Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jewish Learning Institute: The Art of Parenting

I've begun taking this class through the JCC Chabad of the Beach cities, the same place that EG goes to school.  While it would be impossible to share all the knowledge I'm gleaning from the class, I thought I would share a bit about what I'm learning.

If you are available, the class takes place either Wednesday or Sunday morning from 9:30-11am.  It's a great class so far, so I encourage you to join in.

This past week we talked a lot about how we make choices as parents.  About choosing what's best for the child, and not making a decision based upon what's best for us as parents.  This seems like a really easy and straightforward concept, but in reality, it's often very murky.

We took two classic examples in class: the tantrum in the supermarket and the mismatched outfit being worn out of the house.  In both of these circumstances there are multitudes of different things playing out in our minds. 

There is so much pressure being a parent and it's something that can effect every decision we make.  When our kids make a scene in the grocery store we most likely aren't just thinking about what's best for my child.  We're likely thinking "what are these people thinking about me a parent.  This is so embarassing, how can I make her stop!"  We are overwhelmed with what others think about us.  Maybe it's not their opinions that count, but the reality of the fact that we need to pay for the groceries, not buy something we didn't want, ensure our kids aren't stealing anything, and that if we don't finish shopping, we won't have another chance to buy milk all week.

So we give in.  We abate the tantrum with a candy bar, or the other things out kids are asking us for.  To make it all stop. 

Sometimes we do need to give in.  Sometimes it's important to show our children that we listen to them, and buying the graham crackers they want can teach them that they are valued to.  Sometimes that candy bar is actually deserved.  But did we make that choice based upon what is best for them, or what was best for us.

Jewish teaching on parenting is complex at best, but at it's core there are a few guiding principles.  When we were discussing these practices and values in class I couldn't help but think about a few other classic Jewish conceptions: Derech Eretz and Shalom Bayit.  

Taken at it's literal interpretation, Derech Eretz means 'the way of the land.'  We can interpret this to mean that living a Torah life, a G-dly life, also means behaving with civility, earning a livelihood, and having common sense.  When we look at this concept, we can see that we have an obligation to teach our children to engage with the outside world in an appropriate manner.  Therefore tantrums in the grocery store aren't permitted.  Thinking of our world from this perspective can help remind us of our obligation to teach our children the proper way to engage with the world.  Think the Jewish version of Emily Post.

Another is Shalom Bayit, or peace in the home.  Taking this concept into yourself and making it a part of our lives might help us to choose decisions that make the most sense for our home.  When we go through life there are lots of outside influences.  Many of them are critically important to us, such as extended family, work obligations, even the weather.  But when you look at these from the perspective of Shalom Bayit it can help put into perspective our obligations to those of our own home. Maybe today we don't visit Grandp
a because it's not good for the peace of our house.

I hope that these ideas can help you guide your choices in the best interest of our children.  Child-rearing is a complicated and complex idea.  The stress we can put on ourselves can be unbearable.  So, while we keep these things in mind, above all else, remember that G-d doesn't give us more than we are ready to handle.  These children are yours- regardless of how they came into your life.  You are divinely created to help them, raise them, and guide them in becoming the adults they are meant to be.

Here's to you, and making choices. 

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