Parenting by Choice â€“ the Antidote to Todayâ€™s Bombastic Culture
If Jewish identity, pride and general â€œmentchlekeit, are of value to you and are goals for what you wish to instill in your children – you have more reason to worry than ever. For parents, teachers and Rabbis everywhere â€“ this is the buzz. In a society where internet, TV, DVDs, movies, magazines, iPods and billboards that inundate in a torrential downpour without respite â€“ no group or segment is left untouched (more like â€œunscathedâ€) by todayâ€™s â€œ24/7-media-at-your-fingertips-and-everywhere-you-turnâ€ culture. Is there an antidote?
â€œParenting by Choiceâ€.
When my wife and I were parents with â€œthree under threeâ€ to chase after, besides consuming tons of books and tapes on â€œParentingâ€ – we looked ahead of the game to find the kids who were the ripe fruits of their parentâ€™s labor. We asked them (from teenagers to young adults) â€“ why are you such a â€œgood kidâ€? They were respectful, well-mannered, intelligent, playful â€“ strong in Jewish pride and intentionally or unintentionally – brought the same out in their friends while living in everyday, â€œmodernâ€ America. Their consistent answer:
â€œComes from the homeâ€.
Not the school â€“ not the Rabbi â€“ the home.
Now, did we do a nationwide survey? No. Yet you donâ€™t have to before seeing â€œa patternâ€ and a straight answer that resonates with obvious truth:
â€œGood kids come from the homeâ€ or rephrased â€“ â€œParenting by choiceâ€.
So what about the kid(s) who seem to come from a home where the parentâ€™s seem to everything â€œby the bookâ€?! Patienceâ€¦.
We also did some discreet â€œinterviewingâ€ with parents who constantly â€œkvetchedâ€ about their kids or had some real â€œnachasâ€ issues â€“ were there any â€œpatternsâ€ there? You bet.
Before I â€œgo thereâ€ â€“ letâ€™s just say it simply re-enforced what the â€œgood kidsâ€ told us:
â€œGood kids come from the homeâ€ or rephrased â€“ â€œParenting by choiceâ€.
Are you â€œParenting by Choiceâ€?
In HaYom Yom, â€œ22 Tevesâ€ p. 13:
“Just as wearing tefillin every day is a mitzvah commanded by the Torah regardless of his standing in Torah, whether deeply learned or simple, so too is it an absolute duty for every person to spend a half-hour every day thinking about the Torah-education of children, and to do everything in his power – and beyond his power – to inspire children to follow the path along which they are being guided.”
As a parent and a IT Program Manager â€“ â€œParenting by Choiceâ€ means:
â€œDo we have a plan and are we working itâ€?
Any serious undertaking with a high value return needs planning and constant monitoring | refining to ensure the plan is being worked, the plan is realistic and is able to adjust to the â€œunknownsâ€ â€“ why should parenting be any different? Is there any more a serious and valuable undertaking than raising a child who is a ethical and practical benefit to society?
So while we may plan and save for which college our child will attend and what career path they will choose â€“ how much detailed and daily thinking have we put into addressing how to mold our children in a nurturing way that will foster Jewish identity, pride and general â€œmentchlekeit?
6 Guidelines to â€œParenting by Choiceâ€
More of the patterns that we found by â€œgood kidsâ€, the parents who enjoy the fruits of â€œparental orthodonticsâ€ and advice from experts – could be distilled into 6 guidelines:
1. Do â€œParenting by Choiceâ€ â€“ have and work a plan.
Check â€“ we covered that. The parting comment on this guideline is â€“ doing â€œParenting by Choiceâ€ means not claiming victimization by a bombastic society â€“ it means taking back control from a bombastic society and culture.
2. Be a Model â€“ donâ€™t expect our children to do what we do not.
I hate this one. It is the hardest and the problem is â€“ it is the â€œGolden Ruleâ€ of parenting. We all know the â€œDo-As-I-Say-and-Not-As-I-Doâ€ approach breeds contempt and rebellion. The upside is – children, like all challenges in life, bring out the latent strengths within us to force us to be better than we ever conceived. My children force me to be accountable, to grow. As much as I hate it â€“ it evokes more love to them for it.
Some common sub-themes that detail guideline #2:
a. Dedicated and growth centric – If I am not disciplined and striving for personal growth â€“ what do I expect from my kids?
b. Submissive to a â€œHigher Authority â€“ if we do not listen to a â€œHigher Authorityâ€ (e.g. Hashem, the Torah, Rabbinical guidance) â€“ why should our kids listen to us?
c. Live Judaism with joy and priority
This doesnâ€™t mean to always have a smile plastered on our face. Let me give some examples:
â€œOy, Pesachâ€™s (or Shabbos is) coming â€“ all the cleaning, shopping, preparationsâ€¦.â€.
