Eighteen years ago, I was the mom of a toddler, running around ensuring my only child had all the life experiences that would ensure he grows up to be extraordinary at whatever he wanted to be. Can you appreciate that in order to “allow” our kids to become who they want to be, there is a strong tendency to sign them up for every event and class and opportunity?
In the midst of the parent juggle, our twins joined the fun. Now my husband and I were the parents of three young kids and the juggle became a full-fledged circus. A friend gave me Wendy Mogel’s “The Blessing of the Skinned Knee”. The book and Mogel’s unique parenting perspective has become a manifesto for more than one generation of parents and I was no exception. Her guidance resonated with each chapter and shared anecdote.
When the boys were young, I found comfort in her lessons of the small and mundane, such as the teeth brushing wars, “On the battlefield were one naked sprite running from room to room and a parent, sometimes two, chasing behind waving a toothbrush and pleading. The scene is still vivid in my mind: the humiliated adults, exhilarated child; and the bacteria having their own little festivities.”
As my boys got older I appreciated her lectures on chores:
Treat household chores and paid jobs as richer learning opportunities rather than jazzy extra-curriculars. With real world experience, your child will develop into an employable (and employed) adult. That said; accept that older children will get chores done on AST (Adolescent Standard Time).
At each phase there are stories, advice and the reminder not to mistake a snapshot taken today with the epic movie of your child’s life. Kids go through phases. Glorious ones and alarming ones.
Mogel’s lessons rely on her psychological training, but the rich connections are found in her parent teachings of Jewish texts. Lessons and text that are equally popular among her independent and Christian school hosts and fans, as well as Jewish.
While Mogel’s grandfather was the president of his Orthodox synagogue, her parents were not observant. Mogel explains she “was raised to know the difference between cherrystone and littleneck clams, not to follow the Jewish proscription against eating shellfish.”
Then one night in 1990 on a lark, Mogel accepted a friend’s invitation to go to a service for Rosh Hashanah. She thought of the excursion as cultural anthropology, “I had a good time with my daughter at an international mask and dance festival. Now we could see how these people, the Jews of West Los Angeles, celebrated their ancient holy day.”
She went back a second time. Then she decided to try a nearby Friday-night service at a reform synagogue. Her family began to celebrate Shabbat. Mogel was most moved by Jewish learning. She took a year off from her psychology practice to dig into Torah and Talmud studies.
The Talmudic lesson of teaching children to swim is the basis of many Mogel lessons, “Jewish wisdom holds that our children don’t belong to us. They are both a loan and a gift from God, and the gift has strings attached. Our job is to raise our children to leave us. If they stay carefully protected in the nest of the family, children will become weak and fearful or feel too comfortable to want to leave.” She explains certain aspects of life can’t or shouldn’t be legislated away, “When we treat our children’s lives like we’re cruise ship directors who must get them to their destination—adulthood—smoothly, without their feeling even the slightest bump or wave, we’re depriving them. Those bumps are part of God’s plan.”
Yes, my children and I have experienced bumps in the road. But with a laugh Wendy Mogel helps us realize resilient children grow to be adjusted adults who can approach life on life’s terms.
Lisa Monette has worked with children for over 22 years, she is the Director of the Sheila and Eric Samson Family Early Childhood Center at the Merage JCC.