Commenting on my last vacation post, Miriyummy pointed out that when we go on a family vacation I am “the facilitator of fun” much more than I am actually having it. At least most of the time.
I have found over the years that I have to find the pockets of pleasure for myself within the family vacation.
Sometimes I leave the kids with DH and a mother’s helper (and/or my parents) and I steal off for an hour. It can be window shopping, getting a pedicure or sitting with a friend, but I have to leave the family for a while and go indulge. I confess that while on this particular annual vacation the indulgence is often Ben & Jerry’s or ‘bake yourself’ frozen chocolate chip cookies; this doesn’t help my figure much.
Sometimes I have to make the family agenda what will make me happy… and of course since my mood sets the tone for better or worse, this usually does work. This can mean we go to the park instead of the ocean, or play the board game together as a family that I want to play.
Sometimes making it feel like fun for me means plunging in and deciding to have a great time doing what we are doing anyway whether it is what I would normally enjoy or not.
Mostly this means enjoying little – sometimes tiny – pockets of serenity that pop up in the midst of lots of effort. For July Fourth I sat on the neighbors’ lawn with a neon multicolored sunset over the water off in the distance, twenty different fireworks displays visible in towns miles away on the shore line, and our own private display by the family one lawn over down the beach. A wine cooler, pleasant company and the perfect summer beach night weather (the bugs weren’t so perfect.) While enjoying it I let it infuse me; making it a memory while happening.
It isn’t three days of solitude in Bermuda, but in those few minutes I was alone, in peace and serenity… and bliss.
When I am lucky I have enough little dots of vacation to connect at the end, so that in the end, I feel that I too had a enjoyable getaway.
“You have seven kids? Wow! That’s a lot… I only see six. ….Oh? He’s your stepson… so he lives with you? …………….No? Oh, so you have six kids of your own………..”
“You have seven kids?! What’s the age range? …………………Oh, so one is your stepson. So you really have six kids, then.”
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard comments like these, or countless variations on them. Almost all of them are conversation with well meaning, kind, good people. I am certain that if they knew how hurtful and upsetting these comments are, they wouldn’t dream of saying such things.
I am an “Ima” to seven children. The first, my stepson, who I love and who yes, does not live with me, chose the name of this blog. So, yes, I am an “Ima” to seven children. My relationship with my stepson is different than my relationship with the other six of my children. My relationship with each of my children is different. I have one child who has another parent, another house, another way of doing things. It is different. Not less, not more. Different.
I could write a long post about the credentials that give me the “right” to say that I have seven children, although I did, yes, give birth to six, and I do, yes, have six children living in my house. I could regale you with tales of cleaning up vomit, wiping tushies, midnight peepee accidents, holding hands during scary stuff, scheduling and logistical gymnastics, school meetings, laundry, flexibility on every tiny detail of life, etc. I could talk about tailoring meals, trying to build character, discipline and learning from as well as teaching to this child. I could, in short, tell you the story of 11 years of parenting.
I could tell you that I would jump in front of a bus to save seven children without a moment’s thought. I could tell you that stepparenting can take more time, more energy, more patience than parenting a biological child living in your home.
I could also write about how adopted children are “counted” by strangers as our children. Children who go to boarding school are “counted”. Neither womb dwelling nor number of days living in one’s house each year constitute parenting.
There are women with children who have addiction problems (G-d forbid) that they are not in touch with, or barely see. There are women who don’t even have a speaking relationship with their children. And I seriously doubt that someone they just met would suggest to them that they need to edit or clarify the number of children they “actually” have.
But I don’t think any of that really gets to the point. The bottom line is that when I say I have seven children, I have seven children…..because if you could shrink yourself and get teeny tiny and crawl inside of my heart, you would find special little spaces that have grown in it. Spaces that weren’t there before, spaces that have caused me growth and pain and joy and limitless capacity for love.
And there are seven of those spaces.
The next time you meet a mom and she tells you the number of children she has, and she mentions that one/some of them are stepchildren, I hope you don’t qualify her numbers for her. I hope you don’t ask if they live with her. I hope you smile.
I really cannot presume to know how much this does or does not bother all other stepmoms. I also cannot, however, believe that it is just me.
My house is full of books. Overflowing, in fact. Kids’ books, adult books, baby books, Jewish books, science books, magazines. They are literally bursting out of every shelf on every floor of the house. Most of them were hand-me-downs, or gifts from my generous parents. Some are yard sale and “freecycling” finds. I don’t pay retail for books. Retail for books? But there are libraries out there!
Every month my children come home from school with a Scholastic Book Club Order Form. Not only are they told they have a deadline to bring it back, and that there are cheapo toys offered with 1/3 of the offerings, but they are also informed that the school gets books from the company if we order…. all of which is, of course, reflected in the price of the books. Five kids with order forms every month. And I resist. I do. I recommend that my children take a good look at the bookshelf in their room and select 20 books to discard. This usually solves the problem. Sometimes, I give them a “maybe” when the pleas are strong, and then they forget about it. One of those “maybes” led last week to this from one of my 9 yos:
I really love you and I am so grateful and you get me so much stuff I want, so much things!
