who are initiating our children onto the path of life that they will continue living long into the future.

2 Book Reviews: Girls on the Edge and The Collapse of Parenting

November 5th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how eye-opening I found Dr. Leonard Sax’s book, Boys Adrift. Since that time, I have read two more of the doctor’s books: Girls on the Edge and The Collapse of Parenting. I highly recommend them both. Let me share some of my take-aways from these books.

Dr. Sax spends a great deal of time visiting different schools. On one of these trips, he came across an optional physics class in an all-girl school that appealed to an unusually high percentage of the students. A conversation with the perceptive teacher revealed that she taught topics in a different order from that standardly used when teaching girls. Nothing dumbed down, nothing left out—simply starting with a concept that appealed more to the female mind so that the girls were interested and “hooked into” the idea of learning physics. (This works in the reverse as well, of course. Many of today’s literature assignments are geared for girls and our boys’ interest wanes.) That’s an insight I could have used when homeschooling.

I found similar “aha” moments in The Collapse of Parenting. My husband and I certainly parented in the more traditional mold. I was still surprised to discover from this book areas in which I had been seduced by popular thought. Dr. Saks focuses a great deal on how to pass along your primary values to your children, especially in a culture that is working against you. His chapters on the fragility of today’s children and the importance of transmitting the value of humility (which paradoxically makes for stronger children) are tremendously worthwhile. 

On one hand, I find the plethora of books on parenting to be a disturbing phenomenon. I think that they add to parents’ feelings of incompetence and reliance on misguided “experts.” However, the reality is that our children are growing up in a world where we and they face unhealthy influences emanating from places ranging from their pediatrician’s office to schools to entertainment to the halls of Washington DC. These exert tremendous pressure whether or not we seek direction from them. In that atmosphere, we need to be extremely vigilant and deliberate in how and what we do. Books like those of Dr. Sax can raise questions, stiffen our spines and remind us to carefully choose and guard what matters to us.

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

Mommies to the Rescue

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

Watching a child hurt isn’t easy. Whether the pain is caused by a skinned knee or a broken heart, loving parents suffer along with their children. Parents’ instinctive reaction is to prevent or alleviate the child’s distress. Unfortunately, doing so can sometimes lead to deeper and longer-lasting misery in the future.

I have (accurately or not) read of cultures that don’t make any attempts to keep toddlers away from fire or sharp knives. The logic is that the child will learn an unforgettable lesson before doing serious harm. That wasn’t my philosophy of motherhood for my own two-year-olds.

At the same time, a trend I recently read about doesn’t fit my philosophy either. Thanks to the electronic social networks available to us today, mothers whose children are homesick and lonesome on college campuses or beginning their careers in an alien city are reaching out to other virtual strangers who are also moms, enlisting them to personally bring a care package, extend an invitation for dinner or offer a hug and supporting shoulder.

A Facebook group for parents of 15-25 year olds facilitates these connections, allowing mothers to connect and ask for help from mothers living in the locations where their children are. One side of this is lovely. Making connections and extending friendship to strangers speaks of the best of human nature. My question is if there is potential harm to the recipients of the gracious behavior.

Learning to solve one’s own problems is a vital marker in the transition from childhood to adulthood. Running into difficulties is an unalterable reality of life. Responding to those difficulties builds us into greater human beings while avoiding or succumbing to them leaves us weaker and smaller. Sitting alone in your dorm room while imagining everyone else surrounded by laughter and friends is miserable. If you mom’s “friend” knocks on the door with some donuts and coffee or sends her own daughter to meet you, you will be happier in the short run. But you won’t have grown. You won’t have learned to navigate the world and make your own way to a successful life.

I have done my share of getting off the phone with crying daughters who are in far away cities. It is tremendously painful to listen to a suffering child. Had “virtual mommies” been available at those times, would I have taken advantage of that fact? I don’t know. I think the question to ask is whether the message being sent and received is, “I know you’ll be fine and you’ll figure this out, but I want to send some love your way,” or “You don’t have the ability and tools to handle this so I’ll rescue you.” The answer to that question shines a spotlight on whether our focus is on making our children feel better or only ourselves.

