A little while ago Nathalie from Easy Peasy Kids lent me the book The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. It is a New York Times best seller and a book I had been wanting to read for sometime.
There is so much sane, calming advice in this book. I am not Jewish (I am Catholic actually), but love tradition and throughout the book Mogel uses a combination of her psychological training and learnings from Jewish teachings to give parents, practical advice on how to raise self reliant and compassionate children.
As you can see by the tabs on the pages, I could have shared 100 learnings from the book, but today I will share 10 that I am applying to my soon to be teen son:
1. Respect is critical
If your children are to develop genuine respect for you they need to know what respect looks like in action. More than listening to your words, they observe how you and your spouse treat your own parents.
It is funny how parenting your own child makes you reflect on your relationship with your own parents. I am going to be more conscious of how I act towards and what I say about my own parents in front of my kids.
2. I know best
Parents get fooled because their kids are such skilled debaters, but children are not psychologically equipped to handle winning those debates.
My 12.5 year old can craftily put together all sorts of wonderful reasons why he should be able stay up later / eat more rubbish / not shower, but at the end of the day I am in a better position to decide what is actually better for him.
Sometimes like the First Commandment “I the Lord am your God…You shall have no other gods besides me,”, I am his mother and he needs to do as I say.
3. Don’t over protect
In the Jewish mystical principal of tsimtsum we can find a lovely spiritual model for slowly relinquishing control over our children. Tsimtsum means “contraction of divine energy”. Originally, every thing was God; God filled up the entire universe. But in order for one thing to exist, something else has to withdraw.”
To allow my son to mature and develop socially I need him to experience the consequences of poor choices and the knocks that come with daily life. Trying to prevent them and smooth them out for him is not going to help him in the long run.
4. Allowing the spark
Mogel refers in the book to yetzer hara (impulse for evil):
The Talmud says that the evil impulse is tov meod (very good) because it is made up of some robust traits. Curiosity, ambition, and passionate desire all derive their energy from the yetzer hara….While the yetzer hara should be treated with extreme watchfulness, it must not be eliminated, because it is necessary for human survival. It’s our juice, our spark, our zip.
Our eldest has a wicked sense of humour, allowing him to express that in a way that is not harmful to himself or others needs to happen. Even if it does drive me crazy sometimes!
5. Don’t lecture
Thus we reasonable parents waste our breath trying to convince our children to take the high road. No matter how psychologically insightful or profound the lecture, it’s likely to have little impact on the strength of your child’s desires. Don’t bother talking to the yetzer hara–it doesn’t speak “parent.
I need to stop giving lectures on things I know he already knows. He knows spending his pocket money on lollies is a waste of money and bad for his teeth. He knows that his dad and I would prefer he didn’t buy junk multiple times through out the week. I have to drop the lectures on this one as it is becoming a real source of tension between us.
I need natural consequences to take its course, and to a certain extent it already has. He has a certain amount of pocket money per week which is to cover quite a few things. He is now in debt as he hasn’t managed his money well. He knows how he has found his way into this situation, he doesn’t need me to remind him of it. I am hoping that this recent experience will do for his budgeting skills what months of lecturing couldn’t do! Regardless his dad and I have decided not to lecture him further on it and see how it goes.
6. Setting an example of gratitude
In Deuteronomy, God reminds us that he will punish us for feeling deprived when we “have plenty of everything” but “will not serve God with happiness and a glad heart.”
It is one thing to tell kids to be grateful and appreciative of what they have, it is another to role model this behaviour. Saying “I really want an iPad” when I already have a Macbook, iMac and iPhone is not showing the kids what I expect from them. Needing things because they are new and shiny is tempting and it can distract me from being grateful for what I already have. I need to start setting a better example in the way I covet things I don’t actually need.
7. Chores are good for him
According to psychologist DOnald Akutagawa and Terry Whitman, “Humans are the only creatures that devote energy to make their offspring “happy”. The rest of the animal kingdom is devoted to fostering competence to survive in the world.”
All of our kids already do work around the house, but there are some more age appropriate skills he could learn through tasks around the house, like mopping the floors and ironing. Will start on those this summer holidays.
8. Give him authority
The psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion defined slavery as responsibility without authority. When you give children a job to do, let them, as much as is reasonable, decide how to get it done.
I do need to give him more space when I set him a job to do, to let him do it his own way. Even if this means learning through mistakes. I can ask him if he wants tips at the start, to show I am not throwing him in the deep end, but if he is happy to do it himself, I need to back off a bit more.
9. Let him dawdle
Often your children will have to do things more quickly that is natural for them. Try to balance this high pressure time with time that is leisurely. One day a week, give your child three hours to put on one sock, undress and dress all the Barbies, put on the other sock halfway, listen to a CD.
I have mentioned before that my eldest son is very much like me as a child – he is a dawdler. During the week days he is fully responsible for getting himself up, ready and out of the house for school by 7.30am, and he does this very well. On the weekends I need to let him hang in his pj’s a little bit longer if he wants to without remark.
10. Focus on now
I would sum it up in the question rabbis like to ask school children: “What’s the most important moment in Jewish History? Hint: it’s not the parting of the sea or the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The most important moment in Jewish history is right now.”
It can be easy to dwell on the past or worry about the future. Both of these actions diminish the energy and focus I can put into the “now”. I need that to be my focus with my soon to be teenager, it is indeed the most important time.
If you would like to read some work online by Wendy Mogel, I can recommend these articles on her website:
Like any parenting book, I don’t agree with 100% of The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee, but for me the overall philosophy is spot on and there is so much sound practical parenting advice, I would highly recommend it.
Mogel also has another book The Blessing of a B Minus which focuses on how to navigate the teenage years in greater deatil. I am planning to buy this when I am in America this week. I need more strategies as I wander into the teenage years.
Do you have a teenager? What tips would you have for a newbie teenage parent?
NB. Please note I am flying to the US today, so responding to comments this week will be delayed – thanks for your understanding, Nic.