Home » Posts tagged 'Parenting'

Tag Archives: Parenting

My Son, the Lone Soldier

Parents worry about children.  It’s what we do.

When they’re infants, we worry about every sniffle and cough.  When they’re in grade school, we worry about bumps and bruises.  When they enter adolescence, we worry about their hormones and teenage angst.  As they become young adults, we worry about them finding their way in life.

So I understand it when people ask if I’m worried about my son in the Israeli army.  But many of them don’t understand my answer.

All in all, I think he’s safer than he’s ever been.

It wasn’t part of the plan.  After college, with a good job waiting for him in New York, he went to Israel for a few months of spiritual R & R in the Jewish homeland.  But almost from the moment he arrived, he knew that he wanted to stay.  And if he was going to live as an Israeli, he wanted to do his part to defend his country and his fellow Jews.

With barely a second thought, he became a Lone Soldier.

He found the unit he wanted – the Gadsar Reconnaissance Division of the Nahal Brigade.  He was attracted by the division’s reputation for quiet determination, and he eagerly awaited the challenge of proving himself fit for an elite combat unit.

His first goal was to complete the gibush – a 3 ½ day selection trial of relentless physical rigor.  Of the 15 prospective soldiers in his group, four dropped out after three hours.  The rest made it all the way to the end.  And in the end, he made the cut.

My son was five years older than most of the other guys – a huge difference at that age – and had to obey and respect commanders much younger than himself.  But he also found that his age elicited among his peers an expectation of maturity.  With that perception came a sense of responsibility to live up to what others expected.

The 14-month training proved always demanding, frequently tedious, sometimes painful and – on occasion – seemingly pointless.  But he soon recognized the advantages of discipline and learned to trust the wisdom of his commanders.  As his taskmasters drove him to do things he would never have done on his own and develop skills he never imagined he would want or need, he began to discover his own extraordinary potential.

He mastered weaponry, marksmanship, navigation, camouflage, demolition, and hand-to-hand combat.  Above all, he acquired the self-confidence that comes from having been trained and tested – and, with it, the mindset for success in every aspect of life.

He came to value the camaraderie that comes from a shared sense of purpose.  His world view grew broader and deeper.  He learned to sympathize with the plight of the Palestinian people and to simultaneously loathe the corruption of Palestinian leaders who exploit their own people by perpetuating a culture of terror for political advantage.

As a Lone Soldier, having left his own parents and siblings halfway around the world, he found himself in a strange twilight zone of independence without isolation.  He enjoyed the warm affection of an Israeli family that adopted him as a son, and the security of knowing that his superiors were always looking out for his welfare.  And from the comments of his fellows, he gained new insights about himself:

“You chose to come over and do this – that’s absolutely crazy.”
“What is it with you? You act like you enjoy being here.”
“Dude, you have really good table manners.”

In a world of distracted, spoiled, and self-absorbed adult-children who don’t know who they are and don’t care where they’re going, my son has been trained to look for opportunities, respond to the unexpected, and navigate his way through any challenges and around any obstacles that life may throw at him.

More important, he has cultivated a sense of personal and national identity, an awareness that he is not just an individual but part of something far greater than himself – which makes him greater than anything he could become on his own.  He has learned to take responsibility for himself and has developed a desire to engage the future rather than merely wait for it to arrive.  He wants to make the world a better place, and he understands that the best way to do that is by making himself a better person.

In many ways I envy him and his comrades the opportunity they have, and it saddens me that more young people don’t choose to similarly challenge themselves.  Most of us don’t begin life well-prepared for life, irrespective of our schooling or our vocational training.  We squander so much thought and effort trying to figure things out on the fly, trying to play catch-up as we struggle with our careers and in our relationships.

We are all soldiers in the army of Mankind, all warriors on the battlefield of life.  I’m grateful that my son has what so few of us have – the training and experience to meet those battles, to step forward into life with skill and self-assurance.  And I’m proud that he has discovered that true joy comes from commitment to a higher purpose and higher values.

