Parenting in the 21st Century: How Do You Parent When You Have So Little Time With Your Kids?

Be Pro-active.
Set up a schedule and plan ahead for the week and weekends so that the kids have time for supper and homework and still get to bed on time. Prepare clothes, lunch and snacks the night before so that the mornings will go smoothly. Teach your older children to do this for themselves.

Spend Special Time with Each Child.
Take fifteen to twenty minutes three or four times a week to do something your child enjoys, such as playing catch or a board game. Creating a storehouse of positive experiences enriches your relationship with your child. If you don’t spend the time, you’ll lose the relationship. Special time implies 100 percent of your attention. Turn off your phone and watch him shoot hoops.

Make Time to Learn with Them.
Your involvement makes Torah learning special and will give them a love of learning. But choose wisely; make sure to choose a topic both of you will enjoy, or else you may end up upset and your child frustrated.

Be Involved in Their Lives.
Ask them what they are learning, help them study; make yourself available when they need you. Ask about their leisure activities too. How did the ballgame go? What happened at the Shabbaton? Know the sites they are visiting online and what they are watching on TV. Meet their teachers; understand the educational goals so you can help your child succeed. Empathize with their struggles and help them overcome them.

Compliment Your Child and Appreciate the Power of Your Approval.
Positive reinforcement is much more powerful than punishment. In order to shape your child’s behavior, reinforce it when they get it right. Don’t expect it and then not notice it! That is a recipe for rebellion and disaster.

All children want attention, approval and love. If they can’t get your attention with good behavior, they will get it with bad behavior. Too often parents notice bad behavior quickly, but are too busy to notice the helpful and caring things their children do. Catch them doing things right five times as often as you reprimand them.

Special time implies 100 percent of your attention. Turn off your phone and watch your kids shoot hoops.

Express Your Love Often; Show Your Confidence in Them.
No child was ever harmed by being loved too much. You can love your child even when you are upset with their behavior. Don’t tell your child that they’re bad; they just might believe you. Admonish the behavior, but support the child. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski tells how his father accomplished this:

As a child, I was somewhat of a chess prodigy and was invariably triumphant when playing with the men in the synagogue after services. One Rosh Hashanah, when I was nine, a rabbi from Chicago guested at our home, and in the afternoon when Father was resting, he asked if I wished to play chess. I was surprised at this, being under the impression that playing chess on Rosh Hashanah was prohibited; but the rabbi’s assurance that it was permissible was sufficient for me. He was a good player, but I eventually won.

That evening, the second night of Rosh Hashanah, I was told that Father wished to see me in his study. When I came in, he was studying, and I remained silent. After a few moments, he looked up from his books. “You played chess on Rosh Hashanah?” he asked quietly.

“Yes,” I said, “Rabbi C. said it was permissible.”

Father looked back down to his books, slowly shaking his head in the negative. The message was clear. Even though Rabbi C. was correct according to the letter of the Law, it was not in the spirit of Rosh Hashanah to play chess, and I knew better than that. (The admonition, “You should have known better,” is an insult because it chastises one for his ignorance. “You know better than that” is merely stating an oversight and is not insulting.)

As I had not been dismissed, I remained standing in silence while Father continued his reading. The remorse during these few minutes was most profound. There had not been any beating nor even any shouting, yet I resolved right then and there that never again as long as I lived would I violate the spirit of Yom Tov even with something that was technically permissible.

After a few moments, Father looked up, and there was a twinge of a smile accompanying the twinkle in his eye. “But you did checkmate him, didn’t you?” This little scene could not have been orchestrated more perfectly. I had done something wrong, and I was held accountable for my behavior. I sincerely regretted my misdeed, and this wiped the slate clean. It was now time for some positive stroking.
(Abraham J. Twerski, Generation to Generation [1989])

Love Is Not the Same as Indulgence.
When your time is limited, it is enticing to spoil your kids when you are with them. It’s fine to indulge occasionally, but parenting requires balancing responsibility with indulgence. If you always do things for them, your children will be crippled by a lack of self-belief. They will not believe that they can accomplish much on their own. If they expect to be given everything, they will not know the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes with working and achieving a goal. If they really need that cashmere sweater, let them earn it and buy it themselves.

Teach them gratitude for what they have. Have a weekly Friday night “simchat hashavua” where each person tells of something from the past week that he is grateful for. Let them help you. Spending time together in the kitchen or cleaning the garage is sharing responsibility, a growth experience for them and a shared experience with you.

Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk.
Literally and figuratively. How often do parents yell at kids for mistakes and accidents? “You should have been more careful” is a poor educational tool. Problem-solving is a better choice. Ask your child how he thinks the spill should be dealt with or just ask him to clean it up. No screaming or crying, just very calmly and matter-of-factly. The cost of a cup of milk, 25 cents. The lesson of how to deal with life’s little upsets, priceless!

If we can stay calm, we can teach our children to stay calm as well.

When you get upset, try whispering instead of yelling; it is more effective, will really get their attention and will save your voice and sanity.

Establish Family Rituals.
Whether it’s a bike ride together on a Sunday afternoon, pizza Thursday night or simchat hashavua mentioned above, family rituals are the glue that keeps the family together. Establish daily rituals such as reading a story before bedtime or sitting down to supper together.

Be a Role Model.
Children follow our example, not our lectures. If you’re involved in chessed, let them see you, and if possible, join you. They should know when you are out at a shiur, or that you walk a mile on Shabbat to learn.

If you want them to respect you, show them respect. If you expect them to control their anger, gain mastery over yours. If you behave poorly in front of your children, apologize for your behavior. Humility is the greatest gift you can give them.

Take Care of Yourself.
Parenting is a continuous process of self-exploration. Most days you have to settle for good enough because you are not going to get it right all the time. Model for your children proper self-care. You need to eat healthy, exercise, have some relaxation and put yourself on your “To Do” list. Especially if you work full-time, you need to take a little time for yourself. Being a parent is time consuming and requires real effort, but done properly you can reduce stress and enjoy the simchah children bring to your life.

Rabbi Dr. Barry Holzer is a psychiatrist. He lives in Lawrence, New York.


This article was featured in the Spring 2012 issue of Jewish Action.