â€œI have to go to Synagogue.â€ Or as one parent once told me: â€œI can attend any day except for Wednesday because I have karate classâ€. What messages are we sending with statements like these? Also, when was the last time you checked your facial expression during prayer? Do you look engaged or like you are doing your tax returns?
Even if we were to observe Judaism to the strictest degree yet broadcast through comments or our body language that it is a burden, we are â€œmissing outâ€ and we donâ€™t attempt to convey the beauty of our rich, 3,300+ years of Jewish heritage with eagerness and enthusiasm â€“ donâ€™t expect â€œoptimal resultsâ€ or be surprised by kids who â€œarenâ€™t interestedâ€.
Another, major ingredient is: Martial and community (synagogue) harmony.
As a close friend of mine who directs a school for assisting troubled teenagers puts it â€“ â€œYou can always find marital or Jewish community discord as one of the top three factors contributing to creating troubled kidsâ€. Examples: Synagogue politics or bad mouthing (instead of solution finding with) the Rabbi, school or criticizing your spouse.
3. Have Borders, Consistency & Fairness
Children and teenagers need rules and boundaries â€“ they will test them but crave them they do. They need to know there are rules, there are consequences to their choices and consistency in the follow through to those consequences which will be â€œa punishment that fits the crimeâ€.
A child does not put their toys away. They can put their toys away or the toys will be taken for 1-3 days. Keep to the consequence no matter how much they whine.
A teenager behaves irresponsibly with a privilege â€“ it is revoked. Keep to the consequence no matter how much they â€œfreak-outâ€.
Donâ€™t we as adults understand this? If we choose not to show up for work â€“ what are the consequences?
4. Build self-esteem.
Guideline #3 doesnâ€™t mean being a cruel dictator or a drill sergeant. We have to put thought into how to bring out the strengths of our children and how to help them, help themselves to compensate in their areas of growth.
Example: Help them think through their homework â€“ donâ€™t just give them the answers.
5. Ask some hard questions and give some honest answers about what we are allowing to influence our children.
Friends, TV, internet, cell phones â€“ the list goes on and on. This is called â€œParenting by Choiceâ€, not â€œMy-Kid-Is-My-Friendâ€. Take control. â€œParenting by Choiceâ€ is a benevolent dictatorship â€“ not a democracy. And yeah â€“ itâ€™s for Gen X and not the 1950â€™s. This is a loaded topic and would love to dedicate a future article to it.
Example: Do we have to use media for entertainment or can we find an interactive hobby (â€œinteractiveâ€ meaning board games, physical activity – not â€œWiiâ€ or any â€œgamingâ€) ?
6. Pray and pray some more.
To address an earlier statement â€“ what about the parentâ€™s that seem to â€œdo it rightâ€ and their kids are not exactly a source of nachas (yet)?
The most important factor is, after all has been exhausted and done â€“ we need to pray (constantly) to Hashem for our childrenâ€™s success. Like a farmer who works, plows and sweats to plant and nurture a crop â€“ if a drought ensues, if pestilence attacks or an early frost comes â€“ all his work is for naught.
At the same time â€“ if the farmer does nothing â€“ why should he be surprised at a crop of weeds?
Easy? â€“ NO â€“ whatâ€™s the alternative? Parent/teacher meetings? Ritalin? Expulsion? Therapy? Drugs? Rehab? Stress? Aggravation? What we put in is, on average – what we get out. If we let a bombastic society put into our children in our stead â€“ why should we be surprised if the result is a bombastic child or teenager?
Our energy as parents is going to be used one way or the other â€“ to invest or to make amends â€“ fortunately, we have influence on how our energy will be spent.
Be Empowered in â€œParenting by Choiceâ€
Go here as a great resource for â€œParenting by Choiceâ€. Great for listening online or being downloaded for on the go. Targeted at the â€œfrumâ€, â€œtraditionalâ€ and not yet observant – youâ€™ll be refreshed by the real-world depiction and down to Earth, tips and tricks that get Parenting results.
About the author: Avrahom-Moishe Erlenwein is a Lubavitcher, with 7 children (14 years-4 years old), married to a â€œWomen of Valorâ€, strives to actualize the imminent Redemption and works as a business consultant | IT Program Manager.