Being A Mother-In-Law and Not a Monster-In-Law

Now that all of my seven wonderful children (ages 25 to 38) are married, I am a Mother-In-Law (Yiddish: a “shvigger”) to seven adults. I just wanted to leave a few observations about making this potentially difficult parent-in-law relationship work well for all concerned.

First of all, please do not make the mistake. A son-in-law is NOT a son. A daughter-in-law is NOT a daughter. This can actually be helpful, as you don’t have twenty-plus years of conflicts and misunderstandings behind you: you start off with a clean slate.

Also there is the RESPECT factor. I can’t emphasize it enough and that is why it is capitalized. You must show RESPECT to your child’s spouse, and to your child’s spouse’s parents. Always speak politely and carefully to a child-in-law. Perceived slights can eat away at your child’s Sholom Bayis.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zatzal once gave a great piece of advice: keep your purse open and your mouth shut. I actually enjoy talking to my children-in-law, but I never criticize, I always sound positive and upbeat. I try to praise as much as possible, telling my children and their spouses what a wonderful job they are doing raising my grandchildren. Words of chizuk and encouragement are always welcome to struggling young parents (particularly when accompanied by a cash gift to help out with the bills).

If you spend time reading books with three grandkids snuggled up close listening to every word, or take the grandkids out to the swings at the park so your tired daughter-in-law can catch a much needed break, your presence will be welcomed rather than dreaded.

Finally, if there is a special needs grandchild, your continued help and words of encouragement and strength are especially important. Raising a special child is a super challenge to parents, but if the grandparents get involved in a helpful and loving manner, it can make a great difference in making everyone’s lives a little easier. Special needs children adore the unconditional love of their Bubby and Zaidy, and tired moms really appreciate respite time when grandparents visit and entertain the special needs child.

To summarize, it’s not “shver” (hard) to be a great “shver” (father in law): respect, positivity and most of all love (plus an open wallet) will make the parent-in-law relationship work for everyone in the family.

Dr. David Pelcovitz – Three Keys to Raising Your Children

On Moetzaei Shabbos, December 25th, Dr. David Pelcovitz, one of the foremost child psychologist gave a lecture to over 500 men and women at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. You can download the shiur here.

Dr. Pelcovitz is the son of the former long time Rabbi of the White Shul in Far Rockaway, Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz and his lectures are filled with relevant Divrei Torah, psychological insights and amazing stories that drive home his message.

The lecture was sponsored by P’TACH, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide the best possible Jewish and secular education to children who have been disenfranchised because of learning differences.

Find the Right Balance between Love and Limits.

Chazal say the key to good parenting is the left hand pushes away while the right hand brings closer. The left hand represents limits and the right hand represents love.

In our times, our general society is relaxing limits and we are affected by those changes. As an example Dr. Pelcovitz points out that the majority of teenagers surveyed in certain Orthodox communities feel that their parents should put more filters and controls on their Internet usage.

On the love side, Dr. Pelcovitz points out that the overwhelming majority of parents want to be better parents. As he put it, “A mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child”.

One area in which we can improve is giving our children our undivided attention. He speaks about email voice, which is the tone you detect when the person on the other side of a phone call is dealing with their email. We all have many distractions but we need to try to communicate with undivided attention with our children on a regular basis.

Keeping Perspective

The secular research on “mentsch making” says the number one predictor is how we talk about others with whom we disagree. We need to teach by modeling how we respect those we disagree with.

We have to realize that children are constantly absorbing lessons from our actions. And these lessons go very deep. Keeping perspective is a key component on good parenting.

Appreciating Your Child’s Uniqueness

Dr. Pelcovitz points out that families have bumper stickers such as “Lakewood or Bust”, “Ivy League Forever” or “Chesed or Else”. However, we often have children who don’t exactly fit into our vision. It’s very important that we see our children as they are and bless them for who they are.

Taking that a step further we not only have to recognize them for who they are but we have to be grateful for who they are.

There are just some of the keys to raising your children and we want to strongly encourage that you download and listen to the wisdom that Dr. Pelcovitz is teaching.

Originally Published on Dec 27, 2010

How Children View Their Parents as They Mature

By: R’ Aryeh Goldman
R’ Aryeh Goldman writes at Hitoreri

Parents: Step up to the Plate
How are our children to learn and integrate the inspiration and beauty of Judaism into their lives? How can we as parents make Judaism and our vision for our families something that they want to buy into and preserve? What happens when we choose complacency over pro-activity?

The answer lies within each and every one of us. Our children look to us for motivation and inspiration. They watch our every move and want to see if we are living in a way that is consistent with the mission we are trying to inculcate within them. They want to see us as a living model of a tradition that generates meaning, joy and purpose. Our children are in desperate need of people they can look up to as role models for how to live an authentic and committed Jewish life in a modern world and we, my friends, need to step up to the plate.

Throughout their childhood our children view us in different ways:

Birth to adolescence: During this phase children view their parents as perfect beings. They imitate our behaviours, and speech. They form a strong bond in those formative years. During this phase it is so important for us to lay solid foundations of love whereby the child knows and feels that you love them unconditionally. They must know that they can make mistakes and you will be there to support them as they rise again to learn from the experience.

Adolescence to young adulthood: This is the most challenging phase for parents but the most transformational for the child. During this phase of development the child is looking to form their identity and develop a sense of independence. The tension between parent and child that exist during this phase is an expression of the child’s desire to disassociate and disregard anything that they view as an obstacle. Therefore adolescents will seek to push the limits, assert themselves and challenge their parent’s decisions and way of life in an attempt to define their own identity and make independent choices. When the child views the parent as a controller they resist. Therefore the Piazcezna Rebbe Kalonymus Kalman Shapira zt”l advises:

“Thus, it is imperative upon the parent and educator to impress upon the child that it is the child’s responsibility to mature into a loyal member of the Jewish people; and that the parent and educator are only there to help the child help himself understand what the Almighty has instructed”

Ultimately that is the goal of chinuch, to inculcate within the child a sense of responsibly for their lives. Our children need to understand that each child has a unique mission to fulfil in this world and we as their parents are there to facilitate the process. In that way the Rebbe hopes the child will view the parent as a mentor and coach who has the best interest of the adolescent in mind.

Young adulthood: In young adulthood the child then reflects on the education they received and uses it as the platform for how they live their lives and educate their own children. It is common for a child and parent to “reconnect” at this stage of development as the child develops and matures they begin to understand and appreciate the dedication and love that went into their upbringing.

The Torah places a great emphasis on the role of a mentor in a person’s life. It is part of the reason why Torah is to be learned with a Rebbe/Teacher and not in isolation. The Torah is not an archaic theoretical code of life but rather an accessible and practical guide to a meaningful life. This does not come from reading a text; you need to see it alive. So do your children. Their teachers can instruct them how to accurately fulfil the mitzvos but as parents it is up to us to infuse Yiddishkeit with passion as we model a ‘Living Torah’.

