Parshas Ki Sisa - 5777
The question coming up next week which has really stumped me, is regarding extracurricular activities on Shabbos. As an introduction, I would like to go back exactly one year, and resend the below question and answer regarding Shabbos.
We have what I like to consider a normal Jewish home. However, my kids really resent Shabbos, and it’s become a depressing day. My kids (7 through 14) want to “dress down” and hang out with friends. My oldest son is the worst of them all, I’m actually really worried about him. He hates the meals, and everything Shabbos related. Is there anything I can do? - Anonymous in Cedarhurst
Ouch. Just reading your question hurt me. The short answer is, yes, there is what you can do. However, it’s not a quick solution.
If you look at Shabbos from a kid’s perspective, it can be very overwhelming. They watch their parents using their phones and other devices day and night, and can’t understand why everything has to be turned off. It also means sitting with their siblings for a long meal (possibly with guests), a much longer Davening, and of course no electronics.
One of the hardest parts about your question, was the fact that your oldest son seems to be having a negative influence on the younger ones. That can be so frustrating. As one mother put it “I love my oldest son with all of my heart, but sometimes I just want to…” The good news is, there is what you can do to make Shabbos more exciting.
I heard from my Rav, that Shabbos is a mirror of your soul - it reflects back what you invest in it. The question I have for you is, do you and your husband enjoy Shabbos? It’ll be pretty hard for you to get your kids to love Shabbos, if you aren’t excited about it yourself. So, what’s amazing about Shabbos?
• You can spend time with family
• You can spend a day without your cell phone (although many of us have the phantom ring during which we grab our pockets as if we’re being attacked by an imaginary mosquito)
• You can spend a day getting closer to Hashem.
Incidentally, these are the very things that many children dislike about Shabbos. However, as they grow older, get married, and begin working, they will definitely appreciate Shabbos a whole lot more. Since you mentioned that your oldest child is 14, I’m guessing that getting him married now is really not an option. Let’s look at some things that might show him how awesome and special Shabbos really is.
Please understand that every family is different. What works well with you might not work with your friend and vice versa. I wouldn't follow all the items listed below in one week; it's trial and error.
• Get excited for Shabbos. A few hours before, make sure you’re ready and be very upbeat.
• Offer each of your kids to pick one dish that they want you to cook or buy.
• While guests are always nice – maybe some family time would be a better option.
• Keep the meals short and sweet.
• A Shabbos table is a great place to share good news or have a fun discussion. Here’s an example. “If you were stranded on an island with one type of food, what would it be?”
• Is your Minyan very long? Maybe take your boys to a quicker Minyan for a while. It’s not easy for many kids to sit through 3 hours of Davening.
• Enlist help from your child’s Rebbe or Teacher – they might be able to have a class discussion about it which can really be helpful.
• Does your child want to leave the table? Make a deal with him/her. If you participate for the first ½ hour, you can leave anytime afterwards.
• Singing Shabbos Zemiros shouldn’t be an argument – make sure to sing with a smile, and the kids will eventually join in.
• At our house we like to play a game during which the children pick a subject (Parsha, Music, Jewish History or Sports) and then they pick a level (1 being easy, 5 being super hard). Each child gets a few turns, and I make up the questions.
• Shabbos Mevorchim? Make a special dessert. It really adds something special to Shabbos.
• Shabbos is a great time for snacks, treats and kid-friendly foods. Introducing new fancy foods that you want your kids to try? Not such a great move.
• Don’t use the phrase “You can’t do that on Shabbos” or anything similar. Rather, make it a positive. It’s not “You can’t play your iPad on Shabbos.” Instead you can say “I’ll make sure you get plenty of time on your iPad tomorrow!”
• Letting your kids have friends over is fantastic – if they’re going to be good influences. Shabbos is not a great time to try out friends that might not enhance your special day. It might help to make your home a “Kosher Hangout” with ices, Shabbos snacks, etc...
• Buy your kids a new book once in a while (preferably a Jewish one). Put it under their pillows and tell them about it at the end of the meal.
• Try to include him in conversations. If your son brings up the Mets or Yankees, don’t say “We’re not discussing sports on Shabbos!” Engage him in the conversation, and then casually bring up Pepsi Meyers.
• If your oldest really is making things difficult, it’s OK to let him go elsewhere for Shabbos once in a while (a friends, grandparent) so you can focus on the other kids. You’re not getting rid of him – you’re each getting a much needed time out.
• Lastly, you need to remember that Shabbos is not supposed to be a battle. Basically, it’s all about making Shabbos great again. With love, a big smile and loads of patience, you will IY”H begin to see results.
Hatzlacha - and have a Great Shabbos! YR
They seem quite a bit more modern than I would like, and I'm worried that they're having a negative influence on him. Is there anything I can do to keep him more sheltered? - Anonymous in North Woodmere
I've received many similar questions over the past few months. The basic question is, how can we shelter our children in an unsheltered environment?
Allow me to begin with a true story. When my oldest son was 4 years old, he went on a playdate. When he came back, my wife and I were shocked to hear that he watched a video on this playdate. Our initial reaction was "What right did this parent have to put on a video without our permission?" Over the years, we realized that we had been looking at it the wrong way. Although this person should've asked us permission first, we as parents needed to be a bit more proactive in the Chinuch of our son.
