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

Originally published on 8/13/2012

27 comments on “A BT’s Recipe For Raising Good Kids in an FFB World

  1. Am I allowed to translate this article to Portuguese and post it on my Facebook, mentioning all the credits?
    There’s almost nothing (sometimes I think really nothing) this good in Portuguese… and jews who don’t know English really miss a lot of good info.
    Thank you.

  2. Some of the points on this list are on target. Yet, there are a few that don’t hold up as well to scrutiny in my humble opinion.

    “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.”

    Hard to believe this was written seriously. Most of us can agree that “grades” are in and of themselves are not inherently important. Yet, I don’t believe a responsible parent would deny that part of earning good grades is dependent upon the forming of good middos. Aside from a limited number geniuses, the rest of us earn good grades by developing responsibility, diligence, studiousness, and an ability to consider one’s future in all decisions made. Some of these are discussed in Pirkei Avos – an indication of how important they are to every person.
    Perhaps the writer would argue that so long as a child tries his best, the actual grade doesn’t matter, but that’s a different argument than the one made here which emphasizes middos only. Striving for good grades is part of developing good middos.

    Additionally, he writes later, “Secular education is important and valuable.” Really? By what measure? The same one that says that grades don’t count? What will secular education that is replete with failing grades do for anyone? It’s rather obvious that grades do matter. They matter a lot. Perhaps his point was that although grades matter, they’re not a substitute for good middos. That’s something we can all agree on.

    “6. No labeling – even good labeling. You did a good thing, not you are a good boy.”

    Interesting because to my knowledge, none less than Moshe Rabbenu labeled. “Rasha lama sakeh reyechah” – Wicked one, why do you hit your fellow?
    Labels are very important and I’m also certain the writer agrees to this. In fact, right in this very article he engaged in labeling: “13. The frum world may be crazy, but it’s the best society we have”
    Calling the frum world “crazy” is a label and pejorative one at that.
    The Torah engages in all sort of labels – see Birchas Yaakov and pesukim that tell us that the world of comprised of choices between “Tov and Ra” and “Chaim and Movess.” Failure to teach a child the difference between the two is a failure to train a child in elementary areas of Judaism.
    Perhaps this writer meant to say something about not judging others lifestyle choices in an attempt to legitimize all paths to yiddishkeit, but that’s a different ball of wax than what was written here.

    14. Goyim are not to be looked down upon, they are created in God’s image.”
    The fact that Goyim [is that a label BTW?] are created in G-d’s image is a straw man. It does not address the attitude behind one who would look down upon them in any useful manner. Obviously they’re created in G-d’s image and can reach great heights. Yet, the same was true for the 7 Canaanite nations and the Torah speaks unsparingly about their corrupt ways and instructs us to shun them in the most forceful manner possible. The Plishtim and AMalekim are described in the Tanach in vile terms. Without knowing for certain, it is not unreasonable to imagine that if we had Neviim today, they would have little positive to say about many lifestyle choices among the Non-Jews and urge us to distance ourselves in any way possible. The fact that they were all created B’Tzelem Elokim is immaterial because, as seforim point out, one can mask that Tzelem Elokim with poor lifestyle choices and serve as a very negative influence upon others.
    Is that a message that one really wishes to obfuscate for his children?

  3. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard could fit under the context of item #8. A Rebbetzin told me that when she was growing up, if she or her siblings made a mistake on Shabbos (for instance, playing with crayons), their parents would just correct them in a very calm and pleasant manner, saying something like “we don’t play with that on Shabbos, let’s do something else”, but not displaying any anger, horror or other negative traits. Unfortunately, lots of BT parents think their child is about to become frie if they do something wrong. All this could be summed up in a few simple words, “chill out”. They’re kids, and they learn the most from your example. Shabbos is a joyous day, not one a kid should ever dread because they can’t do this or that.

  4. I would change #7 to read that success is in the EFFORT–not the outcome. I interpret #5 to mean this as well.
    Difficult as it may be, #11 nails it. Becoming a BT was our choice and kids have to make their own choice as to how they want to live their lives. Even when they choose a Torah life, it will not neccesarily look exactly like the home in which they were raised (but it sure is easier if it does….)

  5. Let me add the following suggestion-a BT parent will always be viewed as a BT by his or her now FFB kids. While it is imperative for a BT to have the same idealism and passion that led him or her to become a BT, obviously your kids have to come to their own sense of idealism and passionate committment, partially from observing their parents , as well as from friends, schools and camps.

  6. CJ, Your tone was over the top and we sent you an email asking you to tone it down. When we didn’t hear from you we deleted the comment.

