By DJ Schneider Jensen
Macks Center for Jewish Education
Over the years, I listened to my rabbis’ stories and learned from their lessons. I noticed patterns and themes in the stories and found texts that spoke to me. There are some great parenting tips in there, and some that might come in handy this summer as you spend most of your waking hours with your children.
1. GIVE THE CHILDREN TIME: Creation took six days. It didn’t happen overnight. And it didn’t happen according to my timeline. It happened on G-d’s timeline. This is very important. G-d took the time he needed. And G-d Created humans last. I often wondered what would have happened if G-d’s mom told him on the fourth day to “stop with all that creating and clean up.” Thankfully that didn’t happen, because, well, we wouldn’t be here. Whew.
Knowing that Creation took six days also means to me that our children are capable of greatness over time; they don’t have to be great in a one-shot deal.
2. TEACH THE CHILDREN TO HOST: Abraham taught us to Jump To Welcome Guests. That’s the rule. Jump. It’s not: Hesitate when asking someone into your home, because the dog hair is overwhelming and the bathroom is dirty and the cleaning people don’t come until tomorrow. It’s Jump To Welcome Guests. It’s not about you. It’s about taking care of the ones being welcomed.
Now, entertaining guests is another thing altogether and my mother taught me how to do that with a simple blessing: Boray p’ree hagafen. (It’s part of the blessing over the wine.) This was such a lesson for me. Make your guests feel comfortable, empower them to participate, and always have some wine around the house!
3. BE FLEXIBLE: During Passover we meet the four sons. They were wise, wicked, simple and clueless. To me, these are not just four boys with individual traits. This can also be one person going through various phases of maturity. G-d gave us tips on dealing with every phase. None of these boys were excluded from our care or learning. They were simply handled according to their needs.
4. MODEL KINDNESS: Be nice and don’t talk about others. When Miriam spoke ill about Zipporah, G-d made her sick and put her in a week-long timeout. ‘Nuff said.
5. MODEL TZEDAKAH: When a person gathers the wheat from his field, he should leave a corner for poor people. I love everything about that message – love compassion, thoughtfulness, charity – it’s all wrapped up in there. I never quite understood how I could literally make that happen since I don’t farm. However, as opportunities in my life presented themselves, I found myself remembering this mitzvah, finding ways to provide for others and sharing this value with my sons.
6. LISTEN AND SHARE: We are told to tell our unwritten stories over and over. Remind our children of our forefathers and our history. Listening to others tell these stories, I also learned that we can add a little flourish. Make the stories meaningful and relevant for our children. Help them connect to our past so they will want to be a part of our future.
7. SHOW THE LOVE: Love your fellow as yourself. I play with this one every once in a while. I like to think of it as a two-parter – love your fellow as yourself, and love yourself as your fellow. I think sometimes we worry too much about pleasing others and we need to remember to take care of ourselves. We need to teach that to our children, as well, so they can remember to care for themselves.
8. BE A BLESSING FOR YOUR CHILDREN: A blessing I want to share with you is a part of the Priestly Blessing, also said on Friday night to our children: May G-d Bless you and Keep you. I would define “bless” as offering an increase in something, such as health, wealth and happiness. To me, “May G-d Bless you” also means “May G-d help ME Bless YOU – help me find ways to increase you rather than diminish you. Increase your health, your self-esteem, your knowledge, your awareness, your faith. Increase you regardless of your actions. Increase you because it is my responsibility as your parent to do so. This is one of the most powerful things we can offer our children. . In some cases the increase may be small, but that never matters. What matters is that they are growing.
May G-d Keep you – keep you safe, warm, protected. I see this as the reason we guide our children’s behaviors. We teach them – discipline means to teach – we teach them in order to keep them safe so that they CAN increase. You need the first part of this blessing in order to have the second. What is protection if not for the purpose of growing? You must have the intention to grow and nourish and support the child, and then do whatever you can to keep him/her safe. This is one of the fundamental rules of parenting.