Home Rabbis, their Writings and Resources Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner Jewish Parenting - Sermon for Toldot
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|Jewish Parenting - Sermon for Toldot|
Parshat Toldot 5770 – Challenges of Parenting
When I listen to Lawrence read the Haftarah from Samuel about Hannah’s prayer for children, I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to be a parent. There are members and guests here today who aren’t parents, for many reasons some involving great pain but in a community like ours there are numerous people who perform parenting roles as they care for, shape the education and guide children.
I’m finding it hard to be a good parent. We are blessed with three children – Tali’s18, Natan, 15 and Ella is 12.
A national think tank, called Demos, tells us that “tough love is good for children' and that children brought up according to “tough love” principles are more successful in life.
The pressure on parenting has just gone up a notch.
Just in case I think that there are so many variables that influence my children, and I am just one of them, the report reminds me that the most important influence on a child is the quality of parenting. More pressure.
“Tough love” may be the official way, but navigating our home through the very different needs of three very different children, the demands of their school lives and social lives and their teenage-hood, is proving challenging.
I know that by definition, the greatest influence on my parenting was my role models, my parents. I am aware that this continuum stretches backwards far more and so I look for role models of parenting beyond my immediate family and at the Torah for possible role models of parenting.
Parshat Tol'dot this week epitomises the challenges and ambivalences of parenting. Isaac and Rebekah are caught up in a parental nightmare – deceptions and long lasting feuds even from the the womb.
What kind of role models do these ancestral parents provide us with?
Despite a plethora of blessings, Isaac has his challenges. He is blessed by the blessing of “descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven”” . But he is a problematic parent and Torah is unequivocal – he favours his first born “And Isaac loved Esau, because he ate of his venison;” – and in an unhelpful type of balancing act, his wife, Rebekah, also has her favourite – “But Rebekah loved Jacob.” Rebekah even manipulates her son Jacob and her husband for what she believes to be a greater good. This has a devastating toll on both of her sons, creating years of hatred. If Demos wants us to have the “tough love” method of parenting, Rebekah’s method seems to be the “ends justify the means school of parenting”.
The Torah does not lie about parenting – it’s hard, there is favouritism, the rivalry, & difficulties. We may not like one method of parenting in the Torah but it may mirror struggles for direction in parenting and a desire to give children every blessing under heaven. It tells us that life, real life, is full of highs and lows, and really awful decisions. Perhaps many of us feel that we are Issacs and Rebekahs, making our way through the tough choices of parenting, tenaciously receiving and bequeathing our religious traditions and values, while struggling with them in day–to–day life.
I realised that I needed more than just Torah role models, more ideas on Jewish parenting so I started to look.
I read “Becoming A Jewish Parent” by Daniel Gordis. 282 pages all about how to educate your children to enjoy being Jewish and stay Jewish. It felt like a very Diaspora preoccupation – Jewish continuity but unfortunately, in this book’s case, with very little Jewish content. How to put your child to bed so they feel Jewish but disappointingly nothing about the values you may want to bring that child. Gordis keys to Jewish parenting were immersion in Jewish life, building Jewish memories and identity. These are good and interesting but they didn’t satisfy me. What’s his measure of success? Remaining Jewish. But where was the content? The Gordis school of parenting seems to be the “status of the future husband/wife” measurement. I admit that I have that voice in me but I try and balance it with content.
So my search continued and I read another Jewish parenting book, “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. Using Jewish teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children.” by Wendy Mogel. She also talked about three cornerstones to Jewish parenting, but I preferred these – moderation, celebration and sanctification. She started to bring Jewish sources in (which was a relief) rather than just theory. For instance, when she talked about self-discipline, she referred to the value of passionately embracing the material world, that God had created “and God saw that it was good”, while exercising self-discipline. This was the Jewish upbeat version of parenting. Very positive, more content, more balanced but not completely realistic.
So I turned to my educational guru – our own Dr. Helena Miller, Director of Research and Evaluation at UJIA. Not surprisingly, the best advice of all came from Helena herself – so I thought I’d share them with you:
So here are 10 parenting tips for Parashat Toldot from Helena:
1. J Parenting is as much about living J values as about anything else
2. No outcome with your kids is guaranteed
3. J parenting must emphasize the FUN of doing Jewish
4. Being a J parent is about being a J parent in community.
5. Being a J parent means having to learn more yourself.
6. Being a J parent means allowing the child to be a child (no 5 year old is happy to sit in Shul through a whole adult service, why should we be cross when they can't?)
7. Give the child responsibilities - it's their job to say hamotzi/hold the havdallah candle or whatever.
8. Children remember repeated ritual e.g. burning the chametz (great flames!)
9. Don't look over your shoulder - no other parent has it more right than you do.
10. Enjoy being and doing Jewish - there is more chance your kids will too.
This seems to be the “down to earth, don’t beat yourself over the head” school of Jewish parenting which encourages children to be independent and parents not to feel too guilty. What a relief!
So on this Shabbat when we read about the challenges of sibling rivalries and of Jewish parenting, we are allowed to acknowledge imperfections as parents, educators or as children and ask for God's help to try and improve without reproaching ourselves too much. Shabbat shalom.
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