My husband and I have been avid readers of your column on the internet for the past few years. We generally agree with most of your advice, and constantly lament the new issues that our children and grandchildren face. Our issue is how our son and his wife are raising our grandchildren. They have this new-age mentality of rarely disciplining them, and they’ve adopted a “Stay away from no” attitude. The hardest part isn’t even watching them miserably fail at raising their children, it’s when they come to us for Shabbos. Instead of being the “fun” grandparents, we’re constantly admonishing them for basic things. “Don’t read at the table when others are sitting with you. Don’t put your shoes on the couch. Don’t talk with food in your mouth.” Not only are the grandchildren beginning to resent us, but our son is threatening not to bring them over since we’re too strict. Please advise. Tizku L”Mitzvos! DS and RS
Ouch. As someone who knows a few parents utilizing this “New age” parenting style, my heart goes out to you. It’s so frustrating watching people raise their children in such a dangerous manner, and it’s even more painful when it’s your own family. Answering this question is tricky, since I’ll be heavily relying on my non-existent psychology skills.
I’m going to share some bullet points and hope that they help you decide what to do. As always, these are only thoughts and suggestions. The nature of this blog is that I don’t allow detailed questions, and as a result I’m missing a lot of relevant information.
Wishing you and all of my readers a Kesiva V’Chasima Tova, and a year of Simcha and Gezunt and Nachas.
Have a Good Shabbos
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,
is Rabbi Ross. I’m a Rebbe in a Yeshiva (I prefer not to give the location.) I’m asking the following questions not only as a third grade Rebbe but also as a parent of a few kids. What is the goal of a Rebbe? More and more parents have been asking me to shower their kids with love, and even the administration explained that we need to focus a lot on giving the kids a happy day. I’m scared to bring this question to the administration since I’ve already brought it up a few times. Is it all about giving over happiness and love or should I still try to push the kids in learning? Can you share some insights? – A Chaver
You’re asking a dangerous question. I recently listened to a wonderful therapist explain the importance of giving our kids love. When he finished, I felt like I was at a Hippie convention. I will gladly share my thoughts, but please understand that there are many people that disagree with me. I have spoken with Psychologists, Rabbonim and Menahalim, and although many think I’m correct, there are those that don’t. In layman terms, before changing your methodology of teaching, make sure that those that are paying you are on board.
Here goes. As parents and Rebbeim, we have a responsibility to these children to prepare them for the world. We also want to teach them Torah and about Yiddishkeit without pushing them too hard. It’s a very challenging job as a Rebbe and even more difficult as a parent.
It’s not really just about giving love. You can’t teach love! Hugging your children all the time won’t help them succeed in life. Sure, it’s very important to give them constant hugs and tell them how awesome they are. However, they need much more than that. Children need structure and discipline. Consequences are important, and good role models are one of the keys to success.
The fact is, as a Rebbe you have one main job. Put the “warmth” back into Yiddishkeit. When you teach a child Torah, you should do it with a smile. Chumash shouldn’t be taught as a subject, rather as a life lesson. Davening isn’t a requirement, it’s a way to communicate with Hashem. Halacha isn’t a burden, rather it’s a way of establishing our identity.
As a Rebbe, you do have a responsibility, but it’s not to the parents or the administration. It’s to the children in your class. You have to give over a love of Yiddishkeit while simultaneously giving over the skills these Bnai Torah will need for this year, the next year, and for life. If every Rebbe realized that they have the ability to shape the future of each one of their Talmidim, it would be fantastic. Here are a few things to keep in mind every day.
There is nothing wrong with telling off a student, but there’s a right and wrong way to do it. You can act upset, and you can even give a consequence. However, that child must know that you still think he’s a wonderful Ben Torah. I like to walk over to any student that I disciplined and whisper, “You know that you’re awesome right? We all make mistakes, and I’m sure it won’t happen again!”
Learning Torah is key. Children love to accomplish. One of the biggest mistakes many Mechanchim make is not pushing the kids enough. With all the distraction going on in the world, many children LOVE to accomplish something real. I like to hit the ground running, so on the first day, I spend almost the entire day learning. At the end of the day, I tell them, “Do you realize how much you boys accomplished in 4 hours? You’re all so amazing!” Even the ones that don’t understand the learning, still appreciate that they were involved. Actually, those kids are the ones I like to reassure. I’ll go over to an obviously weaker student (every Rebbe or teacher can usually spot them in the first ten minutes) and say “You were a huge part of our day today! Thanks!”
Nevertheless, there are some days that you have to change it up a little bit. If the class is off, I can assure you that they won’t be able to focus very well. Is it snowing? Is it very hot outside? Whatever the reason, it’s a great opportunity to teach some impressionable minds what it means to be flexible. You can tell them, “I was going to teach these Pesukim and Rashis, but instead I want to tell you an amazing story about what happened to me.” Share with them any story that you feel imparts a life lesson. Not only will they appreciate that you understand them, but they’ll probably pay close attention to what you’re saying.
One last thing that’s super important to understand. Calling a parent shouldn’t be reserved only for issues. Actually, it should probably be the opposite. When these kids get home, it’s been a long day. Their parents probably also had a long day, and this can be a real recipe for disaster. What would happen if you call the mother of a struggling student and tell her that her son is the greatest kid? Can you just imagine the smile and the happiness it’ll bring to her and her kids? I assure you that when he comes into class the next day, he’ll be so grateful. It doesn’t have to be a generic call. Every child has something special. Perhaps she held the door for a friend or picked up garbage that she didn’t drop. If you can’t find one positive thing in a child, you’re not looking hard enough!
There are many other things to keep in mind, but these are some of the crucial ones. To summarize, your goal as a Rebbe is to teach a lot of Torah, discipline the kids with love, show that Yiddishkeit is Gishmak, be flexible and read the room, and make sure the parents appreciate how awesome their kids are.
Hatzlacha Rabba and have a great Shabbos,
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.