Stitch by Stitch

October 20th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 6 comments

Quilting is not in my blood. I possess no antique quilts handed down through the generations nor do I have fond memories of my mother and aunts socializing as they pieced together a quilt top. Nonetheless, I have been hanging out in the fabric store, reading quilting magazines and dreaming about quilt patterns.

My interest was piqued by a fictional series based around a group of quilters. The books are just what I sometimes seek: enjoyable, non-violent, non-offensive reads that don’t engage me enough to keep me up too late at night. Perhaps knowing that my husband’s abiding passion for sailing was triggered by reading a series of children’s books while growing up in his land-locked hometown should have served as a warning to me, but it didn’t.

All this explains how I found myself at a class teaching hand quilting skills at a local sewing store.  In addition to a quilting lesson, I received a lesson about life.

Like most people, I surround myself with friends who make my life happier and more fulfilling. Heading into the class, I thought my budding hobby might provide a source of new friends, bonding over a shared interest. In reality, one woman’s personality dominated the class chitchat, and her comments left me with no interest in pursuing a relationship.

What happened? More than once during the class, her cell phone rang. Each time she looked around the room, grimaced and said, “It’s the little wretches again.” After dealing with whatever child was calling, she loudly complained at how needy, incompetent and time-consuming her children were. It was most uncomfortable.

I have read parenting advice, on occasion, that warns against calling children stupid, lazy or other negative names. Such sage guidance usually has me rolling my eyes. Who in the world, I think, needs to be told that? My mother certainly never spoke to me in such a derogatory tone. Yet, here, sitting next to me, was a woman who clearly needed such direction.

My quilting acquaintance probably loves her children and puts time, money and effort into providing for their needs. Maybe she doesn’t call them wretches to their faces or within their hearing, though I think it unlikely. When we accustom ourselves to certain language, we rarely can confine it to specific circumstances. She may even think she is being funny.  How mistaken.

Aside from being unpleasant, her behavior seemed anachronistic to me. Parents today are far more likely to lavish too much praise on their children rather than an abundance of insults. Yet the challenge of intentional, thoughtful parenting remains. We still have to think through the consequences of our interactions rather than reacting to our children and to situations. Whether it is exploding in anger or surrendering authority to a tiny despot (of one’s creation), whether it is abdicating parental responsibility and following whatever the crowd is doing or encasing one’s habits in concrete and exhibiting no flexibility whatsoever, it is easier to parent poorly than to parent well.  Sadly, unlike a quilt, stitches of a child’s soul and character aren’t easily removed and re-sewn.

Boys Adrift – a must-read book

October 6th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 7 comments

You have seen those ads for medications that ask questions such as:

  • Do you ever have trouble falling asleep?
  • Are you ever anxious?
  • Does the world ever seem like a scary place?

They might as well ask: Are you human?

I have two questions of my own:

  • Do you have any sons? Daughters? Students? Neighbors? Grandchildren?
  • Do you have a stake in the future?

The 99.9% of you who answered yes need to read boys adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Dr. Leonard Sax. It will not be a pleasant read. Not because the book is poorly writtenit is very readable. But the information it contains and the questions it asks will make you uncomfortable. Truth often does that. While I have a few quibbles here and there and would like to see further information on some of the avenues he explores, overall this is a valuable read.

Dr. Sax is a family physician and an author. I have not read his other books yet, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this one is only of interest to you if you have sons. That is a bit like suggesting to the rest of your body that it should ignore an infection in your finger. It can’t. The body is interconnected and a danger left untreated in one area doesn’t stay confined. Society is the same. We all have a stake in understanding the ways in which we are failing boys. Things have only gotten worse since the book’s 2016 date of publication.

On the plus side, if you do have specific boys under your influence whether as a parent or grandparent, a teacher, an employer or through your church, synagogue or community, this book will provide you with tools to improve the lives that intersect with yours. Whether discussing ADHD, girl-centered education or endocrine disruptors, Dr. Sax makes a compelling case that, as a society, we are on a dangerous path. Like me, you probably know amazing, mature and wholesome young men. Yet they don’t spontaneously erupt. The more aware we are of the pitfalls on the road that impede boys from turning into men we can admire and upon whom we can rely, the more we can actively intervene to help them achieve that goal.

