Posts in Your Mother’s Guidance

Peer Pressure -and Press Your Peers

July 9th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

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

In the car one day this week, one of my daughters told me a story that resonates with a lesson we learn from Numbers 13. Last summer she had been in day camp for a few weeks, and one day she had been on a bus with the camp going to some fun destination.  She thought it was funny that in the parking lot the girls all began filing off the bus silently or talking to each other, but not thanking the bus driver.  When she got to the front of the bus, she said thank you to the driver and then heard the girl behind her say thank you and the one behind her and the one behind her until the bus driver didn’t stop repeating “You’re welcome” over and over.   

What does this have to do with the twelve spies sent to see the land of Canaan?

Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that when Moses sent the men to spy out the land of Israel he prayed for Joshua, “May God save you from the advice of the spies.”  Moses saw his primary student Joshua had learned from Moses’s outstanding quality of humility and was himself a most modest and humble person.  The problem Moses recognized was that sometimes modesty and humility can lead a person to stay quiet about his own views, instead adopting the majority viewpoint of those around him. 

Joshua’s humility and modesty put him at risk of  ceding to the majority opinion of the spies instead of holding fast to his own views, and so Moses prayed that God should give Joshua strength to resist the viewpoint of the majority.

Even without Joshua’s humility, we, and especially children, can be easily swayed by peer pressure or the behavior of the majority of those around us.  The girls on the first half of the bus weren’t intending to be rude or inconsiderate. Each one was simply doing what the girl ahead of her did, following her peer as she silently walked out of the bus.  The girls in the back half of the bus were fortunate that each one heard the girl ahead of her thank the bus driver. They too were affected by those around them and followed their peers in thanking the driver.  I believe this is a lesson for us to be aware of and to teach to our children. 

When we are in groups of people it is very easy to just do what everyone around us is doing instead of stepping out of line to do what is right.  The pressure of the majority is real and often leads to a lowered standard of behavior.  Have you ever noticed that kids in groups tend to behave differently than any one of those children would alone?  I see it all the time and I discuss it with my kids.  I want them to be on guard that even when they are among friends, they should be careful to do what they know to be right and best, regardless of what the norm is in the group.  This is a powerful lesson.  Even Joshua, the great student of Moses, needed Divine help to stand apart from majority opinion.  Surely, we can learn from this to talk to our children about the subtle realities of peer pressure and maintaining their individual sense of right and wrong even when in groups.

Am I Your Mirror?

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

A Your Mother’s Guidance post by Rebecca Masinter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rippling Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saying Too Much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t cause pain with hurtful speech.”

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

Take Time to Make Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timing Matters

May 13th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 1 comment

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

According to the ancient Jewish divisions, chapter 16:1 begins a new portion in the book of Leviticus.  The verse begins, “And God spoke to Moses after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they approached before God and they died.”  Ancient Jewish wisdom asks why the Torah tells us that the instruction that will follow was given after Aharon’s sons died. It answers with an allegory about a patient receiving detailed instructions from a doctor. The patient might be tempted to ignore them. However, if the patient is told, “These are your instructions, follow them or else you will die just like Mr. Ploni died,” he will feel the warning more viscerally and is more likely to obey orders. 

The day after the death of Aharon’s sons was the right time to communicate relevant laws to future priests.  There are right times and wrong times to try and instruct or correct people.  It’s interesting that one of the sins of Nadav and Avihu was their inability to wait for life to unfold in the right time.  These sons of Aharon used to say to each other, “When will these old men, Moses and Aharon, die so we can be the leaders of the nation?”  That time would have come eventually, but they were unable to appreciate that there are wrong times and right times and to wait until the time was right.

I’d also like to point out that the lesson God instructs the priests right at this time, adjacent to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, is one of timing, “…he should not come at all times into the Sanctuary.” Rather, there is a specific time on the specific day of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) when it is the right time.

What can we mothers learn from this?  Timing matters.  Sometimes we want to tell our child something, to correct them or direct them, and we feel the urge to say it now because we want the relief of unloading our pent up emotions.  But that is often not the right time to speak.  Rather, we should have patience and wait for the time to be right before we correct or direct. We need to do it at the right time for our child when they can listen and learn in the best way.