  7. My interpretation of “it’s OK not to be frum” is that it means letting the child know that regardless of their eventual observance level, the child will be loved and cherished by the parents. The parents’ love will not be conditional on the child being frum. This is incredibly important.

  8. In reply to comment #18:

    In my opinion, a Jew should have faith in G-d and observe his commandments because he has studied Torah (in the wide sense), seen the positive examples set by others (e.g., his parents), asked questions and received honest answers, and used his free will to make his choices.

    That’s my interpretation of the list in the original post.

  9. I am highly disappointed that you censored my earlier remarks. The fact that you published this list and will not allow any critical comments is unfortunate.

    I cannot imagine any gadol instructing parents to encourage their children to question God’s existence or to tell them that it’s okay to not be frum.

  10. what does “frummer” mean in this context, and what does its use say about the way people think?

  11. I am not crazy about the sending to a frummer school advice. Two things come to mind:

    1) Rabbi Paysach Krohn siad that when he was considering yeshivahs for his son, he had two choices, one where all the rabbeim had beards, and one where only some did. He asked Rav Yaakov ZTL who told him to not send to the former because otherwise his son would think he was a goy for not having a beard.

    2) When I presented Rav Scheinberg ZT”L with a choice of two schools, one frum and one VERY frum, he told me that whichever one I choose, I should make sure that the principal understands children’s psychology.

    Hardly the advice the author gives. Frummer schools do not always lead to frummer kids. Sometimes it leads to more rebellion.

  12. I think that the list is great, but it also bears consideration that no list is foolproof and the Torah itself provides us with many examples of the issues that we must confront in being good parents and spouses.

  13. When we talk about academic achievement, are we including Limud Hatorah? If so, can it possibly be suggested that parents should not encourage — in the most appropriate way for that child — maximum application of his talents (again, within the realm of what is realistic for that child in that environment) and ensure that good academic and learning habits are inculcated as early as possible?

  14. Aside from two things, this is a great list.

    1) You can try to not yell at your kids (or anyone else), but most people will not succeed. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop trying, but you shouldn’t feel that because you have yelled, your kids are doomed.

    2) There’s a big difference between monitoring grades and considering it a moral failing if your children do poorly. Having dealt extensively with students who have required remediation, I can tell you that the kids with parents who don’t pay attention to their grades or test scores will still feel bad about themselves if they’re floundering in school because their teachers and classmates will notice they are performing below grade level even if you don’t. Plus, some of those skills will be essential to them in the years to come.

    The best thing is to watch your children’s academic performance carefully without too much comment, rewarding effort over result and finding help (tutoring, therapy, etc.) when necessary. Every person’s life is filled with struggles that can–hopefully–result in growth. For some people, those obstacles will be in the academic realm. Don’t shame your child if they perform poorly on academic tasks, but don’t let them fail without giving them support, either.

  15. And you need TONS of Siyata D’Shmaya!!

    Let me add that my husband’s fervent prayers for G-d’s Help in raising our children were a very big factor in our kids coming out as they are today.

  16. Mark, I just saw your comment:

    Kids are not blintzes, as DD said, and some are easier to help on the path towards shleimos (perfection) than others.

    I think this bears on my reaction to the suggestions in the post, too, because those differences are not only in the outcome, but in the experience.

    I have two children who essentially never had to be disciplined. They were just GOOD BOYS, all the time, and I had no conscious role in that.

    And I also have other boys.

    If I were giving advice based on rearing only the easy (discipline-wise) boys, I’d think I had a pretty good formula about being cool and letting a child’s natural goodness just, like, flow.

    If it were just the ones in my portfolio of experience, well … a different experience, though not necessarily a different outcome, and I would be talking about the need for firmness balanced with love, how children need limits, etc., etc.

    I see some kids in shul with their dads and I can’t believe how passive they seem. Other kids are out of control from the earliest age, it seems, and I wonder how I’d ever manage them. Of course, Hashem gave those kids to those parents, and B”H mine to me.

    No, not blintzes at all!

  17. Indeed, every family is different and you can knock your head against the wall — or not — for 20 years, and at the end of the day children are people and make choices that are not merely the sum total of how their parents reared some particular combination of genes.

    I agree with a lot of this, but (surprise!) feel compelled to address some of the points that I really disagree with, as a one-time child and present parent.

    1. Relax I wish my house were more relaxed than it is, but some people are kind of intense and driven, and some personal situations (I don’t mean mine) are simply stressful. Equanimity and inner peace are indeed huge brochos but not everyone can merit them — why, I get tied up in knots just trying! Seriously, though, I am sure our kids would be more relaxed if we were more relaxed, but I’m not sure they’d be more “successful” or would “flourish” if being relaxed were Job One. Maybe this is too esoteric of a concept for me, though, so I’m just going to chill about it.

