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Posts Tagged ‘jewish parenting’

I have 4 small children.  There are times I am so tired I could cry.  I don’t know how I am going to get through the next 3 weeks, let alone the next 3 years!  Help! –NB, Baltimore, MD

Your problem is one I hear about from parents all the time.  It happens to every parent, sooner or later. As we nurture and work with our kids, all day every day, each of us will eventually find ourselves “running on empty”.  When we become totally exhausted, a sense of overwhelm can set in.  Take heart and take a step back. Look at your situation with a little compassion.

Before we were parents, we knew we needed to take care of all our basic human needs in order to maintain some kind of balance.  None of that has changed.  We still have to eat properly, get enough sleep, have some form of mental stimulation and enjoy meaningful adult interactions. If anything, we need it MORE now!

It is very important to learn your signals of overexhaustion, as they are very individual.   If you need help,  get it. There really is no other option. If we are to care for our little ones in a loving, patient way, we have to draw strength from inside. If there is nothing from which to draw, everyone loses.   Being a martyr eventually produces resentment.  You don’t deserve that. Your kids don’t deserve that either.

You didn’t say whether or not you are employed outside the home. Some moms find that part-time employment has certain advantages.  It preserves the majority of your time and focus for family life while providing a regular outlet for social and intellectual stimulation. It also imposes a structure to your daily schedule that, in and of itself, can help you maintain a more predictable and manageable flow of activity. Whether or not you have an outside job, though,  it is extremely important to find at least 20 minutes a day to do something that you love to do.  It will become the island of time you cherish that you will look forward to throughout the day.

I also want to give you a few suggestions that you can use to reduce your actual work load.   Start with your spouse. The two of you may need to redistribute some of the home tasks to lighten your burden.  Some things like laundry and housecleaning may even have to be professionally outsourced for a period of years. You should not feel guilty about asking for this kind of help when you need it.

Here are a few more tips.   Each change  is intended to create a little more space for you to nurture yourself. The sum total can bring about a major improvement in your overall sense of well-being.

  • A teen helper on nights and weekends can provide an extra pair of hands.,
  • If you don’t have extended family leaving nearby, you might consider “adopting” an affectionate and capable ”empty nester’ who is happy to act as surrogate grandparent.
  • Why not switch off with other parents hosting play dates, giving each other a break every so often?
  • Over time, you can (and should) teach your children age appropriate, self care techniques as well as basic family tasks.
  • Create a fund of good ideas that suit your life.  Talk to friends.  Once you start looking, you will discover time saving ideas in books, magazines and on websites. one of the most labor intensive periods of life.
You deserve a break today!   Thanks for your question and hatzlachah rabah (have great success)!  This is the most labor intensive period of your life.   But, believe it or not, it passes quickly.   Fill it with sweet memories with your kids and cherished moments for yourself.

©2009 Deborah E. Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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Question:  As a new parent, I am seeking a few key parenting principles to keep in mind as my daughter grows up.   Your thoughts? —Shuli, NY, NY

As parents, we are our children’s first and most lastingly influential teachers. Our main jobs as Jewish parents are 1) to facilitate the formation of  the child’s  healthy self image and 2)  to teach an integrated Jewish world view that will guide the child throughout life. With these goals in mind, here are my “top five” parenting principles:

Kids are not little grown-ups. Kids are in a state of almost constant growth–physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually.  Children’s interactions are highly imitative and sensitive to outside input.  It is not a flaw that they don’t think or act like we do!   It is, in fact, the  parent’s  task is to teach kids appropriate behavior in different settings. When a child does not live up to an expectation, even repeatedly,  resist the tendency to label or ridicule.  Instead, keep the child’s potential in mind.  Correct the misbehavior unequivocally.   Validate the child for  every sign of  positive growth. Stay nurturing.

Parents are always on. The way we interact with the world  is a living lesson to our kids. Starting with the earliest years, a child internalizes the parent’s example, deeply registering each perception.     For a parent, therefore, self awareness is very important.    Here are some questions to consider.  Am I the Jew that I want my child to become?  Are my time priorities in line with my personal values?  Do I try to avoid discharging negative emotions in the family?  Do I show my kids how I try to get up after every setback and grow from the experience?

Setting limits for children is kind. Creating a set of clear expectations is like giving kids a manual for success in the life.  As long as the family rules are  respectful, age appropriate and child centered, children will benefit from the structure.  Employing logical and natural consequences is a constructive and effective approach to teaching responsible behavior.  A child brought up in a family that has set clear expectations will thrive in the atmosphere of trust, security and, paradoxically, personal freedom.   S/he will also learn to be socially responsible within the family and will receive plenty of practice in healthy decision making.