I will end with the reminder of what we already know; connection precedes direction.  Almost always, if not always, the best time to teach our children is when they feel connected to us, in a state of closeness and love.  When we tap into our loving relationship with our children, when our children feel close to us, that is the best time to teach.  I don’t know if this is the Torah’s message here, but I will note that the context of this discussion is the Yom Kippur service, the day that we are closest and can come closest, into the Holy of Holies, to God.

For today, let’s try to find the right times and try to create the right times of loving connection before we direct or correct our children.

4 Sons = 1 Man (or Woman)

May 5th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

As part of the Passover Seder (program) we speak of four sons, each of whom is found in Scripture.  They are described as the wise son, the evil son, the simple son, and the son who doesn’t know how to ask.  Each one’s questions, or lack of them, needs to elicit an individually crafted response from parents. My father explains at each seder that these aren’t four distinct people sitting around some family’s Seder; rather these are characteristics that make up each of us.  We all have a bit of each type of child in us, and different people have different percentages of each of the four sons in their makeup.  Why is this important to us now?

Within many families, regardless of whether the parents initiate this or not, the children see themselves in defined and labeled ways.  “I’m the studious one. She’s the funny one.  He’s the responsible one.  She’s the creative one.” Maybe also with negative terms: “I’m the lazy one.  He’s the rebellious one.  She’s the messy one.”  The Jewish approach is to reject such labels.  There aren’t four different sons;  each human being has aspects of all types!  Sometimes I study, sometimes I laze around.  Sometimes I act responsibly and sometimes I make messes.  The Torah viewpoint is nuanced, and we have different specific responses given to each of the four sons because at different times we all need one or another of those answers.  Sometimes we need a metaphorical punch in the teeth and sometimes we need someone else to take the lead and guide us through an issue we don’t even recognize as problematic on our own.  Each of us and each of our children are individuals made up of many components and qualities. We can recognize and celebrate our nuances instead of defining and confining ourselves or others into narrow boxes. 

I’d like to suggest that Passover and other holidays are a good time to look at our children and at ourselves with this viewpoint in mind.  Often on these special occasions we spend time with our extended families. When adult siblings get together, sometimes a funny thing happens.  We may find ourselves playing out narrow roles that we assigned ourselves and our siblings years ago.  It can be so frustrating to feel that you’re a mature adult who’s grown out of her childhood roles, and then you go back to your childhood home and find yourself reacting to each other the same way you did 10 years ago!  Yes, you may have seen yourself or been seen as a certain way back then, but now we can put on the lenses of the Passover Haggadah to appreciate that we aren’t one way or another.  Labels don’t fit people!  We are nuanced composites of many different attributes, that shine or glare in different ways at different times.

When we can appreciate the four sons in each of us and the four sons in each of our children and extended family members, we can let go of our old rigid confining ideas, and truly move into the freedom of Passover.

Faith in the Future: the Musical

April 28th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 1 comment

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

In Exodus 15:20,  Miriam leads the Jewish women in song after the splitting of the Red Sea.  Actually, if you look at the verses closely, she started while still in the middle of the sea!  And it wasn’t just singing: these women had musical instruments ready for just this moment!

Imagine if you have to leave your home—not an apartment you’ve been in for a few months, but a home you and your family have lived in for over 200 years!  You are in a huge rush—so huge that the dough you’ve just finished kneading has no time to rise.  What will you take with you?  I can think of many things I would want to take, and honestly, musical instruments don’t even make the it onto the top 20!  Why did the women take instruments?  The great transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, Rashi (1040-1105),  tells us they were so sure Hashem would perform miracles for them and they would want to sing their thanks, so they prepared accordingly.  Amazing, isn’t it?

But let’s look at Miriam’s life a little more closely.  This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of her.

As a young child, Miriam saw that the pain and distress of the Jewish people had led to husbands and wives separating.  We’re told she saw that there would be a redemption and there would be a redeemer born, and convinced her father that Jewish couples had to continue building for that future even while today looked dark.

