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Raise ’em Right: Helping Your Kids Avoid a Vitamin N Deficiency

Raise ’em Right: Helping Your Kids Avoid a Vitamin N Deficiency


I walked into the playroom, where the kids were having snack and hanging out. This was their 15-minute relaxation time before the after-school program began. There didn’t seem to be a lot for them to do; some were happily destroying preschool toys with their 8- and 9-year-old bodies and pent-up energy.

Trying to be helpful, I made a suggestion to the director. “Why don’t you get some board games and age-appropriate stuff for these kids?” She rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders. “I tried that last year. TheA vitamin deficiency? In 2017? pieces were quickly thrown all over the room. Unless you’re on top of them, many just don’t get the concept of using someone else’s property respectfully.”

“Aha,” I said. “They, too, have it. A Vitamin N deficiency. They don’t get enough of the ‘N’ word.” She sighed and smiled wearily. “Yes, that’s it.”

A vitamin deficiency? In 2017? Especially for suburban Jewish kids, who are carefully fed and educated by parents striving to provide every advantage and opportunity?

Yes. It’s No.

Yes, It’s No? No, it’s Yes? Is this a parenting essay or ditty by Dr. Seuss?

Yes, it is No. Many youth are deficient in a highly significant nutrient, needed for proper development of self-control, morals, and paradoxically, self-esteem. Vitamin N, otherwise known as NO.”

Though it can have toxicity issues if taken in too large of doses, the NO word is needed for optimal growth and function.

Disclosure: I didn’t coin this phrase. My son sent me a clip of Dave Ramsey, popular for helping people take control of their financial lives. A caller had asked him advice about a frivolous and expensive football-ticket purchase, though he was in serious debt. This triggered Ramsey’s impromptu tirade about many people’s inability to use the “N” word. While Dave was focused on monetary impulsivity, the N deficiency issue has many ramifications.

I started my parenting career some 35 years ago, and sure, it was all about showering my kids with love and talking out any misunderstandings. (Warning: I am now one of those old grannies, wagging a finger and dispensing advice to the young and hapless parents of this lost generation. “Now, sonny, back in my day . . . ”)

Much to my shock and dismay, this approach didn’t always work. Yes, love and caring absolutely had to be the backbone of everything my husband and I did with our kids, but sometimes, they needed a plain, strong NO. A tantruming toddler did not want to talk about their feelings or reason with me.

And an 8- or 9-year old, with all their logic and power of persuasion, just sometimes needed to feel a limit. A NO. As did a teenager, when we could summon the fortitude to weather the raging storm that would ensue as a result of a firm boundary being set.

The Torah is a tremendous model and help in this difficult endeavor of learning to “Just Say No” with calm confidence, instead of a quaky fear that one is traumatizing their darling.

There are 248 positive mitzvot(things we DO to affirm and strengthen our relationship with G‑d) and 365 negative mitzvot (ways we strengthen our relationship by saying NO) to certain foods, relationships, activities, etc.

I study the Book of Mitzvot by Maimonides, in an organized daily schedule. Sometimes, a mitzvah and its negative counterpart appear in the same day’s schedule. For example, Positive Mitzvah # 156: On the first day (of Passover), you shall remove leaven from your houses. Negative Mitzvah # 201: Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses. Why waste the ink andI hammered my parents with relentlessness space in the book to say the same thing twice? Isn’t that redundant? Even though they are essentially the same act, both the positive and negative expression of each mitzvah bring me closer to G‑d, and need to be separately emphasized. There is building the relationship through positive action and building it by saying, “I know You don’t want me to go there, so I won’t.”

Growing up as a typical suburban child, I heard many a “yes” and a vague set of “no’s.” I felt pretty secure as a child, but as a searching and somewhat difficult teen, I really pushed those against those boundaries. Who are you to have authority over me? Why are you so inconsistent? Who says that this action is a no? Why are your rules better than mine?

I hammered my parents with my relentless, rebellious, know-it-all teenage storm. Yet, as much as I pushed hard against their attempts to create order, I secretly wanted even more, and felt safer because of the boundaries that existed. I remember one outrageous thing I was doing. My dadSugarcoating is no favor tried to say no, in pretty strong terms, but I railed against him. He backed down. Even at the time, in my heart of hearts, I knew he was right and wanted him to insist and forbid me. I don’t blame him; he was trying to negotiate and dealing with an stubborn, intransigent adult-child. But I yearned for strong and clear limits.

The Torah provides a way to cut through the wild jungle of a demanding child, with their mixture of healthy and dangerous requests. It’s not my arbitrary authority vs. my child’s. As the parent, I have certain clear responsibilities, I am G‑d in loco parentis, His representative in my house. But I have a clear job definition: If I step outside of G‑d’s ways, I surrender my right to speak for Him. I and my child are all yoked to a higher authority. It’s not just based on my whims, or the latest parenting philosophy. We are all G‑d’s children. There’s a consistency, humility and transparency to my authority and my rules.