Kids need a strong connection with each of  their parents.  Children learn the most about themselves through their parents’ eyes. When a parent shows a child genuine interest and affection, the child infers s/he is intelligent, interesting and worthy of love.  Spending special time with each child affords the parent a regularly scheduled opportunity to encourage individuality and instill confidence.  Children get valuable information from their parents’ longer life perspective.   When a parent nurtures a deep connection with a child,  the parent can often mirror the child’s thoughts back to the child, appreciating, restating and, in some classes, reframing.  This is probably the most important (and most rewarding) way a parent can nurture a child’s self understanding.

Mothers and fathers are partners in parenting. There is no one correct answer to the question: “Whose approach is right?”  The best parenting approach for every family starts with a joint parenting plan that takes into account the parents’ unique blend of personal styles, values and strengths. When parents work as a team, their combined strengths synergize, providing a better, more balanced childhood experience for their kids than either could provide alone.  The lasting lesson to children is that shalom bayis is not always about being the same. It is about creating outcomes where everyone feels valued, understood and respected.

Parenting is the toughest job and the most rewarding. Parents have unique access to the inner and outer worlds of a developing child. This access can afford them almost unlimited influence during the childhood years.

To be clear– No two families are alike.  Life with kids can be challenging.   Taking a good sense of humor along with you on your journey can turn many a tough moment into an occasion for spontaneous levity.   Most of all, we all need a lot of Siyata D’Shamaya (help from Hashem) to raise our kids.     May Hashem help us as we perform the truly holy task of raising the next generation of Am Yisrael as strong, emotionally healthy Jews.

©2009 Deborah E. Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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Want to ask a question? Click on the Ask Debbie page at the top of the blog to submit your questions.

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It is a very important parenting task to make sure that our children learn to take care of their bodies correctly throughout life.  Modern medical science has released a tremendous amount of research over the past three decades showing that a healthy balanced diet, regular physical exercise and a good sleep regimen are the primary controllable variables for ensuring vitality, preventing serious disease and lengthening life.

Many of our children spend long hours sitting in day schools and yeshivos, usually without significant physical activity.  In addition, especially on Shabbos and Yom Tov, eating multiple large festive meals is an accepted part of the Jewish family and community experience.   It therefore is not difficult  to understand why childhood obesity is on the rise in the Jewish community, along with its attendant life-long negative health implications.  It’s a community-wide health concern that we can no longer afford to ignore.

But while the concepts seem simple enough, it’s not always so easy  to put them into practice. Here are a few family friendly suggestions.

•    Eat a good breakfast to kick the metabolism on early in the day.

•    Exercise with your kids. Go for a walk, play basketball or go for a swim. Skip the elevator and race to the top of the stairs.  Try to do vigorous exercise most days,  for about 30 minutes a day. In addition to boosting metabolism and toning muscles, exercise burns off stress.

•    Prepare meals together.  Experiment with a new fruit or vegetable every couple of weeks.  Go with whole grain cereals and pasta and low fat dairy foods. Choose chicken and fish over beef.    Ever try beans, lentils, quinoa, or tofu?  Be creative with different ways to prepare foods.

•    Give treats on occasion.  “Never say never” to any food.

•    Don’t use food as a symbol of love or reward.  Creating the association predisposes the child to overeating throughout life.

•    The way we eat makes a big difference.  Always remember to eat sitting down.  Start with small portions on the plate.   Walk back into the kitchen for refills.  Chew slowly and thoroughly.  Slower food consumption actually reduces the amount of food consumed and is more satisfying.  Stop eating when satiated. (No one should be required to eat every last morsel.)

•    To avoid binge eating, don’t get too hungry between meals.

•    Snack smart.  Teach kids to check labels for fat, salt and sugar.  Popcorn, nuts, fruits and veggies are satisfying munchies and don’t have to be boring.

•    Be sure everyone in your family drinks at least 8 cups of water or juice a day to stay hydrated.  (Sodas are high calories and do not hydrate.)

•    Get enough sleep.  Tired people eat more, are more irritable, are more anxious, have more accidents and are generally less productive.   Young kids need 10-12 hours of sleep.

•    If stress levels are very high, relax for a few minutes with your kids, teaching them to take slow abdominal breaths.

•    Read books together that reflect values of maintaining a healthy body.

To sum it all up: Teaching children to keep their bodies healthy is a “no-brainer.”  For many of us, this means learning a whole new way of relating to diet and exercise ourselves.    So, just try one suggestion at a time.   Let’s help each child learn to treat his body like the precious gift it truly is.

So how about a nature hike in the woods ?

©2009 Debbie Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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Shortly before Pesach this year, I sat listening to a hesped (eulogy) for an elderly woman who I had greatly respected. The speech, delivered by Rabbi Ivan Lerner, spoke of a lifetime well spent. I was deeply moved by the beauty of her spiritual legacy. I would like to share with you what I heard.