So to those who wonder why I’m not more worried about my son, all I can say is this:  what on earth do I have to worry about?

Published in the Jewish Press

Raise your words

A Present for Heaven

letting-goWhen my youngest daughter was three years old, she discovered the helium balloons in the flower section of our local supermarket, handed out free to every child who asks for one. I tied the string around her wrist so the precious balloon wouldn’t escape up to the rafters. She bounced it on its string as I tugged it this way and that to avoid bumping other shoppers. She hugged it as we climbed into the car for the ride home.

As I pulled into the driveway, my daughter flew out of the car, her balloon bobbing along behind her, raced in through the front door and out again to our back yard, slipped the string off her wrist and gazed upward as the balloon rose into the sky and slowly drifted away.

“Why did you let go of your balloon?” I asked, slightly miffed that she had so casually cast away the new toy she had been fussing over for the last half hour.

My daughter just shrugged, giggled, and watched the balloon disappear from sight.

After our next trip to the market she did it again. Then again, over and over for months. Every time I asked the same question. “Why did you let go of your balloon?”

Finally I got an answer. My daughter looked me in the eye and replied with a smile, “It’s a present for God.”

* * *

She doesn’t do it anymore. And part of me mourns for the pure, innocent faith that prompted a little girl to give up her toy as an offering to the Almighty.

For all our experience and the sophistication, for all our indulgent smiles at the simplicity of our children’s beliefs, is it not likely that our children know something we don’t, something they themselves soon won’t know or even remember they once knew? And perhaps it is precisely their power of belief that sets them apart from the adults they will become.

Children believe in God, believe in their parents, believe in their country and their school and their friends and that good will always win out over evil. Their trust and faith haven’t yet been sullied by the lies of politicians, the corruption of law and justice, the avarice of sports heroes, the superficiality of Hollywood or, most importantly, the cynicism of their parents, who may try for a time to put on an act to spare their children from their own disillusionment.

But what if it worked the other way, that we could learn an old lesson from our children instead of imposing yet another new lesson upon them? What if we could turn the clock back and recapture even a whiff of the innocence of youth? Would we reach out to grasp it, or have we grown too jaded even to try?

This Rosh Hashana, Jews around the world will fill synagogues to inaugurate the first day of the Jewish new year. But Rosh Hashana celebrates much more than the beginning of another calendrical cycle. It celebrates birth and rebirth; it celebrates beginning and renewal, for it commemorates nothing less than the Creation of the world and Mankind.

edelweiss91As we approach the New Year, let us ask ourselves how we can turn back the clock, exchanging bad habits for new challenges, routine for renewal, and cynicism for enthusiasm. Instead of smiling with adult condescension at the innocence of children, let us consider instead that the difference between childhood and maturity is not whether we give presents to our Creator, but what kind of presents we choose to give. A child serves God by sending a balloon up into the sky. An adult serves God by releasing his spirit to soar to the heights of Godliness.

Have we given charity in proportion with our means? Have we visited the sick and comforted the distressed? Have we consistently spoken with kindness to our neighbors, with respect to our superiors, and with patience to our children? Have we honored the Sabbath and studied the ancient wisdom of our people?

It’s not enough to make resolutions; we need to inspire ourselves to see them through. We need to awaken in ourselves an awe of the Almighty by reflecting upon the vastness of creation, the unfathomability of the stars in their courses, the mysteries of life, and the limitless potential of the soul — to behold for a lingering moment the immeasurable beauty and majesty of our universe.

And if we can follow through, if we can make the moment last without slipping back into our well-traveled rut of discounting every noble and beautiful thought and deed, then perhaps we can retain our faith in those things truly worthy of faith throughout the coming year.

Originally published in 2008 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Aish.com.

The Sound of Silence

2016-1[Rabbi] Shimon [ben Gamliel] says:  All my days I grew up among the sages, and I never found anything better for a person than silence.  Action, not study, is the main thing; and excessive talk inevitably leads to sin.