You once said I could have one book from the book order. I am pretty sure this is the last book order. I really really want one book. Please can I have it?
I’ll be happy with anything you say about it, ”
Now please tell me that you would be able to say no?!?
We had an interesting experience in our family this week, which turned into a learning experience for many of us, mostly me, of course.
My twins were very upset over what they perceived to be a gross injustice. It seems that while most of their class believed that they were invited to stay at an event for a certain amount of time (past their bedtime), two out of a very small class had parents that for whatever reason had a different understanding, and allowed their children to stay later.
My children would never have been allowed to stay any later than they did, invitation or no; we take bedtimes pretty seriously around here.
There was lots of drama and even angry tears, exacerbated by staying out late, of course. The umbrage had two sources: 1. The idea that there were two different sets of rules for kids in the class “isn’t fair”, and 2. The other children, they complained bitterly, will come to school and brag.
I decided to address the two issues separately. First of all, sometimes parents make exceptions for their kids. I can’t tell my children why other people do what they do or why. But I never spend a lot of time on the “it’s not fair” complaint. In a house of seven children what does come out fair? Not much. I remind them for the billionth time that Hashem wants us to appreciate what we have, that we are given what is best for us, not for someone else. And in this case? For them to feel that it isn’t fair that someone else got invited to stay out later than I would ever let them seems a bit theoretical. So life isn’t fair, kid. Done.
When my kids complained about the bragging, (which was still just being anticipated by tired, angry kids) something resonated with me. I really understood their anxiety.
I remember kids bragging in school, don’t you? I remember how much it bothered me. I remember feeling jealous and angry. I also remember my parents telling me that the kids who brag do so because they don’t have x or y and need to make themselves feel better. I remember thinking that once again my parents just didn’t get it, and that they couldn’t possibly see how much better that other kid’s life was than mine. Clearly if they heard what I did, and saw what I did, they would be jealous of that bragging kid too.
The mother cub in me opened my big (consistently big) mouth and let these two parents know that the other kids in the class were upset. I thought they might be able to give some anti-bragging pep-talks to their children. Not really my place, and I don’t think I made my point well. Regardless, it didn’t seem to help much later.
Before school, we had a talk about the ever-so-feared bragging. This always of course starts with the reminder that we can’t control what other people do, only how we handle it. Not something my 8 year olds ever seem to want to hear. Apparently, I am supposed to knock sense into everyone else’s children, or at least instruct their parents on proper child-rearing.
Some kids aren’t actually bragging. Sometimes, I explain, kids are genuinely happy about something they got or did, and they want to share the news with their friends. Their goal isn’t to make anyone jealous, and part of being a good friend is being able to be happy for someone else you care about when they receive or experience something good.
“Yeah Ima, we know. We aren’t talking about that. Kids do brag, they are mean and show off. ”
Sometimes that is true. The children who do that don’t feel superior to you. If they did, they wouldn’t have to brag, I say. They feel like they have to show that they are as good as you, as lucky as you… and they do that through bragging.
And what did my son say? “Ima, you just don’t get it! You don’t know how it feels…..” And that was when I got to explain to my kids that I know exactly how it feels. I realized in their surprised eyes that I don’t tell my children often enough that it was hard for me to be a kid too!
What was interesting was when I demonstrated to them that there are times that they may make other kids jealous of them without bragging, and for that other child, bragging may make them feel better.
For the child that sees you playing so nicely with your brothers – but he doesn’t have any brothers. Or the child who barely sees his father – and sees Abba choosing to spend so much time with you. Or the child who wishes her parents would observe more Judaism, and sees the traditions in your home. (Or maybe the opposite?) Or the child who struggles so much in school and watches you do so well with so little effort. Those kids will never come to you and tell you straight-out how lucky they think you are…. but they might say things to make themselves feel better that are hurtful to you.
And I know it stinks, because I do remember…. but you can choose to not let it bother you. If you knew how much that child hurt inside for some of the things you take for granted, then you wouldn’t feel jealous. You would feel happy for him or her that they also have something that they know you wish you could have.
The next thing that happened really surprised me: one of the twins looked at me as said “I know what you are saying is true, and it makes sense, it just doesn’t feel like it.”
So his head got it — isn’t that most of the challenge?
…………………………………. I had to wait until school was over to find out what happened:
“So, no one bragged, right?” (I was still holding out for my mama bear talk the night before having had some impact).
“No, Ima you are wrong! There was a LOT of bragging. And one of the kids kept saying what a GREAT time they had after we left!”
“So, nu? How did you handle it? ”
“It really didn’t bother us so much. ”
“Did our talk help”
“Yeah, it did. I told (this child) I was happy for them.”
That’s when it hit me. I could have spared them the big talk and told them that if you tell a braggart that you are happy for them, there really isn’t anywhere to go with the bragging, is there? I could have just given them a strategy.