We cannot afford to be complacent and take a back seat approach to the chinuch of our children. Our children need us to be proactive in providing them a framework for understanding the world they live in and and want us to create a safe environment to discover themselves. Rise to the challenge and be a positive role model for your children…so much depends on it.

Sacrificing for Our Children – Creating Our Future

I have seen the future of Orthodox Judaism. It is a future not fueled or defined by either a stringent or a lackadaisical approach to halacha or by the type of shul where one davens. Those are, of course, important aspects of our Yiddishkeit, but I see something different that paves the way for our future.

The future of Orthodoxy lies in the hands of the parents and families who make conscious choices and exhibit mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, on behalf of their children.

It is often said that today’s generation has it much easier than previous generations with regard to maintaining an observant lifestyle. We have kosher restaurants, plenty of food with kosher certification, many choices for fashionable yet modest clothing, easy availability of sefarim, online divrei Torah – even Daf Yomi on an iPad.

I admit that we do have it easier, but there are also different challenges that today’s parents face. As this generation’s teens and young adults grow up and eventually become parents themselves, I think it is key that they understand some of the lengths to which their parents went to for them.

For example, there are many parents who choose free or low budget “staycation” options for their family not because they can’t afford something better but because they feel any “extra” money should be earmarked for tzedakah. This is a powerful life lesson for all of us.

What about the parents who look past social stigma and put their teenagers in substance abuse rehabilitation programs? These programs can put an additional strain on an already tight budget. Somehow, though, such parents figure out a way to make it happen because the alternative is unthinkable.

Recently I met a mother who canceled subscriptions to several magazines she had read for years because she realized the articles, pictures, and advertisements were not what she wanted her children exposed to. This has made a clear, tangible, and positive impression on those she is close with.

I know a mother and father who, instead of putting their children in a local public school, both walked away from successful and established careers and moved their family halfway across America to a community that offered yeshiva high school options. How many of us would be willing to do that?

I will never forget the parent who had a limited budget for a bar mitzvah and sold some of her jewelry in order to help pay for her son’s simcha. To part with sentimental and irreplaceable keepsakes must not have been easy, but when it comes to one’s kids, one does whatever it takes.

None of this is done for accolades or to be singled out at a shul tribute dinner. Acts of mesiras nefesh need not be grandiose and life altering. Every little thing we do has an impact. The parents who make sacrifices for their children are investing in and raising the future of Orthodox Judaism.

First published in a Letter to the Editor, from the Jewish Press, Oct 16, 2013

Unconditional Love and Keeping OTD Kids at Home

Unconditional Love and Keeping OTD Kids at Home

Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark’s Essay in Mishpacha Magazine

By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Note To Readers: We are b’h getting excellent feedback on the just-released Volume II of our skills-based Bright Beginnings Chumash workbook. With the new school year not that far off, kindly drop us an email at bbchumash@gmail.com if you have any questions or if you would like to order it on behalf of your school for the new year. In order to better understand the educational philosophy that drove the creation of these workbooks, kindly click here for the Bright Beginnings home page. There you will find a 10-minute video, an 11-page sample of the original workbook, and links to articles extolling the value of skills-based learning.

More than a decade ago, I had my first conversation with Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark, Dean of Beth Jacob Seminary of Montreal. I called him and Rebbitzen Gluestein to tell them how proud they ought to be of the exceptional talmidos their school “produced,” – several who were very involved parents in our Yeshiva during its formative years (one of whom is in need of a refuah sheleimah – please have Bracha Mindel Chana bas Nechama Zelda in your tefilos).

Reb Shneur penned a thoughtful essay, “Unconditional Love Has Its Limits,” in this past week’s edition of Mishpacha Magazine that is the subject of these lines. In it, he makes the case that parents ought to set “red lines” regarding the limits of their unconditional love.

Since that column ran, we received numerous emails and calls from parents and educators asking for our response to Rabbi Aisenstark’s essay and our position overall on OTD children living at home. I called Reb Shneur to discuss this as we painfully know from personal experience that very often published columns do not reflect the nuances of a given issue the way we intended them to. He asked that we post the clarification below regarding the background and parameters of his essay.

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Dear Reb Yakov:

Thanks for calling to discuss my column and as always it was a pleasure discussing chinuch matters with you. Along the lines of our conversation, here is some background regarding why the column was written and what message is was intended to send and feel free to send it to your readers.

The article was written in response to several situations brought to my attention where parents were quite literally living in abusive circumstances when a rebellious child made life miserable for the rest of the family. The parents expressed their acceptance of these conditions because they were told to love their children unconditionally. I strongly feel that in situations like these, red lines need to set by parents so that their lives become manageable and their home can continue to function.

The crux of my article was not to discuss the matter of parents dealing with children who abandoned Yiddishkeit due to abuse/molestation, or those whose experience in our school system was painful due to learning disabilities or emotional challenges, because they cannot control their situation. Therefore they should be loved and supported unconditionally.

The article was also not addressing children who are slipping in their observance level or even not observant at all that are respectful of their family’s values and not undermining the authority of their parents. They, too, should be afforded every consideration to have them live at home in the embrace of their parents and siblings provided that they show some level of openness to religion (for example being open to discussing religion with a frum person of their choosing as a sign of respect for the family — as opposed to categorically refusing to engage in any talks of this nature.)

What I wanted to convey is that children who are spinning out of control and refuse any form of intervention must understand that there are gedorim, red flags and lines which cannot be crossed while still using the home as a base once they have gone off the derech. There is no unconditional love in these circumstances. When a child does not want any help from therapists, psychologists, social workers, family members, rabbonim, he/she cannot expect that his/her parents will love him as before. Such a child must know and feel that the door is always open as long as he/she opens a pesach shel machat. Even though he/she has lost unconditional love, love is still there for one who wants to try somewhat.

Thanks for reaching out to me for clarification and best wishes for hatzlacha in your avodas hakodesh

Respectfully

Shneur Aisenstark

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Our position at Project YES on the matter of keeping OTD children (and adults) at home can pretty much be summarized by our 2007 Mishpacha Column Should We Keep Our OTD Child At Home? (full text below).

Having the greatest respect for Rabbi Aisenstark’s extraordinary accomplishments in chinuch over many decades, we feel compelled to share two points with our readers due to the importance of this matter:

1) Having dealt firsthand with similar situations for over sixteen years, it is our very strong recommendation to parents that their message to their OTD child and his/her siblings be one of unconditional love with no exceptions. Love does not mean acceptance. It means that the place our children hold in our hearts is not diminished regardless of how much they disappoint or even hurt us.

2) The story related of the rebbi who asked Reb Chaim Kanievsky about Yosef and his brothers in the context of this discussion conveys a dangerous message that today’s kids are disrespectful, and implies that this is the primary cause for kids abandoning Yiddishkeit when there are many diverse factors for this phenomenon (click here On The Derech for more on this.)
The reason that we do not pasken (determine) halacha (Jewish law) from aggadah (stories related in gemara) is because by their very nature, anecdotes are subject to wide interpretations.
And if in fact the implication of that story is correct, how does one explain the staggeringly high OTD rate on the Lower East Side a few generations ago or earlier during the times of the haskala (enlightenment)?
Most troubling is that some parents may derive a mistaken message from this anecdote, namely that little reflection and/or improvement in their parenting and quality of their home life is required because the blame is squarely placed on the shoulders of “today’s (disrespectful) kids.