When Moses was born, the whole house filled with light.  Everyone knew he was special. Yet when it came time for him to be put in the river, who is the only one who stayed with him to watch and see what would become of him?  Miriam, the person who excelled at seeing a glorious future even in the darkest moments.

The women singing with their drums and flutes, led by Miriam, were exemplifying confident faith—looking with confidence into the future and being sure that the future was one of glorious redemption.

This is the legacy we have inherited and this is the one we need as we raise our children.  It can be easy to get stuck in the moment with our children and feel frustrated at whatever difficult stage we are currently dealing with.  In truth though, we need to look into the future with confident faith, and have the vision and faith to see our children in the future as adults, where the exact same qualities that are so exasperating right now, can be their greatest strengths.

My mother often tells of reading a story from Natan Sharansky’s mother. His mother shared that as a child he was so stubborn and strong-willed that he would gladly remain in the corner all day instead of apologizing for whatever he had done.  I’m sure that was incredibly frustrating for his mother—we’ve all dealt with stubbornness and it isn’t easy.  Imagine though if his mother would have known how his stubbornness would serve him and the Jewish people as an adult when he spent over 9 years in the Soviet Gulag as a prisoner of conscience! 

Confident faith requires us to look beyond the here and now and see the potential for the future.

This is true both in viewing our children’s inherent qualities and also to keep in mind as we make decisions about how to raise them.  It’s crucial that we look beyond the short term and envision the beautiful future which will come from each child and each situation.  This is the gift of confident faith with which we have been blessed.

What Do You Do?

April 10th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

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

I was thinking about chapter 40 in the book of Exodus. Ancient Jewish wisdom describes how  God wanted to give Moses the honor of assembling the Tabernacle because he hadn’t been involved in the contribution and building process.  The words used by one transmitter are, “she’lo asa Moses shum melacha b’Mishkan,”  “for Moses had not done any work for the Tabernacle.”  Excuse me?

Is there any person, perhaps even including the main craftsman, Betzalel, who was more directly involved in building the Tabernacle than Moses?  Who was it who communicated every instruction from God regarding the donations for and the construction of the Tabernacle? Who carved and brought us the two tablets which are the center point of the Tabernacle?  If you look at the Scripture describing the Tabernacle, Moses is part of it over and over and over.

What can it mean when ancient Jewish wisdom says, “Moses hadn’t done any work for the Tabernacle.”?

I have not yet learned an answer to this question.  Nonetheless, here is what I do have for you.  Doesn’t this scenario sound somewhat familiar?  Can you think of anyone you know who may at times feel that they aren’t doing great things? Accomplishing what they could? That they are somewhat anonymous in the larger world?  And yet… this person is behind everyone else’s accomplishments !

How many times does the wife and mother in a family feel that everyone else is doing things, stretching, growing, and they are only the facilitators in the background?  We register our kids for activities and lessons, drive them there, and help them practice their new skills.  Who’s the one noticeably accomplishing?  The child obviously—we just provide support.

We run our homes and provide the background support that allows our husbands to grow in their careers and life paths.  When we do our job well, it allows everyone else to do their jobs well, but to an uneducated eye it may seem as if we’re doing nothing while everyone else is doing everything.  It is even possible to look at ourselves and our Tabernacles and think, “I haven’t done anything!”

This struck me last night as I was listening to my son practicing his Torah reading (again) for his Bar Mitzvah. Please God, on that day he will be up in front of the congregation reading the Torah for the whole community.  It may look as if I had nothing to do with it.  But truly, I will be behind his success just as Moses was behind each part of the Tabernacle. Yet in a way, it will look to those present as it looked in the desert—as if Moses, “had not done any work for the Tabernacle.”

Maybe that is why Moses gets the final task of actually putting it all together—the final step of creating a Tabernacle where before there wasn’t any structure.  Yes, he wasn’t directly involved in contributing or building, but in reality he was everywhere and everything.  And we are the same.  We mothers may sometimes feel that we’re not accomplishing, but, just like Moses and the Tabernacle, we are really the force behind everything that everyone else in our family accomplishes.

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!

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