But I think the conversation was an important one, hence this blog post. And it meant more to me than them. Because until this incident I really hadn’t remembered how much the bragging had bothered me. And I hadn’t remembered what my parents said, or that they were right, in the end (again!). I hadn’t looked back at my own painful memories of other kids’ behavior looking through the prism of adult comprehension of broken families and financial struggles and all of the many other issues that children hide away while at school.
I hope they remain better able to withstand bragging. As third graders, I would venture to say that they are far from out of the woods on this issue. I also hope that I become more sensitive to bragging without meaning to. To being tzanua, modest, in my blessings.
And I have to remember to tell my children much more often that sometimes I found being a kid really tough too…….
So states the title, the article is about 5 keys to having happy children. What I find interesting is the research at the beginning of the article that states that a huge majority of parents in 67 (!) countries wish happiness for their children far above all else.
And with my regular level of chutzpah, I think they are getting it wrong.
Or rather, I think the Torah instructs Jewish parents to take a different view, with a different priority.
We need to raise kids to be good, not happy. We need to raise children to do the right thing, to be good and to do good. There are many, many, many times in life that doing that which is right and good does not make us happy.
My husband brought this concept up to me years ago, quoting Dennis Prager as his source. Prager has an article on raising good children in his book Think a Second Time. (As a side note, I don’t agree with lots of things Dennis Prager says, particularly his views on plastic surgery, but about this I think he is on the mark.)
He writes: ” The problem with regard to parents raising good children is not that most parents don’t want their children to be good people. It is that few parents actually make their child’s goodness their primary concern. Most parents are more concerned with their child’s being a brilliant student or a good athlete or a successful professional. ” (pp. 36-7)
Maybe what he would say today is that based on Oprah’s research, most parents are more concerned with their child being happy.
There is something deeper than happy, and I am not sure what one would term it in English. In Hebrew, there are several words for “happy”. Sameach, merutzeh, mapsut, .. . there are more. One of them is to feel “shalem”, which means whole, complete, at peace. I think this kind of happy comes from doing and being good. From knowing your source. Knowing your purpose.
But not immediately. It doesn’t make a young child happy or shalem or anything other than pretty mad to have to share, wait, give instead of take, act selflessly, etc.
However, by raising our children in a Torah path, to be serving our creator and living by the rules of right and wrong contained within halacha, we are training them to be good.
One of the mitzvot contained in that halacha… is to be happy. Not the happy described in the article on Oprah’s website. Not the “I am the most loved, most special, most tended to child” kind of happy… the happy of purpose, of meaning, of being good – and knowing why.
Of course I want my children to be happy. Of course I want them to experience more joy than sorrow and to feel the words of “Modeh Ani” right down to their bones every single morning. But I just don’t agree with the apparently thousands+ of parents they seem to have polled that this is the number one priority, number one wish.
I will suffer on the side as they experience the nisyonot, challenges, that Hashem sends their way. I will hope that they can see all of those future challenges as gam zu l’tovah – Hashem’s will, and ultimately for the good.
I will continue to prioritize their childhood being a development of their goodness… and hope and pray that with it, from it and through it….comes happiness.
David Morris in Beit Shemesh, Israel, writes a blog “tzedek-tzedek” in which he discusses social problems affecting Israeli society, most particularly the religious community. His is one of the few blogs that I read. Not because it is light and happy, but because he sheds light where very, very few are willing to do so, and does it skillfully and with class.
But for me, it is also yet another disturbing reminder that I have access in person and on line to Torah classes on every imaginable subject. Yet there doesn’t seem to be ANY guidebook on how to speak to religious children about pedophilia.
Why should it be any different for someone who is Orthodox than for anyone else? Well, I would imagine it isn’t easy for any parent, and that there is a dirth of good information out there period.
But we do have some additional challenges. My children have very successfully internalized the concept of avoiding lashon hara – hateful speech. This means that they really are loathe to speak ill of someone else. EVEN WHEN IT IS TRUE. This is an obvious obstacle.
They also are taught to respect their elders, their authority figures, and adults in the community in general. So, if G-d forbid a trusted adult should do something that violates them in any way, I fear that they will believe what they are told by such a person, “respecting them” and buying the lies that pedophiles are known for telling.
So… that brings me back to my point. What works? I have tried so far to relate this subject to other examples of “mitigating circumstances” and the “exceptions to every rule” that exist in Judaism. There are times when we MUST say lashon hara. There are times when we should NOT respect an adult – no matter what. This is very confusing and difficult for my yeshiva trained children. So, I think that one part of the puzzle is to repeat myself, and to remember that this topic, as uncomfortable as it is, cannot be raised once and then forgotten.
However, I read David Morris’ blog (I hope you will too,) and I am therefore reminded to raise the topic from time to time. I have already mentioned how little this topic seems to be raised in the frum world, so I wonder how easy it is out there to forget?
I would very much welcome any suggestions from my readers on things to say – and not say – on the subject.
Something I wish none of us needed any expertise in….