We are deeply grateful to Rabbi Aisenstark for graciously opening this discussion, and we feel that this pilpul chaverim (discussions among friends) will help us all realize our deepest wishes that we have endless nachas from our children and grandchildren.

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Should We Keep Our At-Risk Child at Home?

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We have 6 children ranging in age from a married daughter of 22 to a son of 8 years old. Things are well with us, b’h, regarding shalom bayis, parnasa and other areas of our lives.

We are writing to you regarding our 17-year-old son, who is a (very) at-risk teenager. We have been supporting him with testing, tutors, etc. throughout his school years, but nothing seemed to have worked. He’s been in several schools since 9th grade, dropped out and is currently working full time. We have an excellent relationship with him; he is respectful and does not violate Shabbos/kashrus in front of our family members. But he is, at this point in his life, completely non-observant.

Our dilemma is with regard to his 4 siblings still in our home. We are terribly worried that they will pick up his habits and lifestyle. We have so many questions:

1) Should we ask him to leave our home, as many of our friends tell us to do? (We don’t think that is a good idea)

2) How can we allow him to remain in our home and turn his back on all we hold dear?

3) What do we tell our other children? They all know what is really going on to some degree, depending on their age.

We are so torn over this decision. Adding to the confusion is all the diverse and conflicting advice we are being given by people. We are hearing, “be firm, be flexible, give him an ultimatum, always keep the lines of communication open;” on and on.

We would be most grateful for your advice. Thank you very much.

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

The first thing that struck me about your letter was where you wrote about your confusion over getting conflicting advice from many different people, as it is something that I hear from so many parents are who are in your excruciating situation. I hope that this column will help you sort things out and not add to the swirl of information.

Before I get into the details, I’d like to inform you that from reading your letter I have a strong hunch that you are doing exactly what you ought to be doing. Why do I say that? Because you write that you have an excellent relationship with your son. Trust me, if your relationship survived his rocky school experience and crisis of faith, you should be giving guidance to parents yourselves.

While there is little I can do to completely allay your fears about your other children picking up your son’s rebellious behaviors, I can tell you that in my twenty-five years of dealing with at-risk kids and their families, I have found it extremely rare that a child went off-the-derech because he/she followed a sibling who strayed from Yiddishkeit. I think that what often skews the data and leads people to believe that off-the-derech is ‘contagious’ are situations where there are significant flaws in the family dynamics that are left unaddressed and uncorrected despite the fact that a child exhibited rebellious signs.

Now for some answers to your questions:

1) I am usually reluctant to give advice to people I do not know, but there does not seem to be any reason for you to even consider asking him to leave your home. I would respond differently if you had mentioned that he was self-destructing (substance abuse, for example), if he was undermining your authority or the quality of life at home, or if you felt that there was a clear and present danger of another child going off the derech. But none of these seem to apply, so I don’t think sending him away is even a subject for discussion in your situation.

For parents who have one or more of those three conditions present regarding a rebellious child, I usually recommend that they first go for counseling to try and improve things, and to gain a clearer understanding of the issues at hand. Then, armed with that information, visit their Rav to present their request for guidance regarding sending a child away from home. I do not think parents should make that dinei nefashos (life-or-death matter) decision without both of those components – medical and rabbinic advice.

(Recommended Reading: Jumpstarting Your Child’s Life, Letter From Your Teenage Child, Teeage Sturm Und Drang, Whatever” — Parenting Your Teenager On The Derech )

2) Please review my Mishpacha column, “Leaving The Door Open” for profound guidance that I received from one of our leading gedolim, who told a father in your situation to inform his child that he ought not feel disenfranchised from Hashem’s Torah and its eternal lessons just because he does not fully understand it all at the young age of seventeen – for growing close to Hashem and comprehending His Torah is a lifelong mission. You, as parents, can be most helpful in reframing your son’s ‘no’ to a ‘not yet.’

3) What should you tell your children? I have a simple answer for you. Tell your children that you love them all unconditionally; always and forever. And that means giving each of them what they need when they need it. Period. Exclamation point.

Explain to them that at this juncture in his life, your 17-year-old needs understanding and acceptance above all, and as difficult as this is, you are committed to provide this to him. This is the most honest and beautiful thing that you can tell them – that they would get the same measure of unconditional love, time, and acceptance from you if they had a crisis of any sort in their lives. Tell them that they, too, should love their brother unconditionally and not withdraw their emotional support for him due to his eroding faith in Hashem.

I cannot predict the future, but I can assure you that the best chance you have that your son will find his way back to Hashem is to follow the darchei noam approach I suggested. The bedrock of your unconditional love will hopefully provide the platform upon which your son can gently and slowly build upon – and return to Torah and mitzvos.

I usually do not mix my parsha and parenting columns, but I will make this exception and inform you of a profound dvar Torah that my dear friend Reb Pinchas Gershon (P.G.) Waxman of Lakewood recently shared with me.

The Gemorah (Shabbos 89b) relates that when the Jews will stray from the path of Torah and mitzvos, Hashem will inform our Avos (patriarchs) that their children have sinned. Avraham and Yaakov Avinu will respond that they ought to be punished for their misdeeds. Yitzchok, on the other hand, will implore the Ribbono Shel Olam “Are they (Klal Yisrael) only my children? Are they not Your children as well?” The Gemarah notes that Yitzchok will continue to plead until Hashem spares Klal Yisroel from destruction.

This is quite difficult to understand. Why was Yitzchok Avinu the only one of the Avos who was able to defend the Jews at that time? This is all the more puzzling as Yitzchak was noted for his attribute of gevurah (firmness), so he should have been the last one of the Avos to successfully defend his children.

One possible explanation is that of all the Avos, Yitzchok was in a unique position to advocate for the Jews since he kept his son Esav in his house despite Esav’s numerous sins. He sent his beloved son Yaakov away when Esav wanted to kill him (not Esav), and furthermore, when Esav’s wives worshiped idols and Yitzchok was becoming blind from the smoke of their incense; he still did not ask Esav to leave home.

Therefore, Yitzchok was able to plead to Hashem: “I kept and loved my child Esav despite his significant flaws; You too, should [keep and] forgive Your children.”

I do not profess to understand Hashem’s workings, but perhaps when the Jewish people are one day in need of forgiveness, the 2 of you and all others who unconditionally love and believe in their at-risk sons and daughters will become Klal Yisroel’s Reb Levi Yitzchok Bardichiver and advocate for all of Hashem’s children.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

(Reb Pinchas Gershon later found a similar thought in the writings of the Chassidic rebbi, Reb Meir of Primishlan. For further discussion of this matter, see Rashi Yirmiyahu 31,15; Ein Yaakov, Panim Meirim Yayeitzei, Emes L’Yaakov Toldos 27,40)

Do As I Do

By “Devorah”

As the child of BT parents who got a strong dose of ‘flaming BT-itis’ when I was a teenager; and the wife of a BT, I’ve had the good fortune, if you can say that, of experiencing Baal Teshuva parenting from both sides.

