The good news is that they are cute and little. The bad news is that you’re going to have to grow up.
The parenting books don’t tell you how to do that. But don’t sweat it. Here’s everything they left out, in ten simple points:
1. Feed Thyself
Always carry a snack. Not for the kids—for yourself. Hungry parents make lousy parents.
One piece of kosher chocolate can do wonders for your parenting skills.
2. Grow Up
To be a parent, you need to become an adult. Who will teach you to be an adult? Your parents failed. Your teachers failed. Your manager failed. But your child can do it.
Your child, after all, made you a parent—just by being born. Pay real close attention, and you’ll hear how she’s trying to make you into an adult as well.
As Rabbi Chanina confessed, “Most of what I know, I got from my students.”
Same with your kid—but much, much more.
When the kids are bouncing off the walls, sit still and do nothing. Close your eyes, calm down and relax. Open your eyes, and all the kids have calmed down as well.
Okay, maybe they haven’t. But you’ll be in better condition to deal with the situation. Works better than chocolate (which you can now save for your grumpy hunger attack, later).
Where did I get this from? None other than the Baal Shem Tov. Kids, he taught, are tuned into your thoughts. If you’re having problems with your kids, fix up your thoughts.
4. Be There For Them
When the teacher calls to complain that your kid is doing lousy and needs help with homework, take the kid out and play catch. He has enough enemies already. He needs a friend.
And when the principal calls you with that “I know you really don’t want to hear this” voice, explain that we’re both on the same side—the side of your kid. You are your child’s only advocate in the world.
Think of Jacob, father 3.0 of the Jews, who called his sons his brothers. I’m sure they treated him like a king, but he thought of them as brothers—because he was there at their side to help them.
And so they were at his side, at his time of need, to help him.
5. Listen Up
Good parents talk a lot to their kids. Great parents mostly listen. Especially to the ones that don’t say anything. They need the most listening to.
See what I wrote on this about Abraham and Isaac in How to Be a Father.
Everything you disliked about your parents, you ended up imitating. Guaranteed, the same will happen with your kids. It’s an instinct. Maybe they’re not imitating you now, but in ten years, twenty years—at some point they will, whether they like it or not.
So keep doing the good stuff, even when they don’t like it. And whatever you don’t want your child to do, don’t do it yourself.
Want your kids to speak politely? Speak politely to them. Don’t want them to yell? Don’t yell at them. Want them to be good Jews? Do Jewish things.
Whatever it is—imagine what you want them to be, and act that way yourself.
And if you fail, admit your failure and make amends. They’ll imitate that too.
Here’s a video of two parents who got that message full blast.
7. Nachas (not the chips)
Nachas is the Jewish word for enjoyment, satisfaction and pride—all bundled together. If you like ice cream, the feeling of nachas is like your entire innards becoming one big vanilla fudge ice cream sundae.
If you want nachas from your kids, the best way to get it is by getting nachas from your kids.
That means letting slide the stupid little things that kids do, and getting a kick out of the cute, smart and beautiful little things they do. Let them see your smile.
For every “No!” there’s got to be at least five hugs, kisses, pats on the back, cheek-pinching, and just plain loving smiles. Kids thrive on your enjoyment of them.
As Ashley Montagu pointed out, no culture provides attention and affection to their kids as do Jews. In English, we don’t even have a word for nachas!
8. Eat Food Together
Want a family? Eat food together.
Shut off the TV. Make a big deal of turning off your cell phone. Set a place where all devices will stay put for the half-hour of dinner time. Including yours. No exceptions—nothing is more important than this time now.
Enjoy each other’s company. Be happy to be with your kids.
Each day, find some story or interesting fact to say at the table. Each week, save stories and neat Torah facts to say at the Shabbat meal. Friday night meals (and Saturday, as well) are your main tools for creating a family.
Never come to the Friday night table exhausted. The holy Rebbe of Rimanov often wondered why taking a nap on Friday afternoon was not one of the Ten Commandments.
9. Bungee Ropes of Love
When your kids morph into meshugana teenagers, hold tight to the bungee ropes. If they know you love them no matter what, they won’t want to do things that will hurt you. And if they do, eventually they’ll bounce back up.
In Tanya, the basic book of chassidic thought, those ropes are called “thick cords of love.” They’re the only way to pull someone back.
10. Be Together
Make family trips. Squeeze into the car together. Take pictures.
Okay, so you won’t get out until 3 in the afternoon. Okay, you’ll spend more time packing, making sandwiches, loading the van, unpacking, etc., than you will spend having fun.
But you’ll be a family, the kids will have good memories, and when they have their own families, they’ll take you along on their own family trips.
But, nevertheless, make sure to have time to take out each child alone. Even if it’s just to run an errand, grab a kid—but just one kid—and throw him or her in the back seat. It’s just the two of you, and that’s what counts.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that G‑d treats each of us as an only child. Our kids deserve the same.
Parenting is not a hobby, and children are not the collateral damage of marriage. These are people’s lives you are dealing with, a Divine mission.
Besides, these are also the people who might one day sign you into some horrible retirement home—or, do things right, and they’ll make you the king and queen of the palace.
Basically, they’re the biggest investment you’ll make in life—the only one that’s for perpetuity.
Invest all you got. You’ll reap the dividends now, and when you need it the most, you’ll cash in big-time, with grandchildren who think you’re the greatest grandparents in the world.
What greater wealth could there be?
Did I skip something? Something that’s not in the parenting books? You can add it right below, in the reader comments.