Parenting by Choice – the Antidote to Today’s Bombastic Culture
If Jewish identity, pride and general “mentchlekeit, are of value to you and are goals for what you wish to instill in your children – you have more reason to worry than ever. For parents, teachers and Rabbis everywhere – this is the buzz. In a society where internet, TV, DVDs, movies, magazines, iPods and billboards that inundate in a torrential downpour without respite – no group or segment is left untouched (more like “unscathed”) by today’s “24/7-media-at-your-fingertips-and-everywhere-you-turn” culture. Is there an antidote?
“Parenting by Choice”.
When my wife and I were parents with “three under three” to chase after, besides consuming tons of books and tapes on “Parenting” – we looked ahead of the game to find the kids who were the ripe fruits of their parent’s labor. We asked them (from teenagers to young adults) – why are you such a “good kid”? They were respectful, well-mannered, intelligent, playful – strong in Jewish pride and intentionally or unintentionally – brought the same out in their friends while living in everyday, “modern” America. Their consistent answer:
“Comes from the home”.
Not the school – not the Rabbi – the home.
Now, did we do a nationwide survey? No. Yet you don’t have to before seeing “a pattern” and a straight answer that resonates with obvious truth:
“Good kids come from the home” or rephrased – “Parenting by choice”.
So what about the kid(s) who seem to come from a home where the parent’s seem to everything “by the book”?! Patience….
We also did some discreet “interviewing” with parents who constantly “kvetched” about their kids or had some real “nachas” issues – were there any “patterns” there? You bet.
Before I “go there” – let’s just say it simply re-enforced what the “good kids” told us:
“Good kids come from the home” or rephrased – “Parenting by choice”.
Are you “Parenting by Choice”?
In HaYom Yom, “22 Teves” p. 13:
“Just as wearing tefillin every day is a mitzvah commanded by the Torah regardless of his standing in Torah, whether deeply learned or simple, so too is it an absolute duty for every person to spend a half-hour every day thinking about the Torah-education of children, and to do everything in his power – and beyond his power – to inspire children to follow the path along which they are being guided.”
As a parent and a IT Program Manager – “Parenting by Choice” means:
“Do we have a plan and are we working it”?
Any serious undertaking with a high value return needs planning and constant monitoring | refining to ensure the plan is being worked, the plan is realistic and is able to adjust to the “unknowns” – why should parenting be any different? Is there any more a serious and valuable undertaking than raising a child who is a ethical and practical benefit to society?
So while we may plan and save for which college our child will attend and what career path they will choose – how much detailed and daily thinking have we put into addressing how to mold our children in a nurturing way that will foster Jewish identity, pride and general “mentchlekeit?
6 Guidelines to “Parenting by Choice”
More of the patterns that we found by “good kids”, the parents who enjoy the fruits of “parental orthodontics” and advice from experts – could be distilled into 6 guidelines:
1. Do “Parenting by Choice” – have and work a plan.
Check – we covered that. The parting comment on this guideline is – doing “Parenting by Choice” means not claiming victimization by a bombastic society – it means taking back control from a bombastic society and culture.
2. Be a Model – don’t expect our children to do what we do not.
I hate this one. It is the hardest and the problem is – it is the “Golden Rule” of parenting. We all know the “Do-As-I-Say-and-Not-As-I-Do” approach breeds contempt and rebellion. The upside is – children, like all challenges in life, bring out the latent strengths within us to force us to be better than we ever conceived. My children force me to be accountable, to grow. As much as I hate it – it evokes more love to them for it.
Some common sub-themes that detail guideline #2:
a. Dedicated and growth centric – If I am not disciplined and striving for personal growth – what do I expect from my kids?
b. Submissive to a “Higher Authority – if we do not listen to a “Higher Authority” (e.g. Hashem, the Torah, Rabbinical guidance) – why should our kids listen to us?
c. Live Judaism with joy and priority
This doesn’t mean to always have a smile plastered on our face. Let me give some examples:
“Oy, Pesach’s (or Shabbos is) coming – all the cleaning, shopping, preparations….”.