That doesn’t mean I have a 100% fool proof knowledge of what ‘works’, when trying to bring up religiously-inspired, emunah-filled kids. But I certainly have a fair idea of what doesn’t.

When my parents first got frum, I was 15. We were doing Xmas; we were eating in McDonalds; we were starving on Yom Kippur (without any real idea of why) and avoiding bread on Pesach (again, without any real idea of why) but that was it. It was the worst kind of exposure to yiddishkeit: periodic occasions when we asked to do difficult things with no explanation or context as to why we should, or why it was important.

No Jewish community, or Jewish friends, to speak of. But a lingering sense that we were fundamentally ‘different’ to everyone else, which for a teenager, is probably one of the worst sensations.

It’s a long story which I won’t go into here, but when my parents embraced Judaism, they did it at 5000 mph. All of a sudden, Mcdonalds was out. All of a sudden, we had separate plates, and couldn’t have icecream after our chicken supper. All of a sudden, Saturday became a big long list of ‘thou shalt nots’ – once again, with minimal explanation as to why.
Read more Do As I Do

The Danger Of Lowering Our Expectations

In a recently letter to the editor of Jewish Action, Dr. Bernard H. White of Dallas, Texas, responded to an editorial by Dr. Simcha Katz, in which the OU president recounted the story of a young man who, although the product of a prominent Jewish day school and high school system, confessed to feeling “ignorant of Judaism” even after a year in Israel. Dr. White observed:

It is likely that Sam’s parents spent about a quarter-million dollars on his Jewish education, only to end up with an “ignorant” product. What a devastating indictment of the education we are providing to the next generation.

Unfortunately, Jewish schools and educators have not been immune to the lunacy sweeping the educational enterprise—suppression of competition, safeguarding students’ feelings at all costs, promoting self-esteem over academic achievement and dumbing down coursework to the level of the least-capable student. What has been lost is the insistence on excellence, an aggressive curriculum of core subjects (both Jewish and secular) and devotion to hard work.

The truth is that this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it goes back to nearly 2,800 years ago and, in a very real sense, it lies at the heart of all the problems that have plagued the Jewish people ever since.

The Jewish nation reached its halcyon days early in the reign of Shlomo HaMelech. The kingdom was secure from its enemies, its monarchy firmly established, its sphere of influence extending as far as Babylon, its Temple the single greatest wonder of the world. The people lived according to the dictates and values of the Torah, their spiritual integrity rewarded by Hashem’s blessing for material wealth. The opportunity to usher in the messianic era seemed palpably within their grasp.

But that potential was never realized. The introduction of idolatry by Shlomo’s foreign wives eroded the nation’s merit and caused the kingdom to be split in two. And although the separate kingdoms might have both prospered, the corrosive paranoia of King Yerovom of Yisroel propelled his people into a downward spiral culminating in the dissolution of his own kingdom and the moral corruption of neighboring Yehudah.

Despite Hashem’s promise of a dynasty like that of King David, Yerovom feared that when the Jews of Yisroel returned to Jerusalem to observe the festival of Sukkos, their joy at being reunited as one people would inspire them to reject Yerovom and pledge their loyalty to the House of David. Rather than risk losing his kingdom, Yerovom placed border guards along the roads to Jerusalem, erected a pair of golden calves for his people to worship, and proclaimed the words at still echo across the ages:

“Rav lochem – It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem! Behold your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”

In a single phrase, Yerovom created within Jewish society a culture of mediocrity. After the ten plagues, the splitting of the sea, the victories over Amoleik and Midian and Sichon and Og, after forty years of mann and the miracles in the desert, after nearly five centuries combating enemy nations given free reign over the Jews because they failed to live up to the standards Hashem and the Torah had clearly laid out for them – after all that, Yerovom blithely declared that Hashem would readily accept Yisroel’s service to idolatrous intermediaries in order to spare his people a few extra miles of travel up to the place where their father Avrohom had been prepared to offer his only son in the supreme act of spiritual self-sacrifice.

And the people eagerly accepted his dispensation.

For our part, we refuse to learn the lessons of the past. If only we expected less of our children, the current thinking goes, then they would love their Judaism. So we lobby for shorter school days, easier grading, less homework, accelerated and abbreviated davening – and we look the other way when they pull out their phones to text on Shabbos.

Then we see that it isn’t working, so we just keep expecting less and less. What will we say when there’s nothing less for us to expect?

Rabbi Goldson writes at http://torahideals.com
To subscribe to his Torah Ideals email newsletter, go to the torahideals.com website and find the subscription link on the sidebar. Articles are posted, on average, every week or two.

A BT’s Recipe For Raising Good Kids in an FFB World

I recently met the grown son (20-ish) of a very talented rabbi and educator. The father is an overt ba’al teshuva, and the son a regular bochur who attends a top mainstream Israeli yeshiva. To me the boy seemed to have inculcated the best of what the FFB-and BT-worlds have to offer.

As a BT raising my kids in a FFB yeshivish world, I could only wish for the same success with my own sons. I asked the father how he did it, and the following is what he shared with me as his “recipe.” I understand every home, parent, and child is different and parenting isn’t “one-size fits all” and that the issues below implicate thorny hashkafic issues. Nevertheless, having seen the product and judging the recipe on its own merits, I thought his ideas were worth sharing. Whatever our recipe, may Hashem help that we all merit to have wonderful children!

1. Relaxed atmosphere in the home. I want life to be light, not heavy, for them. But light because Hashem loves us and everything is OK, not light from kalus rosh. Light has nothing to do with circumstance. You can have a parent die, a divorce, monetary problems and life can still be light. (This, to me, is probably most important of all and it’s a tricky balance to find. As a wise man I know once said, anyone can be a great gardener in Hawaii – if you have the right atmosphere in the home, children will naturally flourish, even under difficult circumstances.)

2. No shouting, ever.

3. Mistakes are not terrible, they are part of life. I want my kids to feel it’s OK to be naughty – it doesn’t make them bad people. They just need to apologize if necessary, do teshuva and move on. It doesn’t need to be a big deal.

4. Apologize to my kids when necessary. I’m not perfect either.

5. Very little interest in grades at school – middos are all that matter to me on their reports. This is not just words, I believe it – and my kids know that.

6. No labeling – even good labeling. You did a good thing, not you are a good boy. (If you are a good boy because you did good, it implies you are not good intrinsically – there’s another reason, but I want to keep this short)

7. Similarly, praise the act, not the child.

8. No punishment, rather consequences to actions (tricky balance this one and it’s taken a while to get it right – I learned this as some of the other ideas from Adlerian family counselling)

9. Ask them difficult questions as soon as they are ready for them – how do you know God exists? How do you know he wrote the Torah? Obviously, give them answers also.