~Ethics of Fathers 1:17

Listen, my son, to the guidance of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; for they are a charm of grace upon your head and precious gems about your neck.

~Proverbs 1:8-9

Traditionally, discipline came from the father, whose stern and urgent words provided guidance along the path of life. However, it was the quiet lessons learned by example from the mother that defined that path and had the most enduring influence as children grew up into the adults they were meant to become.

No matter how parenting roles may have changed, the general principles remain.  Intellectual maturity, symbolized here as a charm of grace upon the head, guides the steps we take; the intuitions of the conscience, when articulated through speech, are the precious gems about the neck, which keep us turned toward our ultimate destination.

Only when our thinking and speaking are filtered through the wisdom absorbed from responsible parents and trustworthy teachers will we be able to find our place in the world and live in harmony among our fellows.

Near-death experience

1You’re ten years old and a sound sleeper, so it’s already unusual that something has woken you up in the middle of the night.  You go out into the hall to investigate.  There are strangers in the house and flashing lights out the window.  Your father tells you to go back to bed.

When you wake up the next morning, your mother has disappeared from your life.

It’s 1970, before school counselors or lettered conditions like PTSD.  Your father means well, but he’s not the communicative type, not one for expressing his feelings to others or eliciting others to share their feelings with him.  He’s from the Depression Era, and he barely saw his own father growing up during those desperate years.  He’s a veteran of the Second World War; difficulties are part of life.

He’s also dealing with his own trauma, as his wife lingers between life and death.

You get shipped off to stay with friends, or with your grandmother.  Very little is explained to you, and you understand even less.  Years later, there won’t be much that you remember, aside from the indelible images of that first night.

You won’t remember waking up the next morning to find your grandmother home with you instead of you parents.  You won’t remember when they took you to visit your mother one last time because no one thought she had much time left.  You won’t remember shouting at her for having abandoned you.  You won’t remember the outgoing, cheerful little boy you were before that cold, winter’s night.

You only remember how hard it was for you to talk to people from that moment forward.  You remember how easily you cried during the years that followed, and how much you hated yourself for crying so easily without understanding what made you that way.  You remember how you considered taking your own life, but always managed to convince yourself that you could do it tomorrow.

A decade passes before you really recover.  In some ways, you never recover at all.

Click here to read the whole essay.

In Memorium

Father-son-fist-bumpToday marks the second anniversary of my father’s death.  He was a man of unyielding principle and discipline, of meticulous honesty and unwavering standards.  He had the ability to create an instant rapport with others and charm them without guile or manipulation, but he never seemed able to completely let down his emotional guard to truly connect.  He could be hard, but he instilled in me a code of ethics and integrity that have formed the foundation of my sense of self and my worldview.

I wrote this tribute to him for Father’s Day in 2001:

Honor (is learned from) Thy Father

 

Affluenza: Nothing new but the name

why-do-you-think-that-juxtaposing-an-image-and-some-words-is-sufficent-authority-for-you-to-act-like-a-spoiled-insensitive-bratSome verbal atrocities are either too offensive or too absurd to ever be forgotten. Like Jonathan Gruber’s candid admission that “the stupidity of the American voter … was really, really critical for [Obamacare] to pass.” Or Brian Williams misremembering that he had been shot down in a helicopter. Or Al Gore’s claim that he invented the internet (although, in all fairness, that was not quite what he said).

But few violations of common sense and common decency compare to that of Jean Boyd, the judge who concluded that probation and rehab were sufficient punishment for Ethan Crouch — after he pled guilty to taking the lives of four people while driving drunk — because he was a victim of affluenza.

Now, two years later, after Ethan Crouch has violated his parole, fled to Mexico with his mother, and finally ended up back in custody, the Washington Post would like us to reconsider whether the diagnosis is really so ridiculous after all. Rallying experts to support his case, Post editor Fred Barbash suggests that affluenza may indeed be an authentic malady, citing ASU professor of psychology Suniya S. Luthar and Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College:

“High-risk behavior, including extreme substance abuse and promiscuous sex, is growing fast among young people from communities dominated by white-collar, well-educated parents. These kids … show serious levels of maladjustment as teens, displaying … marijuana and alcohol abuse, including binge drinking [and] abuse of illegal or prescription drugs.”[What also stands out] is the type of rule-breaking – widespread cheating and random acts of delinquency such as stealing from parents or peers among the affluent, as opposed to behavior related to self-defense, such as carrying a weapon, among the inner-city teens.”

