“Dr. Lightman. Pesach is looming. It’s f-f-f-f-family time. And my children are not exactly picture perfect. What am I going to do?”
I remember those days. My children are awesome but hardly perfect (my grandchildren are awesome and perfect). Somehow, our kids don’t “perform” just because we ring a bell.
Family get-togethers can be loaded with angst. Parents tell me that they may be surrounded by relatives and love but there’s always that relative who disagrees with how they parent or somehow says something judgmental that feels like a knife has been slammed into the gut and then twisted 180 degrees.
I’m here to boost your confidence.
Teach your child manners
We parents must teach our children what we expect from them in behavior. Look people in the eye. Shake an adult person’s hand firmly, keeping eye contact. Respond appropriately to questions; shrugging shoulders doesn’t cut it. Most children will file the information away and use it in the moment.
Don’t surrender your parenting authority to any person
Parents have told me that Bubbe and Zayde don’t approve of their parenting style.
My response: Bubbe and Zayde are entitled to their opinion. And Bubbe and Zayde should think once, twice, 20 times before voicing their opinion to their children. And never should Bubbe and Zayde undermine Mom and Dad, especially in front of the grandchildren. Doing so will create, G-d forbid, confusion and shame in parents’ hearts.
What if someone jumps the gun and says something? Suggested responses:
- “Mmmmmm…I’ll think about it.”
- “I’ll handle it.” Say it firmly.
Don’t forget who you are, Mom and Dad. Continue to develop your unique voices as parents. Stay present in the moment.
Just let it go
Not everything needs to be answered. Silence can be golden (as long as lives are not threatened). Take a deep breath and stay the course. When your child sees you react or respond calmly, that’s a priceless lesson that he will one day reenact.
Let family know how they can help
With an outspoken family member who feels they know best, be straight. Say matter-of-factly: “Come and get me if my child misbehaves and I’ll handle it.”
And there are family members who are more reserved and will never offer an opinion. Bless them in your heart. Tell them to come get you, if needed.
Give a heads up
What if your child is out of sorts and just not themselves? Joshua missed his nap. Michal might be teething.
It’s normal for kids not to be themselves at times. Be proactive and give a heads up. Quietly announce when you walk in something to the effect like: “Joshua napped only 20 minutes so he’s not as well rested as always.” Or “Yonina is in that preschool independent phase and likes to do everything by herself.”
There will be family members who will want to help soothe a cranky child or will get a kick out of watching a little person assert their independence.
Miriam’s singing the Mah Nishtanah does not necessarily have to take place at the Seder. Be flexible and think about a luncheon meal as her singing venue.
Never speak ill of your kids in front of others
Naftali might be overflowing with energy but please never describe him as a “hellion on wheels.” If he hears it, he will want to be it. And negative names have a nasty habit of sticking for a long time.
Suggested language: “Yes, Naftali is a work in progress.”
Prepare your kids what to expect and what you expect from them
Part of your pre-Pesach work includes putting aside the Fantastik (or packing) and telling your children what you expect and what will be happening. If guests are coming, speak about sharing their home and toys. Tell them “normal” will return.
If you’ll be guests in another person’s home, ask when arriving where the children can play and which areas are off limits. Tell them they can’t go past the row of trees in the backyard. Children welcome talk in concrete terms.
Always remember that your children are human
Even with the best chinuch, kids act out because they are kids. Have a sense of humor about it. Address it and move on. Stressing about it will only stress them and others. And the faster you move on, they, too, will move on.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of preparation, preparation and preparation. Please G-d, the time and effort we invest in thinking through our family dynamics and how to run an engaging Seder and the other days of Pesach that meets multi-generational needs should surpass the time and effort invested in new outfits for Yom Tov. Our children watch and observe what we do and then take it on as their modus operandi.
In the time you don’t have between now and Yom Tov, try to peruse the most recent issue of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. It’s devoted to profiling people who strive to raise spiritually thriving families. It’s excellent, engaging and well-written and is chock-full of practical information. Even one tiny nugget you implement before Shekiah on March 30 can make a world of positive difference.
These are lessons that are not reserved for Pesach only but can be used all year long. Raising a family is some of the hardest toiling we’ll ever do. But the rewards….
As always, daven.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.