10. Encourage them to ask the difficult questions that are bothering them. Value and appreciate a question like, why should I keep Shabbos or how can the world be 6000 years old – it’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s a wonderful opportunity to muchanech.

11. You don’t have to be frum if you don’t want to – ultimately, the choice is yours. You would be crazy not to be, but you do have the choice, nothing is forced on you. You don’t do me a favor by being frum. Do it for yourself – because it makes sense.

12. I try to learn through an outline of all of nach and give an overview of targyag mitzvos with each of my kids separately. I give them cash incentives to memorize Taryag or Avos.

13. The frum world may be crazy, but it’s the best society we have – embrace it, but don’t buy into the craziness, maintain your independence. Better a frummer school and we parents are the open minded ones, than a less frum school and we parents are the closed minded ones.

14. Secular people are Jews as much as we are. Goyim are not to be looked down upon, they are created in God’s image. Secular education is important and valuable.

15. You have a responsibility to support your family. That’s the man’s responsibility, not the woman’s.

If you wish to contact the author, you can direct any inquiries on Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt, shaul@tikun.co.uk

High School Life

Recently we had two freshman boys join us for Shabbos lunch. They attend are both “out of towners” who attend a boy’s yeshiva in the area. I listened to my 6th grade son ask them questions about dorm life, the daily schedule, what’s expected of them with school work, and what they do in their free time. It got to thinking about my own experiences in public high school.

Aside from the duel curriculum, the school life of my children, is pretty much the same as what I went through from kindergarten through middle school. It dawned on me, during this Shabbos lunch, that my children’s high school experiences will be radically different than what I went through.

My high school had multiple cliques and sub-cultures and plenty of sporting and extra-curricular activities to join in. Homework and reports were fairly uncommon and while cheating and skipping class were fashionable, I never subscribed to these temptations.

Every weekend night (well, only Saturdays once I started keeping Shabbos) was spent either at a party in someone’s home, going to an “all ages” concert, or hanging out in public areas in downtown Wichita, KS just chilling, listening to music, and trying not to cause too much trouble. While my punk friends and I looked rather fierce and counter-culture, we were all pretty much harmless.

These boys told me that their Motzei Shabbos activities usually include basketball and pizza. Sometimes they’ll go to a friend’s house to watch movies or just hang out. I am sure there are other students that do more “incriminating” activities.

I’m curious, if anyone with high school or post high school children can offer some insights into parenting issue during the yeshiva high school years?

Hallel’s Excellent Adventure

Reprinted from JewishMom.com.

“Umm, well, you see Morah Achinoam…”

“Hallel needs to take two weeks off from school in January in order to travel to Canada to ‘discover her roots’…”

A “Masa Shorashim.” That was the embarrassingly lame white lie I invented in order to justify Hallel’s upcoming two-week absence from 6th grade. But “discovering her roots,” a phrase that evokes images of Eastern European graveyards and forgotten synagogues being used as Hungarian city halls, was infinitely loftier than the true purpose of Hallel’s upcoming trip to my husband’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario…

On this much-anticipated trip, Hallel would go skating on a frozen lake and tobogganing and (can you believe this?) SNOWMOBILING by the family cottage.

In other words, the point of Hallel’s pre-bat mitzvah trip (which her older sister went on as well before her bat mitzvah 2 years ago) was to have lots of fun in lots of snow with my husband’s parents.

So Hallel’s been away now for a week in Canada, and she’s having a fantastic time…

So far, she’s adored “boganning” and snowmobiling with Savta and watching an entire (completely mystifying) Patriots game with Saba…

But something that I hadn’t really thought so much about before Hallel left for Canada was the fact that we were sending our 11-year-old girl off entirely on her own to an entirely secular environment…

B”H, my in-laws are long-standing experts at “kosherizing” and the “kosher rules” as my mother-in-law calls them. And, miraculously, a very lovely, friendly young couple just opened up a Chabad House on THE SAME BLOCK as my father-in-law’s house and they generously hosted Hallel for both Shabbat meals.

But, in addition, during our phone calls Hallel’s been updating me on how she’s trying her best to live as a Jew in Kingston. She told me about how she decided to wear a skirt over her snowpants when she went “boganning” with Savta, and how she made Kiddush all by herself on Shabbat morning, and how she’s been davening almost every day, all on her own.

And I realized something that I hadn’t realized before.

My husband and I are two baalei teshuva raising a family-full of FFB children. And our children have never ever spent time on their own outside of an Orthodox home and framework.

So for the past week, for the first time in her life Hallel has been presented with a choice. With no Orthodox parents or teachers or friends or random busy-bodies looking over her shoulder, she has had to choose whether she would actually keep the laws that she has grown up with for the past 11 years…Despite the fact that if she didn’t daven or wash before bread or wear skirts, no Kingstonian would even bat a frost-bitten eyelid.

But there, in that totally secular environment, Hallel has decided to live in accordance with the Torah, just like Josh and I decided to when we lived in our own secular environments.

And I realized that my lame white lie to Morah Achinoam was actually the truth after all.

Hallel IS discovering her roots, retracing the route of the journey back to Hashem that Josh and I took ourselves 20 years ago.

Safe Children, Safe Communities

Let’s not mince words.

The future of our charedi community is quite literally in existential danger as the tension in Beit Shemesh plays itself out in the international media.

On a purely pragmatic level, this disturbing publicity has already placed the charedi community in Eretz Yisroel at greater risk of losing its financial aid to Yeshivos and Kollelim at the very least. In all likelihood, there may be far greater ramifications, as this could generate a tsunami of support among secular (and many religious) Israelis for a complete separation of church and state, which has the potential to end state support for all non-public schools in Eretz Yisroel.

However, the far greater danger is that we will be losing our souls should we fail to condemn the horrific actions, however isolated, of people who dress like us threatening women and children with violence, taunting them, and calling them all sorts of horrible names. And we will justifiably lose the hearts, neshamos and even lives of our children and grandchildren if we, rachmanim b’nei rachmanim (merciful people), cannot muster the righteous indignation and join forces to protest the appalling actions of these so-called kanoim.

Our community is just now coming to grips with the painful reality that is child abuse, and the ravages it leaves in its wake. We must now realize that there is communal abuse as well, from which we all continue to suffer. And just like we have come to understand that prosecuting and convicting child molesters can prevent future abuse, so too, we must make sure that these kanoim who are rodfim in every way, be stopped in their tracks.

As Rabbi Aryeh Deri clearly stated in an interview earlier this week, the only solution to rid our community of the depraved kanoim who are wreaking havoc on our community is to demand that they be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Child safety has been our highest priority at Project Y.E.S. for the past few years, and we recently launched several initiatives designed to help keep each and every one of our children safe and secure[1]. With the chesed of Hashem, our efforts, and the efforts of the Los Angeles based Aleinu school program and others like it, are creating a paradigm shift in how parents deal with the issue of child safety[2]

However, this entire enterprise took an enormous step backwards over the past days and weeks as our children rightfully wonder if the adults around them can keep them safe.