“[What also stands out] is the type of rule-breaking – widespread cheating and random acts of delinquency such as stealing from parents or peers among the affluent, as opposed to behavior related to self-defense, such as carrying a weapon, among the inner-city teens.”

And finally: Serious depression or anxiety among affluent kids is “is two to three times national rates.”

No arguments from this quarter. But what does not appear in Mr. Barbash’s lengthy commentary is even the most meager attempt to identify why affluence produces teenage miscreants. What is it about growing up with every possible advantage that predisposes so many children to criminally irresponsible behavior?

The answer is quite simple.

Click here to find out why.

Mistaking Identity

08.18.15-IntersexDennis Prager is at it again, this time with the simultaneously radical and reactionary, bigoted, sociopathic, and really-not-very-nice assertion that transgender people should take names and employ pronouns appropriate to their chosen identity.

Quick!  Inside the nearest shelter… the sky is falling.  Civil society may never recover.

Okay, yes, I am being sarcastic.  Guilty as charged.  But sometimes the logical and moral convolutions the politically-correct allow for no outlet other than simple mockery.

But I apologize if I hurt anyone’s feelings.  I know it’s terribly bad form these days to speak the truth.

However, it should come as no surprise that the moral boundaries of civil society grow ever blurrier, in this case by design.  These winds were already blowing with gale force when I published the following essay back in 2011:

When their third child, Storm, was born, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker announced the birth of their new baby with the following email:

“We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place? …).”

Needless to say, friends and family alike have trouble understanding Witterick and Stocker’s unconventional approach to child-raising. With stereotyping, bullying, and social stigma inevitable parts of growing up, it’s easy to argue that manufacturing an additional obstacle to healthy social development is hardly in the child’s own best interest.

“Everyone keeps asking us, ‘When will this end?'” says Witterick. “And we always turn the question back. Yeah, when will this end? When will we live in a world where people can make choices to be whoever they are?”

FREEDOM WITHOUT LIMITS

A single family hardly constitutes a trend. But consider the Egalia preschool in Stockholm, Sweden, where staff avoid such culturally loaded words as “him” and “her,” addressing the children as “friends” rather than “boys and girls.” According to the AP, “breaking down gender roles is a core mission in [Sweden’s] national curriculum,” and many preschools have hired “gender pedagogues” to devisestrategies for eliminating “stereotypes.”

germanyCould they be right? Is sexual identity nothing more than arbitrary social programming? By eliminating every vestige of guidance from a child’s environment might parents actually help him learn to make better choices? Will indoctrinating a child with the conviction that every imaginable alternative is equally viable produce a canny, confident, and even-keeled adult?

Well, would it make travel easier if we uprooted every street sign and tore down every traffic signal? Would it make navigation easier if we burned every map and disabled every GPS?

The hazards of unrestricted freedom often go overlooked in a society that values personal autonomy above all else. But the formula for resolving the tension between individual expression and social boundaries was articulated by King Solomon, the wisest of all men, nearly three thousand years ago.

Hear, my son, the moral guidance of your father,
and do not forsake the teaching of your mother
(Proverbs 1:8).

Giving voice to the self-evident truth that men are men and women are women, Solomon alludes to the distinct manner in which a father and a mother each makes a unique contribution to the psychological and ethical development of their child. From the father comes instruction— formal guidance in the ways of moral values and discipline. How to know right from wrong, and how to choose good over evil — this is the kind of wisdom most effectively communicated through fatherly counsel and direction.