Mrs. Rivka Ehrenfeld had fled her native Germany in the years before the Holocaust and gone to Palestine. Her life was a series of ups and downs, yet Mrs. Ehrenfeld always looked for the good in every experience. Her spiritual legacy is exactly the one I believe every Jewish parent would want to leave behind.
I reprint below, by permission of Rabbi Lerner and Mrs. Ehrenfeld’s family, most of this beautiful hesped.
“The Gemorrah Shabbos Kuf Bais Zayin states that there are 6 things that bear interest in this world….hospitality to strangers, visiting the sick, devotion to tefillah, commitment to study, commitment to educating our children in Torah, and judging others charitably. These were the things that Rivka did every day of her life. They came naturally to her.
… I am going to address myself to Rivka: Rivka, I knew you well and I hope you don’t mind but I believe this is what you would have said at your own hesped:
To my children, I say, don’t save too much. My pockets are empty but my heart is full… I come from a long line of savers.(.but)… I know a lot of people who save too much. They buy books that have never been read, appliances that have never been used, and wine that was being saved for a special occasion and never opened. They have sofas that were always covered with cellophane and never really enjoyed. So to you my children and my grandchildren, I say, “Don’t save too much! Don’t save dreams hoping that that they may come true Work on your dreams now! And don’t save compliments that you have for other people. If you have a compliment to give, give it now! Now is the right time….
… I’ve always.. (wanted to).. believe that when I was asked to come to the Heavenly Court, it would go something like this:
G-d would say, “Open your pocketbook, Rivka. What have you got left in there? And I would attempt to empty my pocketbook and it would be already empty.” And G-d would say, “Are there any dreams left in there that are unfulfilled?” And I would say, “No”. “Is there any unused talent that I gave you that you were born with that you didn’t use?” And I would say. “No.” “Are there any unsaid words that you wish that you had said to people when you were on earth that are still in your pocketbook?” And I would say, “No, my pocketbook is empty. I spent everything that you, G-d, gave to me. I spent it all. You gave it to me and I gave it to others.
Through the years, I have seen and experienced a world in transition. Miracles and tragedies happened every day. My generation has witnessed medical advances and technological breakthroughs that are truly amazing. When I grew up, who would have ever dreamed of television, cell phones, microwaves, computers. And who would have ever thought that though we tell people to be zocheh to live to 120, someone could actually live to be 120! Through the wars, and through..(other).. suffering, I learned many, many things in this world, but most of all I learned that you have to always be b’Simcha (happy). I understand the bracha Baruch Dayan HaEmes,(G-d is the true judge) that G-d, not human beings, understands what life is all about. As I grew older, I became more convinced that the trials and tribulations of my youth and throughout my life gave me a better appreciation of the meaning of life.

I was very lucky. I appreciated simchas (happy times) and I hope you do too …..To my adult children and grandchildren and G’d willing, to my great grandchildren, I bequeath all of these things that I have. These things that ..(my husband).. and I held dear I give them all to you: the value of a good name, unconditional love, understanding of what it means to be a mensch (a good person), compassion, tenderness and care for others.

The Yerusha (inheritance) that I pass on to you will not go down with the stock market. The Yerusha that I pass on to you can be passed to your children and your grandchildren with ‘interest’. It is the Yerusha of unconditional love. Never lose your sensitivity or your cheerfulness. Always remain inquisitive. Never stop being amazed for what you receive in this world and know that wherever I am, I am always with you. As I have always loved you, I love you now.”
Mrs. Rivka Ehrenfeld had her priorities straight.  A life well lived is a gift given by a Jewish parent to her descendants. I know I could not wish for anything more for my own children and grandchildren. May her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.  May we all be inspired by her example.