There are four basic messages that children need to internalize in order for any abuse prevention program to be truly effective:
1. Your body belongs to you
2. No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable
3. No secrets from parents
4. Good touching/bad touching
We have long maintained that corporal punishment by parents and/or educators dramatically decreases and often negates the critical messages of abuse prevention (see Spare the Potch, Protect the Child for more on this). Well, how much more destructive is it for our children in Beit Shemesh to see their peers and even the adults in their lives shrug their shoulders and allow this sort of deplorable behavior by a group of radical adults go on unabated? How about its effects on Jewish children worldwide who see reports of this through the 24/7 media coverage, or hear this discussed this in school among their friends?

My dear friends, it has come to this. We have two choices. We can continue to blame the secular media for its campaign against our charedi community or we can admit the painful truth – that we collectively have allowed ourselves to be abused for many years now by a small and violent group of uncontrolled kanoim.

For the sake of our children, we need to collectively do everything in our power – everything – to put an end to the abuse immediately.

________________________________________
[1] As part of our Karasick Child Safety Initiative, we released a 33-minute DVD of our parenting seminar “Speaking to Your Kids about Personal Safety” this past June and our child-friendly picture book, “Let’s Stay Safe!” – both designed to give parents a comfortable and modest way to discuss personal space and safety with their children.

[2] Click here for more safety resources: The Karasick Child Safety Initiative of Project YES – Links to Safety Resources for Parents. Contact Project YES at (845)352-7100 ext. 114 or at email@kosherjewishparenting.com to arrange for a personal safety parenting seminar in your community, or to purchase bulk quantities of “Let’s Stay Safe!” for your school, shul, or organization.

Mother’s Prayer

By Anonymous

This story is just so perverse

I thought it best to say in verse.

I’ve got a daughter, aged 23

Already grown up, you say to me.

I raised her right at least I tried.

Sent her to Bais Yaacov to bring me pride.

But the long blue skirt she threw away

And guess what she wears today?

A skirt so short

That I’m not proud

To show all that skin is not allowed!

But when I say her skirt’s too short

She says I don’t provide enough emotional support.

She says it’s her right to show her knee

And that I love her conditionally

Perhaps my mother’s love has a flaw

But it’s Hashem’s who made the law

And when she flouts it I’m in pain

But she can’t hear me so I won’t say it again

Hashem I’m giving her over to you

Please make her value tznius , dress as a loyal Jew

Let her outsides reflect her inner glow

And let her sweet neshomo continue to grow

Groundbreaking New Children’s Book Released: LET’S STAY SAFE!

Groundbreaking New Children’s Book Released: LET’S STAY SAFE!

Let’s Stay Safe, published by Mesorah Publications, is the newest breakthrough from Project YES, a division of Agudath Israel of America Community Services. According to Artscroll, “It may well be the most important picture book that a parent will share with his or her young child.” We all want to keep our children safe, secure, confident, and happy.

With this book’s delightful pictures and child-friendly rhyming text, Let’s Stay Safe helps us give our children essential life lessons in safe and unsafe behavior:
• Personal safety • Staying away from strangers • Crossing the street safely • Bicycle safety • Fire safety • Safety in the home

In language that can educate and empower, this groundbreaking book gives children the tools to stay safe and secure in our increasingly difficult world.

A Personal Message from the Author (Bracha Goetz):

Over four years ago, our youngest daughter, Shira Goetz, gave me the encouragement needed to write a book designed for frum children about personal safety. I “knocked on the door” of every frum publishing house I could think of with my safety manuscript, but no company was willing to publish it back then.

It would still be just a file on my computer, if not for Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. Over two years ago, I sent my manuscript to Rabbi Horowitz, the Director of Project YES, and he devoted himself to getting the safety book published. Along the way, the personal safety book evolved into a more comprehensive safety book that includes personal safety as another normative safety measure. That’s what makes it a major breakthrough for the frum world – abuse prevention being acknowledged as an essential topic to be included for parents and children to learn in order to guard their safety, right alongside fire safety.

I believe that without Rabbi Horowitz’s tremendous efforts – and my daughter’s heartfelt prayers through these years – we would not be able to witness the miracle of this book being published now by Mesorah Publications, with the endorsement of Torah U’Mesorah as well, thank G-d. Although I really only became aware of the underground world of abuse in our midst just four years ago, B’H, there has been great progress during this time in beginning the process of weeding it from our beautiful garden. It should only continue – and prevention education is key.

From this whole endeavor, I learned that we don’t have to be great scholars or have lots of money or prestige to make our communities better places. We can be baalei teshuva, gerim or FFB’s, and if we see what needs fixing, we don’t have to be afraid, we can work on repairing things. I also learned during these four years, over and over again, that we really can never accomplish anything on our own. We need Hashem to smile upon every single effort we try to make. And we need support from other individuals committed to striving for improvement.

I wrote this book to help keep our little ones safe. In the merit of reading this book to young children, may all of our precious ones be blessed to remain pure and in good health, with shining neshamas.

Let’s Stay Safe is currently on sale at an introductory price of $10.79. Go pick up a copy here.

Does Anyone on the U.S. Supreme Court have Kids?

Does anyone on the U.S. Supreme Court have kids? How about grandkids, nieces, nephews, even neighbors with kids? I wonder.

In it’s final decision before adjourning for summer break the court struck down a California law intended to protect children from playing with video games that depict murder, maiming, rape and other forms of violence. In a gross perversion of First Amendment jurisprudence, one that probably has the Founding Fathers—all of whom were parents, reeling in their graves, a 7 to 2 majority said that the games are protected speech and can be freely sold to minors.

These are just a few of the games our Highest Court says our kids can have. “Manhunt 2,” which features a display of dismembered bodies and awards points to the player who can mutilate his victim most grotesquely; “Ethnic Cleansing,” in which the player selects a specific minority group then proceeds to gun down members of that race. “RapeLay,” in which the objective is to rape a mother and her daughters.

Writing for the majority Chief Justice Antonin Scalia a conservative Reagan era appointee said that the state’s “legitimate power to protect children from harm does not include “a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

In his opinion he mentioned Grimm’s fairy tales and Hansel and Gretel thus indicating that in the court’s eyes, today’s games are merely a digital extension of this tradition.

Is Judge Scalia off his rocker and what about the six other justices who concurred?

As a Mom of tween and teenaged boys, I’ve seen these games and they are horrible, even beyond horrible. Last summer, my sons got hold of GTA, Grand Auto Theft—one of the games the Court now protects. GTA is about crime, auto theft, prostitution and murder The soundtrack is a string of obscenities set to a rap beat.

Other than keeping my boys busy, by turning them into zombies (not a state I like to see my children or anyone else’s enter) I hated GTA. One afternoon, I got up my nerve and confiscated the game unleashing a tsunami of anger in my sons akin to the reaction one might get from addicts who are denied their fix. Lets face it, that is what I was doing. These games are drugs of a kind, highly addictive or “immersive,” in euphemistic gamer speak.

