If only raising kids were like baking a cake. Pour two cups of discipline plus 3 1/2 cups of steady love and encouragement; stir gently. Mix in a helping of communication and validation. Slowly add half a pound of religious training and inspiration, and let it simmer for roughly eighteen years. Let cool, and there you have it: a confident, capable and emotionally and spiritually healthy young adult.
Unfortunately, there is no simple recipe for raising children.
There are, in fact, so many ingredients that go into effective parenting, it’s almost a miracle new parents don’t get frightened off by the very prospect of raising children. As parents we need to be compassionate—but not overly compassionate; we need to be firm disciplinarians but not too firm. We need to be selfless, emotionally available and good listeners.
On top of all that, we need to be religious role models. As the well-known Torah lecturer and educator Shira Smiles states in this issue’s cover story on parenting, raising genuinely religious children requires extensive and ongoing effort. Relegating our children’s entire religious education to schools and educators in a colossal mistake. Parents, she maintains, must take religion seriously and not succumb to complacency in their own religious lives. “Children need to witness their parents’ passion for Yiddishkeit.”
Another significant challenge for parents especially in this age of distraction is time—or more accurately, the lack of it. With many Orthodox families relying on dual incomes to contend with the high cost of frum life, time has become a rare commodity in the average frum home. Oftentimes, working parents feel like they are in a race against the clock: dash home from work, get homework, supper and bath time over, get kids into bed, prepare lunches and snacks for the following day; clean up and get some rest. Repeat. It’s an exhausting cycle and yet, despite the breakneck speed of their lifestyles, mothers and fathers cannot afford to be distracted and parent mindlessly. They need to be laser-focused on their children or else they may risk missing some red flags. Are their children having difficulty academically? What about socially? Are they davening the way they should?
If parents are not attuned to their own children, who will be?
Then there is the ever-present challenge of technology. I’m not referring to the need to teach our children digital responsibility, which is, of course, a given. I’m referring to digital responsibility which parents must exercise themselves. All of us need to be wary of the addictive nature of technology and its insidious tendency to rob of us of the little family time we have. We need to make a conscious effort to put the smartphones away during dinnertime and keep them away until our children are fast asleep.
I am no parenting expert and cannot claim to have read the popular parenting bibles that are on the current bestseller list. And, truthfully, my wife Barbara and I brought up children in the pre-smartphone era. Our children are grown and we are, baruch Hashem, proud grandparents. I can only humbly share with you what has worked for us. One of the best pieces of parenting advice I ever received was this: spend a few minutes of good quality time with each child each day. While I confess that on many days, I failed to achieve this goal—especially during the years I worked long hours and came home when our children were already in bed—nevertheless, setting this as our target helped us prioritize our time differently. We knew that each child needed “talking time”—and factored that into each week, if not into each day. Now that we are grandparents, we consciously try to spend “talking time” with each of our grandchildren as well. We have, over the years, learned to maximize the family time Shabbos offers and to use the Shabbos table as an opportunity to speak to our children, and more importantly, to listen to them. You will never regret the hours you spend getting to know your children—and in your later years—your grandchildren.
No, there is no foolproof recipe for raising menschlich, well-rounded young adults imbued with yiras Shamayim. But perhaps that’s a good thing. Children are unpredictable and individualistic. No two are exactly alike, and thus, our approach to each child must be customized. There is no mold, no one-size-fits-all formula. So yes, while unconditional love, encouragement and attention are essential in raising children, as the contributors in this issue repeatedly remind us, praying for siyata d’Shmaya is the one critical ingredient that should never be omitted.