©2009 Debbie Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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On Pesach, the yearly holiday in which we retell the Jewish exodus from Egypt, we are instructed by Hashem to  pass our  mesorah (tradition) to our children.  The Torah mitzvah is “l’higadeta l’vincha bayom hahu,”  “to tell your child on that day” (Exodus 13:8).   How we are to do this is explained in the Haggadah itself.  We answer according to the way the child asks the question.   Does he want a detailed response?  Is he rebellious?  Does he have a learning disability or very little background knowledge?  Is he extremely young?   Our task is to pass on the mesorah by explaining the story in the child’s own terms.
Passing on the mesorah is a conversation. Every conversation has two parts:  Talking and listening.  First, we talk.  We explain the story in the Haggadah and answer the questions at the children’s level of understanding.
Then, we hope, each child will give a Dvar Torah from school or proffer a new personal insight.  By listening to our children, we teach even more than we do with we are speaking. When we listen carefully to each child’s contribution to the seder, without allowing  interruptions, we teach them that we respect what they have to say.   Something inside the child shifts.  The child grows in self respect.  She feels connected to her parents, her people and her Creator. It is a powerful lesson that attaches the child to the mesorah of the Jewish people through the bond of the parent-child relationship.   This special moment where Jewish connection is  deeply experienced encapsulates the essence of parenting a child spiritually.
So this Pesach, despite the lateness of the hour and the hunger pangs of the many gathered around the table, don’t miss the ikar (the main point), of the evening.  Give every child your fullest attention.  Talk, but also listen.  Recount the story of the Jewish past and then focus in to hear the sweet voices of your children, who are the Jewish future.
©2009  Debbie Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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Jewish parenting is fundamentally about role modeling. No other form of instruction compares in its depth or lasting quality. Hashem has fashioned our brains to learn by imitation, starting from the first day of life.
Our children know what is important to us. The way we consistently go about our daily lives tells them the real story.   Here are some examples:
•    No explanation is needed when your young child observes you arrive in Shul early and daven(pray) with deep kavannah (concentration).    He is an eye witness to your personal relationship with Hashem.
•     Your integrity makes an impression on your school aged child when you return to the store if a cashier gives you too much change.
•    Your toddler grasps Kibud Av v’Aim when you interact lovingly with your parents, his grandparents.
•    Your teen learns persistence and courage when he sees you try again after a major disappointment.
•    Your daughter learns about tznius and self respect when she observes her mother dressed with dignity.
•    When you show compassion and esteem to every meshulach and every guest, your child understands the way to show respect for all people.
•    Your daughter learns gevurah, self discipline and inner strength when you retain your composure despite ongoing stress and exhaustion in your life.
•    When you avoid inappropriate conversations about others, your teen learns how to apply the laws of shmiras halashon (guarding one’s tongue).
•    Your son learns how to value his body when you demonstrate careful eating, exercise and rest habits.
•    Your child understands financial restraint when you usually decide against luxury purchases.
•    Your children knows how important your family is to you when you turn off the cell phone and the blackberry when you are together.

Now think about tzedakah, intellectual curiosity, responsible use of the media, loyalty, punctuality, organization, humility, community service?  What about being sameach b’chelko (happy with his life)?

Too overwhelming to think about?  Not at all.  We humans are all in the same boat. We are works in progress all our lives.  Kids just give us Jewish parents a good reason to do what we are here to do anyway—to keep working at getting better.  And, there is some really good news.  As we choose to improve ourselves, our children will learn a beautiful and important lesson.   They will learn that change and growth will be possible for them throughout their lives as well.    And you will have given them the most important modeling lesson of all.  It’s always the right time to grow.

©2009  Debbie Katz , JPARENT, LLC All rights reserved.
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In the last blog, we discussed the need for self awareness in parenting.  One aspect of ourselves and others that we should be aware of is something called personal style.   Our personal style is related to our  basic temperament and therefore is fundamental to our individual emotional makeup.  In many households, the styles of the parents are different from each other, and different from at least some the children.  Not surprisingly, members of a household with similar styles tend to understand each other well because they approach tasks, time, people and situations in a similar way.  But when styles differ, the approaches often differ as well.

Let’s use a parenting example.  Say we have a situation where we have ongoing sibling disagreements. For a parent who has a goal orientation, there is likely to be a preference for swift, directed closure of each conflict. Another parent who values process and information would probably prefer to read, listen and observe before having an in-depth private discussion with each child.  A third type of parent may work hard to anticipate individual children’s needs in order to maintain harmony and avoid conflict completely.   A fourth type of parent may enjoy figuring out out-of-the-box solutions that make everyone take themselves a little less seriously.

All of these parenting styles are healthy, but there are differences in emphasis.  Most of us have one predominating style in combination with at least one secondary style.  It is helpful to know something about our own personal style and the styles of our spouse and children because this knowledge will create a much more informed context for living and working together in the family.    In my coaching practice, I use the Quick Style Indicator by Consulting Resource Group (CRG).  It is an inexpensive tool that many parents find illuminating.  (Other more complex screening tools like Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram Personality Type Indicator can perform a similar purpose.)

Parents are often relieved to discover that what had seemed like serious miscommunications were easily reframed.   Once they know about the differences in personality styles within the family, the parents can learn to style-shift. In so doing, they learn to see the world through the eyes of another.

Learning about the personality styles of members of your family helps everyone feel a bit closer, and a lot more understood.   Mutual understanding is an important basic element  in our ongoing quest to achieve shalom bayisfamily harmony.

All materials © by Debbie Katz.  These materials are the property of Jparent and can not be used, changed, or distributed without permission.

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