Research endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association indicates that these games lead to “an increase in aggressive behavior, physiological desensitization to violence, and decrease [in] pro-social behavior,”

Last year Craig Anderson, director of Iowa State University’s Center for the Study of Violence, authored a paper pointing to clear and convincing evidence that “media violence is one of the causal factors of real-life violence and aggression.”

So why did the Court strike down a law aimed at combating this scourge. According to the law’s author California Senator Leland Yee, who is by the way the senate’s only licensed child psychologist the reason was greed. According to Senator Yee, the Court has “once again put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children.”

The impact of this decision will extend beyond California. The 11 other states—Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia—that submitted amicus briefs will find their options to restrict these games will be severely limited.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself a prominent opponent of these games, has famously said, “it takes a village to raise a child.” but that village has be aligned with that child’s best interests.

Right now thanks to the Supreme Court, the United States of America is not that village.

Teleconference: Tantrums and Sibling Rivalry: Maintaining Harmony in Your Home

Upcoming Live Teleconference…

Tantrums and Sibling Rivalry: Maintaining Harmony in Your Home

In this program presented by Rabbi Avraham Mifsud and Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC, you will learn effective strategies to deal with tantrums and sibling rivalry.

When harmony is disrupted it affects the whole family; call in to hear how you can develop better responses to challenges and strengthen the relationships with your children instead of damage them.

Wednesday and Thursday August 3rd and 4th from 9-9:30 pm, Eastern time

Dial (712) 432-1001

For part I on Wednesday enter access code 445 787 937#

For Part II on Thursday, enter 467 637 417#

This program is sponsored

לעילוי נשמת

ר’ משה ירחמיאל בן יהודה

Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly accurately described it as, “Every parent’s worst nightmare.”

Nine-year-old Leiby Kletzky of Boro Park, Brooklyn finally convinced his mother that he was old enough to walk home alone from day camp. It was only seven short blocks to their home, and she had gone over the route with him beforehand to make sure.

Only he never made it home Monday evening.

His family called the police when he didn’t arrive home. Literally thousands of volunteers combed every inch of the blocks between his home and the day camp.

The break came when Leiby was spotted on a surveillance video, talking to a man outside a dentist’s office. It seems that Leiby had made a wrong turn on his way home and asked for directions. Then Leiby got into the man’s car, a Honda sedan.

The dental office was already closed for the night, but determined police detective work helped them track down both the dentist, who didn’t live in New York, and his receptionist. They went into the office and examined the dentist’s patient records.

The search ended in the early hours of Wednesday morning at an attic apartment not far from the boy’s home. The person of interest made a full confession to the police, including information about where the boy’s body could be found.

He confessed that he had killed the boy.

Other than a minor offense, he had no prior arrest record, no accusations or allegations against him. There were no hints. No one could have known in advance that he would commit a crime like that.

We live in a dangerous world. Even in a tight-knit community, children can get badly hurt.

How do we protect our children? We can’t keep them in a bubble forever. Keeping them in a bubble would be even more dangerous, because once out of the bubble they wouldn’t know how to stay safe.

The only solution that works is to drill children in an age-appropriate manner never to talk to strangers, never ever to get into anyone’s car, to not allow themselves to be snatched up, to not go inside anyone’s house, even someone who speaks Yiddish or Ivrit or Russki or looks Chassidishe or is wearing a yarmulke or long payos “just like them.”

It also has been suggested that a child in trouble can be told to “trust a mother,” that is, if the child sees a mom with a stroller and/or young children of her own, that the child can ask the mom for help (but not a strange adult without children).

Jewish mothers have been accused of being overprotective. But when are we not being protective enough? Every concerned parent has to find this balance between watching over a child and allowing a child independence. When is a child old enough to walk by himself/herself to a friend’s house? To cross the street alone? To babysit for a neighbor’s child? To stay home alone one night? To ride the city bus or the subway? To walk home from the park, or from school, or from day camp? To walk with a group of other young people home from shul or from a Shalom Zachor late on a Friday night?

We can’t lace our children into armor or insert electronic tracking chips into their shoulders. We can try to arm our children with common sense and a sense of self-protection, to yell or run away, to not allow anyone to touch them in the wrong place, even someone they know, to tell their parents anytime they feel afraid or when told to “keep a secret.”

Regrettably, there are those of our own, those who look like Orthodox Jews and dress like Orthodox Jews and talk like Orthodox Jews, who can and do commit such crimes against children.

Hopefully the monster who did this will be locked up in prison for the rest of his life. It won’t bring back Leiby Kletzky, but will prevent any other children from being this person’s victims.

Can we prevent the next tragedy?

Expanding the Backyard

One of the things that initially excited me about find beyondbt.com was that the website/community allows me to interact with fellow Jews who are growth-oriented and get advice from others. As a parent of a boy entering 6th grade, a daughter entering 4th grade, and a daughter entering kindergarten I am always looking for eitzos (advice) on parenting.

Growing up with parents who were both politically and religiously fairly Conservative/traditional I was, ironically, given pretty much free reign in terms of set rules in our home. Aside from the standard “let me know where you’ll be and who you’ll be with” my parents were not to strict when it came to what I read, watched on TV, style of clothing I wore, or what music I liked. Thus, growing up in the 1980s I ended up reading, watching, wearing, and listening to things that, for sure, would raise eyebrows within some Orthodox circles (and probably a red flag with the words “At-risk” printed on it).

We are blessed to live in a thriving frum community, with great chinuch options, and my children are surrounded by positive influences. So far, so good. However with the trend of those raised in observant homes keeping “half-Shabbos” (a term that describes teens and adults using their cell phones to text and go online with on Shabbos) and the constant danger of kids-at-risk rearing its’ not-so-attractive-head I, like most, am concerned about my own children.

Recently my wife had the opportunity to speak with a father of 7 who has, with much help from his wife, raised fairly “normal” frum kids. She asked him what their secret was, and he said simply that they let their kids have choices within defined parameters. When my wife told me this, I said that it’s sort of like making your backyard a little bigger so your kids feel that they have more room to play. For a few years, as I look back now, I’ve been doing this unconsciously.

There are always, in our family, issues like: the yarmulke vs the baseball cap (on top of the yarmulke), the skirt is “too long” vs “too short”, my friends watched parents rented this movie and why can’t we, etc. I think that most of us can make our own list. Now, my kids are far from perfect, but we have tried to raise them to know what’s expected of them. Overall, they are good kids. We attempt to be aware of what they watch, give them choices of what to wear (in the summer, when they are don’t have to wear school uniforms and follow dress codes), and let them think they have a little freedom about what they listen read and listen to (BH they don’t read beyondbt.com or all of our tricks would be for naught).

I think, based on what the conversation my wife had, that we are going to take on a much more active role in structuring the choices we give our own children. Hopefully (with a lot of davening) they will find enough leg and elbow room within Torah Judaism to stretch out and get comfortable.

I’d love to hear any advice or thoughts about what seems to work and not work with raising kids.

Speaking to Your Kids About Personal Safety – mp3 and article

Here is the audio file of Rabbi Horowitz talk on “Speaking to Your Kids About Personal Safety” in Queens last night.