Consistency: It gets hard feeling like you’re always saying No; it’s tempting to sugarcoat things and go easy. But that’s not a favor. Torah helps, with unambiguous guidelines. Even when I might cave in to their demands for ice-cream, G‑d says, sorry you just had a hamburger, you have to wait.

Humility: My kids know I’m trying hard to submit my ego and desires to G‑d’s path, just as I educate and guide them to. I share my struggles with them. We’ll all training in this Great Mitzvah Marathon, knowing if we can stay the course we will come out champions—different people than the raw potential we are at the starting line. It’s a lifelong development course.

Transparency: I’m not making the rules based on my personal whim or bias. They can look in the Code of Jewish Law and see where I’m getting my boundaries from. And I, too, ask mentors and rabbinical authorities for help when I don’t know the answer, or am dealing with a particularly thorny or complex issue.

We learn in Kabbalah that pure chesed (lovingkindness) can be warped and toxic. The same with it’s opposite pole, pure gevurah (severity). Healthy balance comes from the blend of the two, which is tiferet (harmonious beauty).

Being able to say a clear No, with love and good judgement, makes the Yes that much more special.

So sometimes, we gotta say No. Because I’m your mommy, and I said so. And though it’s possible that they may not thank us at the moment, our kids will thank us in the end.

Miriam Karp is an award-winning writer, artist, Judaic studies teacher and lecturer. Her paintings explore intimate moments in Jewish life. Her first book, Painting Zaidy’s Dream: A Memoir of a Searching Soul, shares her story of search. Miriam lives in Cincinnati with her husband and family. Visit her website here.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Hanalah Houston, Tx March 19, 2017

Sometimes when my little one asked why, I had a reason.
But if he answered back, or if I didn't have a "reason," I would say, "Because I'm the Momma."
If he tried to do it anyway, I did not yell. I was bigger than he was, and I would not be bigger forever. I took his little hands, or maybe his whole self, away from the place where he was going to use something he shouldn't, or break something. Maybe I could interest him in something else. Or maybe he would cry. But he would not break that object.
And if it was harmless, I didn't say no. I didn't automatically say No to everything. I stopped to think about it, and that meant that sometimes I said Yes, it's OK.
By the way, we kept kosher. I used to say that when he got big and wanted to rebel, he'd eat a cheeseburger instead of taking drugs.
In fact, he never wanted a cheeseburger. Or drugs either.
Go figure. I feel very lucky. Reply

Yefuneh Des Moines February 12, 2017

Great lesson!... Regarding one comment, however, someone (anonymous) mentioned the "vulgar" connotation incited by references to the N-word. Although it does not bother me in the slightest (no one has a monopoly on N-words), perhaps the article should have referred to a Vitamin-Lamed deficiency and the "Lamed-word", which is "Lo", of course! Shavua tov! Reply

Anonymous Australia February 12, 2017

Thank you! Always glad to read about other parents giving their children the love that can only come when we teach them right from wrong. Be it G-d's will that your family enjoy much tiferet! Reply

Lori February 9, 2017

Horrible! Is this supposed to be cheeky? This is really offensive. Most of us know what the "N" word means in American English. We as Jews are to be a light unto the other Nations. Why this is still up on the front page of this website is beyond ignorant. Wake up this is not the time! Reply

Miriam Karp Cincinnati February 9, 2017

Thank you for pointing out the association many have with a derogatory term for African Americans. While I'm unfortunately familiar with the pejorative term, I never heard it referred to as "the N word" so didn't think about that when putting these thoughts together. I do not at all mean to make light of the very substantial hurt and harm done through racial discrimination. Reply

Anonymous June 8, 2017
in response to Miriam Karp:

Add a comment...
I've heard it referred to as "Vitamin N", by some psychologist, forgot his name. Is vitamin N a better description? I too would've never thought about the "N word" offending anyone since that's not my association when I hear it. Beautiful article nonetheless. Reply

Rajiv R India February 8, 2017

Goals & Boundaries Shalom! Yes, good food for thought and application. Was reading something on 'Contemplation of G d leads to Awe and Dread of Him' where i came across: Love and Fear. With love you set your goals (Positives); With Fear your boundaries (Negatives - Transgressions). Will and will not. Fits in beautifully with the article. Now to apply it :-) Thank you. Reply

Anonymous February 8, 2017

um, I know you mean well but the n-word? that is pretty well known already and not for being no Reply

Anonymous Israel February 7, 2017

N word Nice essay! However, "the N word" to many of us refers to a vulgar word referring to African Americans. Very hard to get past that. Reply

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