This coming week Selichos begins. My father used to wake me up once I was in 1st grade, and he’d take me at midnight to Shul. Therefore, I have been doing that with my sons. My wife insists that it’s “idiotic” and I feel that it’s great Chinuch. As we read your emails every week – except for this summer when you took off – we agreed to let you decide. Thanks! Zevi Feinberg
Well, I have a question for you as well. When your father took you to Shul at midnight when you were 7-years-old, did you enjoy it? It’s always a good idea to utilize parenting techniques that your parents used, providing of course that you gained from them as a kid.
My father used to take us to Selichos also, and he was the Chazzan. It was a 35 or so minute drive, and I remember loving it. I’m pretty sure I only Davened Ashrei, and probably not even that some years. Nonetheless, it got me in the “Yomim Noraim” mood. The haunting tune of Kaddish, the 13 Middos being cried out together, the Kittel being worn. It was so inspiring. I felt like an adult, and it was so special that my siblings and I didn’t even fight that much on the drive back. Granted it was in the middle of the night, so we were probably a bit tired.
However, just because my father took me, doesn’t mean I have to take my children. My wife and I discussed it years ago, and we decided to let the kids decide. We wake up each of the boys about 30 minutes before Selichos, and ask if they want to come. Surprisingly, they almost always want to come with me. It could be they are also excited. Possibly it gives them bragging rights in Yeshiva the next day. Most likely it’s the fact that we go to Dunkin Donuts afterward.
During Selichos, my older boys are obviously more involved in the Davening than the younger ones. After davening, all of us head out to Dunkin Donuts. Granted, going to Dunkin Donuts doesn’t evoke the spiritual awareness that’s appropriate for this time of year, but it definitely motivates the younger boys to join us at midnight. The older boys and I don’t really eat very much there, but it’s exciting for the younger kids.
We as parents, need to make sure that our kids love Yiddishkeit, and if it means a 2:00 in the morning trip to Dunkin, count me in. Actually, I don’t have a monopoly on the idea as there are many dads making the trip with their kids. It’s pretty comical as a gaggle of bleary-eyed men and boys stagger into the store and order donuts, lattes, and bagels. Most of the food gets saved for the morning, and Baruch Hashem most of the Yeshivos have a late start the next day.
Now let’s discuss your son. Does he HAVE to go? What if he wants to sleep? Do you also make sure his finger is on the place the whole time? It’s a slippery slope. Anytime you’re forcing your children to do something, it already gets “iffy”. I’m not saying you need to join me at Dunkin at 2:00 in the morning, but there are many ways to make it a special event.
While she meant well, that particular mother is pushing too hard the other way. A better response would be “I’m so impressed that you guys are staying up at night! It shows how mature you are, and we’re so proud of you. Just remember, if you get tired at all, please ask Daddy to walk you home. We won’t be upset at all, and whatever you do is a huge Mitzvah.” This way you’re not taking away from the excitement, but you’re giving them the way out.
Getting back to your question. If your kids are excited to go with you, by all means, take them and make it into a positive experience. If they’re on the fence, see if you can motivate them. They might sleep through Selichos, and if they do, don’t make any snide comments. It’s all a positive experience. One comment like “Well, if you would’ve been awake you might have enjoyed it more” might convince them not to come anymore. If they don’t want to come, that’s also fine. I would even venture to say, that if they’ll Daven better with you in the morning you should also wait until the morning to say Selichos! (Always ask your Rav before making these decisions.)
Your wife should be on the same page as you. She should tell them how excited she is for them, and how special it is. However, if they don’t want to wake up, tell them it’s fine, and they can try again next year. Sometimes only one or two of the boys might want to come – that’s also fine. They can always say Selichos in the morning if they want.
Wishing your whole family a Kesiva V’chasima Tova,
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.