I was once told that my eldest child should improve his self-help skills such as getting dressed and putting on shoes. I interpreted this as an area for my own self-improvement, not my son’s. I was the one sitting him on my lap and putting on his coat and shoes. If I didn’t give him the chance to do things on his own, then how would he develop a desire to be independent? Sometimes parenting is about letting go. If shoes occasionally end up on the wrong feet, so be it.
This experience made me realize that I could be spending more time focused on the values that I’d like to instil in my children. This means being clear about the values that I want to uphold myself. Three values to hone in myself and my children are hardiness, gratitude, and living in the present.
Hardiness is about gaining independence, learning to take risks, and developing resilience. According to Jewish teaching, our children do not belong to us. It is a parent’s responsibility and privilege to help guide their children so they can find their own path. If we overprotect our children, they will not develop the confidence and security needed to become independent.
It’s a natural instinct for parents to protect children, but when we feel the need to shield them from physical and emotional pain we might be going too far. How did we get to this state of helicopter parenting? I think we’ve let ourselves be ruled by fears and worries. Parenting requires us to use our best judgement, and a certain level of concern may sometimes be warranted. But we may be doing a disservice by worrying, and we ought to learn to appreciate the joys of raising children.
The more we let our children play freely, the better they will become at assessing risks and understanding their own abilities. Unfortunately, most children in Canada don’t spend adequate time playing and moving.
Playing and being creative requires very little in terms of material goods or structure, but that can be easy to forget given that children seem to be constantly surrounded by heaps of toys, television or Internet. I hope my children won’t be in a state of thinking “bigger and more is better.”
Many birthday party invitations now request “no gifts” and suggest a way to give tzedakah in lieu of gifts. I think a minimalist approach that embraces refurbished and previously loved toys and books that foster creativity, spark imagination, and encourage physical activity will result in several benefits for both children and the environment.
Living in the present is an important skill that comes naturally to children, but which we need to teach them to sustain for its ability to help them cope with challenges later in life. If we are constantly dwelling on the past, or living in anticipation of the future, then we will miss potential opportunities. We could all benefit from activities that require our undivided attention such as playing with our kids, gardening, painting, listening to music, or dancing. We might want to try lighting Shabbat candles, turning off our cell phones, taking a session off registered activities, or taking a walk with no planned destination.
Children need to learn how to be their own guide and this is only possible if we allow them to take risks, fall, and get back up again.
Note: Inspiration for this article comes from The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, my PJ Library’s Parents Book Choice in 2017.
Editor’s note: Stephanie Shefrin is taking a well-deserved break from the Modern Mishpocha while she enjoys maternity leave and has arranged for Emma Mallach to write the column while she is off.