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

Grandma Camp Lessons

September 24th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting 4 comments

Our fifth season of Grandma Camp is over and once again I am grateful for time spent with five special little girls. (I do have to figure out a way to connect as strongly to our other grandchildren. These five just conveniently cluster in age and gender.)

This year it became clear that they are not so little any more. During year one I scripted and supervised almost each minute of the week. Each year, my involvement has receded a bit and this time around, while I still read aloud from our much-love Grandma’s Attic books and planned some crafts and outings, I was in the background a great deal.

On Wednesday, I overheard some prank calls being made, amid much giggling. As the recipients of the calls were their respective mothers/aunts, I felt no need to say anything. My daughters are perfectly capable of telling young ones to stop bothering them.

Thursday followed with more laughter and whispered consultations. As the girls headed out the door telling me, “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll be back soon,” this time I did ask for more information. It turns out that the success of the phone calls led the girls to think that prank visits on some neighbors might be a good idea.

Here is where the benefits of being a grandmother rather than a mother kicked in. I did not feel the need to lecture them. I didn’t feel the need to berate myself for not having taught them sensitivity and concern for others. I didn’t even mentally berate my own children for not having taught their children well. I simply redirected the girls, mildly suggesting that people wouldn’t appreciate answering the door and finding no one there. They would, however, appreciate finding a card under their door wishing them a great day.

For the next hour, the girls wrote message and drew matching pictures on construction paper, offering all sorts of good wishes and signing the cards, “The Grandma Camp Crew.” Those of our neighbors who know us smiled as they recognized the source of the greetings while those who don’t simply smiled. But no one smiled as broadly as me.

One More Time

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

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

Deuteronomy 26:1 begins, “And it will be when you come to the land…” It continues with the laws of first fruits and other commandments that we are only obligated to do in the land of Israel which the Jewish nation was about to enter.  In truth, most of Deuteronomy is filled with commandments the Jewish people can fulfill fully only in the land of Israel.  Many of them we have actually already learned about earlier, but Moses reviews them here  in his final speech to the nation before they enter the land.  Nachmanides, a key transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, tells us that even the commandments that seem new to us here in Deuteronomy were actually taught earlier in the 40 years in the desert.  They just weren’t recorded in the Torah until this point when Moses reviewed them.

Here is a great parenting tip, straight from Moses!  When something out of the ordinary is going to happen, we should tell our children in advance and in detail what will happen and how they should behave. Then, immediately before the event, we should review again what to do. That’s how Moses did it! 

[Rebecca now gives an example that is relevant for Jewish parents as many mothers bring their young children to synagogue to hear the shofar  (ram’s horn) on the New Year (Rosh HaShanah) holy days. This includes children who may not be accustomed to being in synagogue as they usually go to children’s groups or stay home until they are older and able to behave properly.)  For example, now is a good time to talk to our little children about Rosh Hashanah and the shofar, and how we’re going to go together to hear the shofar, and this is what they need to know.  Synagogue is a place where we behave respectfully and quietly. We will walk, not run in the halls, and we’ll walk quietly to and from our seats, and we don’t talk, especially not when we’re there for Shofar blowing.  (I’m not suggesting this is what you have to say, just sharing what may come up when I do this.)  This conversation can happen now, and repeatedly over the next week as needed.

But then, right before we walk into synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, you can be sure, I, and many other mothers, will say, “Do you remember what we do and don’t do in synagogue on Rosh Hashana?  Can you remember to walk, not run, and be totally quiet once we’re inside?”  Effective mothers do this all the time before trips to the grocery store, museums, airplane travel, before guests come over and on and on.  We all do it, but now you know where it originated! The commandments concerning the land of Israel were taught over a period of 40 years, but now right before entering the land, we get a review, just like we give our kids!  That’s parenting the Biblical way!

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