    2. No shouting Hm. Some people think I’m always shouting! It’s a great idea. To not shout, I mean.

    3. It’s okay to be naughty Why on earth would I teach my kids that it’s okay to be naughty? The idea that how we conduct ourselves matters is a core value of Judaism. That doesn’t mean lots of dread punishment or melodrama, I agree, but I cannot accept this formulation at all for children who are sentient.

    I’m glad this rabbi and educator’s children turned out so great but I can’t believe they did so in an environment where they were taught misbehavior is “not a problem.” Indeed, it cannot be — because item #8 states, “No punishment, rather consequences to actions.” If all actions are “okay,” why would I, as a parent, have to get involved at all with “consequences”?

    4. Apologize I agree with apologizing to your kids when appropriate. This a great lesson you can teach them.

    5. Very little interest in grades at school – middos are all that matter to me on their reports. I cannot comprehend how one can teach children “middos” while teaching them that grades — which for most people are the best evaluations we have of how kids are doing in school, which includes the (ethical) components of diligence and responsibility — don’t matter. The acceptance of mediocrity is a major cultural issue in our community, and this suggestion is appalling.

    6. No labeling – even good labeling. You did a good thing, not you are a good boy. What? It’s lovely to tell children they are good boys or girls!

    I know that “bad” is also considered a no-no, but I even wonder if we really need to treat our children as pets when in fact they can actually be pretty smart — hence the term homo sapiens. I have observed that under normal, healthy circumstances children have no trouble following the following logical chain: when they do something wrong, they are “being bad,” and vice-versa. They know it is situational because, being no thicker than Pavlov’s dog, they associate the cause (behavior) with the effect (application of the label). But even if you want to eschew “bad boy” and “bad girl,” I see not reason to deprive children of being good boys and girls. I think this suggestion borders on the cruel.

    7. Similarly, praise the act, not the child. Again, I really disagree: Praise, when earned, should not be spared. How many of us still pine for the too-often-withheld praise of our parents?

    I agree with all the rest, at least aspirationally. I am certain that a household where a parent has “learn[ed] through an outline of all of Nach” probably has something very good going on in it!

  18. Decent Dad, perhaps the bigger issue you are alluding to is the “Myth of Perfect Parenting”. Almost all the lectures, books and lists of this type have the unstated assumption that these ideas will lead towards becoming a more perfect parent who will raise more perfect children.

    But as we know it’s not that simple for 2 reasons:

    1) We as humans all have character flaws, and it is a continual life long process to refine those flaws.
    2) Kids are not blintzes, as DD said, and some are easier to help on the path towards shleimos(perfection) than others.

    So perhaps someone somewhere will write a book or compose a list called “The Imperfect Parent and their Imperfect Children”dealing with the reality of Hashem’s creations as you raise your children.

  19. These are all good ideas but kids are not blintzes. Folks say our kids are pretty good kids too. I wish I could say we never shouted in our house but sometimes we did. Life is not as simple as the shalom bayis books say and anyone who was ever married knows it does not take 2 to fight. Some people never shouted in the house and some of their kids are bums and others are just fine. Also the other way around. Relaxed is a blessing but some families are not so relaxed. Maybe if there is some shouting but the parents are still together and keep trying the kids learn from that also.

  20. Well, as the mom of 7 kids (now ages 35 through 22) and the grandma of 16 so far (ages 14 years through 2 months), I would add a few more items.

    I would say that having fun being Jewish is important: make Purim a big deal, play Uncle Moishy tunes and DVDs, sing loud and offkey Shabbos zemiros at the Shabbos table (and once in a while only when appropriate act silly and balance a spoon on your nose).

    R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Everyone in the house respects King Totty and Queen Mommy. Mommy and Totty show respect for the Mora D’Asra of the family’s shul and for all of the children’s rebbis, morahs and principals of their schools. Mommy and Totty also show respect for their parents, the Saba/Savta or Bubby/Zaidy of the family, and also to Gedolim and to rabbonim and to the Torah itself.

    Children must be respected too, not in the sense of being honored or obeyed like the parents, but in the sense of being listened to and believed.

  21. In general I like the list, although I’m with Neil on the education issue. Middos is a top priority and grades in and of themselves are definitely not the goal.

    However understanding the importance of education and pursuing educational objectives in secular and kodesh topics is critical.

    I think a parent who does not emphasize the importance of sincere effort and continual progress in education is doing his child a disservice.

  22. Great article and these are all important tips in parenting.

    While I do feel that middos are extremely important, it’s also important that children do the best they can in school. To have good middos and slack off in gemara shiur isn’t ideal.

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