Complementing the father’s instruction are the lessons absorbed from the mother, who plays the primary role in creating the atmosphere of personal responsibility and spiritual commitment that should permeate a home. It is mainly through the intangible, unquantifiable influence of the mother that a child develops moral sensitivity. Neither father nor mother can successfully assume the role of the other, for our distinct psycho-spiritual complexions are part of the design according to which the universe was formed.

Parents who refuse to assert moral principles, albeit in the name of tolerance and progressivism, succeed only in making their home an environment of intellectual anarchy that will inevitably lead to confusion and dysfunction later in life.

CHILD-RAISING, TAILOR-MADE

Train a youth according to his way;
even when he grows old he will not depart from it
(Ibid. 22:6).

Often cited, correctly, as the source for individualizing education based upon the singular needs of every child, this proverb contains another element often overlooked: the word “youth” — na’ar, in Hebrew — implies immaturity. Truth be told, the majority of us suffer from a sophomoric certitude in the infallibility of our own wisdom. And children are the most susceptible of all to such delusions.

Wanting desperately to believe in their own independence, children seize hold of any excuse, no matter how irrational, to invalidate the wisdom of their parents. Left to his own devices, a youth will steer confidently into the heart of the nearest storm, delighted to be free from the steady guidance of the parent who could have saved him from catastrophe.

Like old wine and fine cuisine, genuine wisdom is an acquired taste, and the immature mind will reject its lessons as surely as the untrained palate will disdain the delicacies of a Cordon Bleu in favor of peasant’s fare smothered in salt and ketchup. But we do our children no favor by making it easier for them to marching confidently over the edge of the nearest precipice. Gentle instruction administered with care and consistency will lay the foundations of moral discernment as a child grows into adulthood.

A WORLD WITHOUT BORDERS

In his famous legal discourse regarding character development, Maimonides writes that “people are influenced by the society in which they live” (Hilchos Dayos 6:1). Among the many dangers of the modern world, none may be as insidious as the attack upon all natural and moral boundaries. Electric lighting pushes away the darkness of night, central air conditioning and heating insulate us from the changing of the seasons, cars and planes shrink the distance between faraway places, and electronic communication eliminates all delay in correspondence and information.

No one is suggesting that we live like the Amish and eschew modern technology. But these inventions are not as innocuous as we wish to believe: in the same way that physical boundaries have been breached, so too have moral boundaries become increasingly blurred and the path of moral conduct ever more difficult to find.

Maze-2-1024x717Respect for traditional family structure continues to erode. The personal conduct of political leaders raises less concern than the carelessness that leads to getting caught. Violent criminals are cast as victims while defenders of life and limb are vilified as exploiters and oppressors. And the role of human sexuality in mental health and social stability is ever more profoundly misunderstood. Political correctness and moral equivalence have so muddied conventional wisdom that young and old alike often fear censure from their peers for daring to judge even the most abhorrent behaviors.

Yes, children need to learn to make their own choices, and today’s helicopter parents who micromanage every aspect of their children’s lives are more likely to produce crippled than capable adults. Nevertheless, we dare not overcompensate by throwing our children into the stormy waters of amorality and expecting them to swim. As Solomon has said, it is only through the guidance and teaching of moral values that we will keep our children afloat, as well as enabling them to navigate their way to safe harbor.

Originally published by Jewish World Review

Rosh Hashanah: Letting our spirits soar

shutterstock_145625101When my youngest daughter was three years old, she discovered the helium balloons in the flower section of our local supermarket, handed out free to every child who asks. I tied the string around her wrist so the precious balloon wouldn’t escape up to the rafters. She bounced it on its string as I pulled it this way and that to avoid bumping other shoppers. She hugged it as we climbed into the car for the ride home.

As I pulled into the driveway, my daughter flew out of the car, her balloon bobbing along behind her, raced in through the front door and out again to our back yard, slipped the string off her wrist and gazed upward as the balloon rose into the sky and slowly drifted away.

“Why did you let go of your balloon?” I asked, slightly miffed that she had so casually cast away the new toy she had been fussing over for the last half hour.

My daughter just shrugged, giggled, and watched the balloon disappear from sight.