The practical tips are from the article below from Rabbi Horowitz’ website.

In the broadest sense, I think that the time for fathers and mothers to begin protecting their beloved children from sexual abuse is the moment that they walk down from the chuppah and begin their married life together.

Think of it this way. Children who are raised in homes that are havens of safety, love, mutual respect and tolerance are far more likely to immediately notice when they are treated in an abusive manner. Emotionally healthy, self-confident children who appreciate their sacred right to privacy (click here) and personal space are far more likely to hear the warning bells blaring whenever that space is invaded. Children who grow up with the notion that they can be comfortable discussing anything – ANYTHING – with their (click here) parents will, in all likelihood, inform their parents the very moment that something is amiss.

Conversely, children who are bullied into submission by their own parents or those who regularly view one parent being cowed into silence by the other may think that abusive behavior is quite normal. Children who are denied their personal space or whose individuality is crushed or suppressed by their parents may not think much is amiss when outsiders do the same to them. In fact, most predators have a ‘sixth sense’ of which children have grown up in these trying conditions – and zoom in on them like a moth drawn to light.

Let’s face it. Foolproof protection is impossible. You cannot follow your children wherever they go, nor should you raise them to be frightened or suspicious of every adult that they will meet. Moreover, as I noted last week, even though the high-profile abuse cases are school based, they are only a tiny percentage of the instances of molestation. Abusers are far more likely to be extended and close family members, older kids in the neighborhood, family friends, neighbors and peers.

Therefore, the most effective things that parents can do is to keep their children safe are to model healthy interactions between adults (that’s you) and children, and to empower them to speak up if they feel threatened or uncomfortable.

Here are some practical tips:

– Encourage your children to share the events of their day with you when they arrive home each day. Spend time with them, make eye contact, and listen – really listen – to what they have to say.

– Tell your children – early and often – that they can discuss anything with you, no matter how disturbing or uncomfortable those things are. Be aware that this means that you must develop true tolerance for their misdeeds if you want this to continue.

– One of the most effective methods of protection is to teach your children that no adult is ever permitted to tell them a secret that they cannot tell their parents. This is a huge ‘red flag’ for predatory behavior, since part and parcel of the depraved strategy of molesters is to keep things secret from parents. There is no acceptable set of circumstances where any adult should ever be telling a child to keep secrets from his/her parents. Teaching your children that this is wrong is a powerful tool in their protective arsenal. Likewise, parents who keep secrets from each other are also modeling poor values (the kids figure it out quite soon).

– Encourage the notion of personal space in your child’s life. Tell your children to knock before entering a room if they think that someone there may be undressed (do the same yourself). Give your children a drawer to keep their private possessions, and ask their siblings to respect that privacy.

– “Your body belongs to you,” is a theme that should be stressed with children. While bathing young children, for example, is often a good time to discuss privacy matters in a calm, matter-of-fact manner. Tell them about ‘good touching’ and ‘bad touching’. One way of expressing this concept is to explain to them that no one except for parents can touch them in a spot covered by a bathing suit. Please do not alarm them. Frame the discussion as one of safety, and use the same tone that you would use when informing them not to take candy from strangers and not to cross the street without an adult.

– Another supremely important thing to convey to children is that they should not ever be forced to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. Tell them that if they are asked to do something that “doesn’t feel right,” they have the right to say no – even to an adult. (Many, many victims report that they felt they had no choice but to go along with the demands of the abuser.)

If you suspect that your child was molested, please seek the counsel of a trained mental health professional, preferably before you speak to your children.

This Cannot Go On

By Chaya Houpt

Around the time Y.B. and A.N. turned two, they started to Talk. Not just words, but sentences, and then plans and games and conspiracies. Where they had previously been mostly indifferent to each other’s presence, suddenly they were partners in crime. They would stay up for most of the night, chatting and laughing and playing.

I placed them in their cribs at 7 PM as usual, but now, instead of quietly thumbing board books and sleeping until 7 the next morning, they would party.

My husband and I would go to sleep around 11 or 12, lying in bed with clenched teeth as we listed to our daughters carry on from the nursery down the hall. The next day, they were miserable company: cranky, short-tempered and whiny. Each day, the cumulative sleep debt was worse.

And naptime was a problem, too. They wouldn’t nap at all in a room together. We set up a pack-n-play and carried Y.B. down to the laundry room each afternoon, where she would often be woken early by the doorbell.

This cannot go on, I said.

So we sought the advice of our parents, mentors and friends. We tried bribing, threatening and all kinds of parental trickery. There were staggered bedtimes, later bedtimes and I can’t even remember what else. It was frustrating. Infuriating, even. We felt so powerless.

Some of the things we tried helped a little. But mostly, the girls just grew out of it. They gradually got used to the wonder of verbal communication, and they learned to be quiet roommates.

How long did it take before they started going to sleep quietly at an early hour? Oh, about A YEAR.

. . .

Another story, this one about mornings:

I have encouraged my girls to be independent and self-sufficient from the youngest age. When they entered the “I do it by self” phase, I was thrilled. I watched in wonder as my tiny children performed more and more of their morning routine by themselves: getting dressed, brushing teeth.

And then, sometime around last November, it just stagnated. They started dawdling, protesting, refusing to do anything by themselves. Mornings became a nightmare.

This cannot go on, I said.

I wrote an email to Jenny. “I don’t want to start every day with a battle,” I wrote. “Here is what I have tried.” And I listed all the tricks and strategies I had employed.

Jenny empathized and offered some ideas and suggestions, which I implemented. It helped a lot, but A.N. was still having a lot of trouble getting out in the morning.

This cannot go on, I said, and in January I wrote Jenny again.

She helped me through the situation, and said, “If things are still terrible Purim-time, let’s rethink.”

Purim came and went. Pesach rolled around, and then Yom Haatzmaut. Last Sunday was Lag B’Omer. And even this morning, it was a battle to get A.N. dressed and out of the house.

And you know what? I’ve accepted it. I don’t feel the urgency to change or fix the situation. Maybe this CAN go on. Maybe I don’t need a solution, or maybe our family isn’t ready for a solution.

One day last week, my neighbor Leah observed that my kids have a hard time with the morning transition. It was good to get objective confirmation, because Leah is no stranger to the challenges of a house full of young children.

“Is it always the same kid?” she wanted to know.

“Nope,” I said, because though A.N. might present the most challenges, Y.B. and B.A. have been known to get into the elevator howling and refusing to put on shoes as well.

And then she said something like, “You are always so calm with them.” I don’t remember her exact words, because of all the noise from the choir of angels.

. . .

So that’s the thing. Every meltdown, every dragged-out journey to nursery school, every impossible morning presents a challenge: how can I fix this? How can I get this family running like a well-oiled machine?

But that’s not always the victory Hashem has in store for me. Maybe I am simply meant to try my best to help the situation, and when nothing works, I can accept reality as it is and know that I am growing stronger, more patient, more calm in the process.

This cannot go on? Why not? Here’s another one: this too shall pass. But not on my timeline.

Chaya blogs about parenting and life at All Victories.