Editor’s Note: The Power of Moms is a website for mothers of all religions (and for mothers who are not necessarily religious). Each Sunday, we post a spiritual essay, and we would love to gather a wide variety of perspectives and ideas. Our goal is to be respectful of all beliefs while simultaneously offering opportunities to share meaningful, spiritual thoughts with one another.
I know that part of my job as a parent is to teach my kids my values and my belief system. As a Jewish parent, I want to give my kids an appreciation and love of their rich heritage, especially the joy that comes with celebrating Jewish holidays.
But it is a bit tricky with the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. They are serious holidays. We are supposed to engage in soul searching and repentance–pretty heavy stuff. The question often plagued me, How are we Jewish parents supposed to impart the importance of the Days of Awe to our kids while still helping them understand that self-reflection can be meaningful and positive?
After many years of thinking (and asking questions to lots of smart people), I have realized that repentance–and this time of year altogether–do not have to be as scary or as serious as they seem. It’s all about self-improvement and taking small steps towards sincere and reasonable goals.
It is a signal to take a good, long, gentle look in the mirror and think:
What accomplishments am I most proud of?
What mistakes have I made and what can I learn from these mistakes? (If we evaluate mistakes in this way, are they really mistakes?)
What do I want to do differently in the coming year?
Asking myself these questions makes the process of repentance and soul-searching seem more practical and manageable. These are questions that I can wrap my head around. It can even be enjoyable.
After a few years of following this practice and really seeing improvement in all aspects of my life, I knew I wanted to share this approach with my kids.
Unfortunately, I know that when we parents get into our teaching modes we tend to lecture and admonish.
“You know Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) is next week and it is important to reflect on the past year and what your plans are for the coming year.”
“You know you’re always lazy and you procrastinate about everything. You should really work on that this year.”
Can you just see your kid’s eyeballs rolling in their heads? Perhaps you hear a power struggle brewing? I wanted to avoid that at all costs.
In my journey as a parent, I know that there are 3 simple ways to impart our values to our kids and teach them anything of importance:
1) Pick a quiet and calm time to talk.
2) Adopt a non-confrontational stance and tone of voice.
3) Talk about yourself.
So, to teach our kids about repentance we might say:
“You know Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner. I try to take a little bit of time to think about last year and what I want to do better this year.”
“I used to get so serious around this time of year, but now I just try to think of how all the mistakes I made helped me grow and how I can use them to learn to become a better person.”
We can also tell our family what we regretted this past year:
“This year I felt that I got to stressed out and yelled in the morning before you left to school.”
We can show them that we want to put a plan in place to make things better:
“I really thought things over and I would like to work on that for the coming year. I have two ideas that I think will help me: Put out my own clothing the night before and take 15 minutes to clean up the kitchen after everyone has left to school, instead of trying to do it while everyone is milling about.”
And we can then let them know why we think it will work: “I think that will help me be more calm and stop yelling in the morning.”
When we talk in a non-confrontational manner about what we are doing to improve (repent) we make a big impression on our kids. They hear our viewpoints clearly and succinctly. Because no one likes a lecture, and no one likes being admonished.
In the midst of a lecture or an admonishment, kids aren’t thinking, “Hmm, how can I improve myself?” They’re thinking, “When is she going to stop going on and on about this?” “Why is he always on my back?”
Kids listen better when we talk about ourselves. They don’t feel like they need to defend themselves or like they’re being pushed into doing something that they might not feel like doing.
They are more likely to think, “Wow, I guess even adults have to work on themselves. Maybe I’m not so bad….” or “I was wondering what Rosh Hashana is all about. That’s pretty interesting.”
So here is to a year where lecturing and admonishing our kids is a thing of the past. Talking about ourselves will be the parenting skill of the New Year.
Question: What aspect of self-growth would you like to work on this coming year?
Challenge: Can we find a way to gently impart our self-improvement goals to our kids so that they can learn first hand the best way to go about improving themselves?
Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Ginny Kubitz Moyer says
These are terrific tips — thank you! As a Catholic mom, my kids will be preparing for their first confession in a few years, and it’s great to get some ideas on how to make the topic of sin and repentance seem a little less intimidating. I like your suggestion that the parents talk openly about their own mistakes and hopes to do better — that’s a very powerful suggestion.
Amy Graham says
I love the way you approached it: by example. If they see that we care enough to find areas in our lives where we want to make changes, and then we talk through that process with them, we are modeling how to change, and how to repent! Thank you Adina for such a thoughtful post! 🙂