After our next trip to the market she did it again. Then again, over and over for months. Every time I asked the same question. “Why did you let go of your balloon?”

Finally I got an answer. My daughter looked me in the eye and replied, “It’s a present for God.”

* * *

She doesn’t do it anymore. And part of me mourns for the pure, innocent faith that prompted a little girl to give up her toy as an offering to the Almighty.

For all our experience and the sophistication, for all our indulgent smiles at the simplicity of our children’s beliefs, is it not likely that our children know something we don’t, something they themselves soon won’t know or even remember they once knew? And perhaps it is precisely their power of belief that sets them apart from the adults they will become.

Children believe in God, believe in their parents, believe in their country and their school and their friends and that good will always win out over evil. Their trust and faith haven’t yet been sullied by the lies of politicians, the corruption of law and justice, the avarice of sports heroes, the superficiality of Hollywood or, most importantly, the cynicism of their parents, who may try for a time to put on an act to spare their children from their own disillusionment.

But what if it worked the other way, that we could learn an old lesson from our children instead of imposing yet another new lesson upon them? What if we could turn the clock back and recapture even a whiff of the innocence of youth? Would we reach out to grasp it, or have we grown too jaded even to try?

erin-lange-renewal-iThis Rosh Hashana, Jews around the world will fill synagogues to inaugurate the first day of the Jewish new year. But Rosh Hashana celebrates much more than the beginning of another calendrical cycle. It celebrates birth and rebirth; it celebrates beginning and renewal, for it commemorates nothing less than the Creation of the world and Mankind.

As we approach the New Year, let us ask ourselves how we can turn back the clock, exchanging bad habits for new challenges, routine for renewal, and cynicism for enthusiasm. Instead of smiling with adult condescension at the innocence of children, let us consider instead that the difference between childhood and maturity is not whether we give presents to our Creator, but what kind of presents we choose to give. A child serves God by sending a balloon up into the sky. An adult serves God by releasing his spirit to soar to the heights of Godliness.

Have we given charity in proportion with our means? Have we visited the sick and comforted the distressed? Have we consistently spoken with kindness to our neighbors, with respect to our superiors, and with patience to our children? Have we honored the Sabbath and studied the ancient wisdom of our people?

It’s not enough to make resolutions; we need to inspire ourselves to see them through. We need to awaken in ourselves an awe of the Almighty by reflecting upon the vastness of creation, the unfathomability of the stars in their courses, the mysteries of life, and the limitless potential of the soul — to behold for a lingering moment the immeasurable beauty and majesty of our universe.

And if we can follow through, if we can make the moment last without slipping back into our well-traveled rut of discounting every noble and beautiful thought and deed, then perhaps we can retain our faith in those things truly worthy of faith throughout the coming year.

Originally published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Aish.com

Choose Long-term Gain over Short-term Pain-Avoidance

hqdefaultThere are two things that parents of small children can’t stand.  One is a child making noise when we’re trying to get work done.  The other is a child making no noise at all.

Because if they’re not making noise, they’re usually getting into trouble.

So consider this scenario:  you run to see what your too-quiet two year old has gotten into and find him playing with the snow-globe your sister brought back from her trip to Switzerland last year.  Since this is not the best toy for a toddler, you smile at your child and gently take the snow-globe out of his hands.

That’s when the screaming begins.

What do you do?  Do you endure the shrieking child or give back the snow-globe?

If you’re normal, your thinking probably works its way through the following steps:  1)  He can’t really hurt himself with the snow-globe.  2)  He probably won’t break the snow-globe.  3)  I never really liked the snow-globe anyway.  4)  If he does break it, it’s no big deal to clean it up.  5)  So is it really worth making him miserable by taking it away?

But we’re not really worried about the child’s misery, are we?  We’re more concerned about ourselves.

In the end, the odds are pretty good you’re going to let the toddler keep the snow-globe.

But the real issue isn’t the snow-globe; it’s the lesson you’ve just taught your child.

Click here to read the whole article.