“I have to go to Synagogue.” Or as one parent once told me: “I can attend any day except for Wednesday because I have karate class”. What messages are we sending with statements like these? Also, when was the last time you checked your facial expression during prayer? Do you look engaged or like you are doing your tax returns?
Even if we were to observe Judaism to the strictest degree yet broadcast through comments or our body language that it is a burden, we are “missing out” and we don’t attempt to convey the beauty of our rich, 3,300+ years of Jewish heritage with eagerness and enthusiasm – don’t expect “optimal results” or be surprised by kids who “aren’t interested”.
Another, major ingredient is: Martial and community (synagogue) harmony.
As a close friend of mine who directs a school for assisting troubled teenagers puts it – “You can always find marital or Jewish community discord as one of the top three factors contributing to creating troubled kids”. Examples: Synagogue politics or bad mouthing (instead of solution finding with) the Rabbi, school or criticizing your spouse.
3. Have Borders, Consistency & Fairness
Children and teenagers need rules and boundaries – they will test them but crave them they do. They need to know there are rules, there are consequences to their choices and consistency in the follow through to those consequences which will be “a punishment that fits the crime”.
A child does not put their toys away. They can put their toys away or the toys will be taken for 1-3 days. Keep to the consequence no matter how much they whine.
A teenager behaves irresponsibly with a privilege – it is revoked. Keep to the consequence no matter how much they “freak-out”.
Don’t we as adults understand this? If we choose not to show up for work – what are the consequences?
4. Build self-esteem.
Guideline #3 doesn’t mean being a cruel dictator or a drill sergeant. We have to put thought into how to bring out the strengths of our children and how to help them, help themselves to compensate in their areas of growth.
Example: Help them think through their homework – don’t just give them the answers.
5. Ask some hard questions and give some honest answers about what we are allowing to influence our children.
Friends, TV, internet, cell phones – the list goes on and on. This is called “Parenting by Choice”, not “My-Kid-Is-My-Friend”. Take control. “Parenting by Choice” is a benevolent dictatorship – not a democracy. And yeah – it’s for Gen X and not the 1950’s. This is a loaded topic and would love to dedicate a future article to it.
Example: Do we have to use media for entertainment or can we find an interactive hobby (“interactive” meaning board games, physical activity – not “Wii” or any “gaming”) ?
6. Pray and pray some more.
To address an earlier statement – what about the parent’s that seem to “do it right” and their kids are not exactly a source of nachas (yet)?
The most important factor is, after all has been exhausted and done – we need to pray (constantly) to Hashem for our children’s success. Like a farmer who works, plows and sweats to plant and nurture a crop – if a drought ensues, if pestilence attacks or an early frost comes – all his work is for naught.
At the same time – if the farmer does nothing – why should he be surprised at a crop of weeds?
Easy? – NO – what’s the alternative? Parent/teacher meetings? Ritalin? Expulsion? Therapy? Drugs? Rehab? Stress? Aggravation? What we put in is, on average – what we get out. If we let a bombastic society put into our children in our stead – why should we be surprised if the result is a bombastic child or teenager?
Our energy as parents is going to be used one way or the other – to invest or to make amends – fortunately, we have influence on how our energy will be spent.
Be Empowered in “Parenting by Choice”
Go here as a great resource for “Parenting by Choice”. Great for listening online or being downloaded for on the go. Targeted at the “frum”, “traditional” and not yet observant – you’ll be refreshed by the real-world depiction and down to Earth, tips and tricks that get Parenting results.
About the author: Avrahom-Moishe Erlenwein is a Lubavitcher, with 7 children (14 years-4 years old), married to a “Women of Valor”, strives to actualize the imminent Redemption and works as a business consultant | IT Program Manager.