Whereas there are many Yidden that completely shelter their children from anything inappropriate, most of these people don't live in the 5 towns. This is not Chas V'Shalom an insult to our community. We have B"H a thriving community with non-stop Shiurim, Davening, Chessed, and Limud Torah. However, should you venture onto Central Avenue amongst other locations, the atmosphere is not the most Yeshivish to say the least.
Yes, there are a few people that have managed to completely shelter their children here, but it's safe to assume that most children are very aware of what's going on. As a result, what _most_ parents that live in this area try to do, is prepare their children to better deal with the outside world.
Now, let's revisit the question. You are frustrated that your friends, neighbors, and your children's friends are more modern than you would like. Yet you chose (or agreed) to live in this area, and to send your children to the schools they attend. Believe it or not, there are some families that would probably think you are also too modern!
One of the e-mails I received with a similar question, mentioned that the friend's mother wore a skirt that didn't cover her knees. Does that mean your daughter never walks outside? Maybe a better idea, would be to tell your daughter "I'm sure you understand that there are people that wear shorter skirts. Although we don't judge others, that's not the way we're going to dress. If you understand that, you're more than welcome to hang out at your friend's house.” (Incidentally, this is a good conversation to have way before this issue arises.) This can end up being a fantastic learning experience!
Here's an example. In my neighborhood there were many Super Bowl parties. There were boys from pretty much all of the local Yeshivos, and they were getting together. I was certainly not thrilled that my own children were all invited to parties. It wasn't the actual game that bothered me, rather it was the half-time show and the commercials. My wife & I told our older boys they could go to the parties, but we expected them not to watch anything inappropriate since they were Bnai Torah. The younger boys joined me at a Learning Bowl where we learned, played and heard an amazing story.
Although I am not a big fan of super bowl parties or anything similar, I understand that this is the community I chose to live in. Furthermore, I have no right to look down on others who decide to attend these parties. Who am I to decide what is right and wrong for them?
On the flip side, you do have the right to raise your own children. You need to understand that there are those who might be a little more modern than you, but your friends should respect the fact that you are a bit more Makpid.
I tried breaking this down into simpler ideas.
* If you feel that your children might be friends with or hanging out with people that are more modern, you need to prepare your children. Let them know that it's not necessarily a matter of right vs wrong. Some families have different Minhagim (customs), and it's important that we follow our Minhag.
* You do not ever want to speak negatively about another family - even if they are doing things that you feel are not Halachically permitted. Once children learn to judge others, it becomes a very dangerous habit.
* You should certainly not allow your children to be friends with other children that you feel would be a negative influence on your children, in any way. If your child really wants to play with a friend who is a negative influence, you must insist the playdate takes place in **your** home under your watchful eye.
* A great idea, is to ask your child's Rebbe or Morah which children would be a good "shidduch" from the class. A teacher who sees the kids interacting daily, no matter the age, can probably give you some great ideas regarding appropriate playmates.
* Open conversation is very often the healthiest solution. Calling your neighbor and speaking it out can really make everything easier. "My son does not really watch many videos, but he wants to have a playdate at your house. Is there any way you can make sure they don't watch anything without making him feel bad?" You would be surprised how understanding he/she might me.
* If your child has a classmate coming over who only eats Cholov Yisrael (and you are aware of it), it wouldn't be nice to offer your kids Cholov Stam ice cream for dessert. You should certainly not put on a video for kids - or even offer one - without communicating with the parents first.
* You should never leave your children home alone with a cleaning lady or non-Jewish babysitter while your child has a playdate, unless you notified the other parent.
* If you are worried that your child will be affected by a specific event (party, Bar Mitzvah, playdate), make sure to give him an alternative that he will enjoy. If your son really wants to go to the movie theater to watch the new Star Wars © movie, telling him "no" might not work out so well. A better alternative would be to tell him “When the movie comes out on DVD, we’ll watch it together with popcorn and ice cream!"
Most importantly, Daven that HaShem should protect your children. That's the key to success! Much Hatzlacha.
I’ve complained to his Rebbe and English teacher, and nothing seems to help. I’ve tried everything from incentives to punishments, it’s just a battle I can’t seem to win. What do you suggest? Signed - Chedva from Woodmere.
This is such a huge issue, and there are many parents that feel the same way. It seems that homework is a much bigger battle nowadays, so I want to explain part of the issue. It seems that we have a syllabus mandated by the school district or state, and we must try and keep up with the public school system. However, between the Yomim Tovim, early dismissal on Friday, and of course Hebrew, it seems that there is lot less time available.
To make thing even more frustrating, the Rebbeim also give homework. As a result, your 2nd grader comes home at 4:45, and has to spend a very long time doing homework, after he’s already spent countless hours (in his eyes) learning in school. This is not a good situation.
I’m a big believer that homework should not be a battle. It’s so difficult for parents to connect to their kids these days, and the less battles there are, the better off everyone is. On the other hand, you don’t want to let your kids learn to be irresponsible and fail classes. Here is my “Do and Don’t” list for homework.
I see from your E-mail that you complained to the teacher and/or Rebbe. While it’s possible that you just wrote that in passing, it still shows your frustration. It might be better to just mention to the teacher “My son is having issues doing his homework at night. I would love to be involved, but I think I need to cut down the workload initially. Is there a specific subject I should be focusing on?"
You also wrote about incentives and punishments but that’s beyond the scope of this E-mail. However, try and realize that your kids are just that…kids. It’s not worth possibly jeopardizing your relationship in an argument regarding homework.
Wishing you much success and savlanut.
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.