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Not Enjoying Parenthood!

September 8, 2010

David, age 57, sighs heavily. "I'm tired," he admits. "I don't want to be worrying about my kids anymore. I don't want to keep carrying their problems around with me; I have enough of my own. I know it's a terrible thing to say, but I'd be very happy if they just all got up and moved to the other side of the world. I need a break."

Carly, 26, expresses a similar sentiment. "Am I the only woman who doesn't enjoy parenting?" she wonders aloud. "Don't get me wrong – my kids are great, as far as kids go. It's just that I'm not at all interested in playgroups and talking with other mothers about what I fed the kids today and sitting on the floor with puzzles. It's just not my thing. In fact, I can't wait to finish my mat leave and get back to the office to be with other adults. Is there something wrong with me?"

Marni, 38, has a slightly different problem. "I can't stand my son. He's not like the other kids at all. They're all easy-going, well-functioning, pleasant children. But Daniel is impossible! Everything with him is an argument, an exhausting debate. He can never just say 'yes' and move on – everything has to be negotiated. And he makes everything difficult; every small bump in the road becomes a major catastrophe with him. There's so much drama! And he's not like this just with me – he's difficult with his teachers and his father and his siblings. He's just a pain for everyone to deal with. I know it's an awful thing for a mother to say, but I don't like my own child."

The Parenting Job

Some people really enjoy parenting. They enjoy their babies and toddlers, school-age kids and teens. They enjoy their adult children. But most people feel stressed by parenting at least some of the time. The stress may be caused by the endless demands of the task: the 24-hour days, the enormous responsibilities, the neediness of children. It's all normal and understandable. There is, however, another source of stress that people can't usually talk about. This is the stress of actually not liking the job of parenting, whether that pertains to parenting in general or parenting one particular child.

The truth is that people don't always enjoy their children. They may enjoy them more at some stages of development than others or they may enjoy some of their children more than others or they may even enjoy them more at some times of the day than other times (e.g. when they're sleeping!) – but clearly, people can find parenting some kids to be hard, disappointing, frustrating, overwhelming or even just tedious. Since this isn't the way parents are "supposed" to feel, those who don't enjoy parenting usually keep it to themselves. Not wanting to appear deviant or mentally disturbed, they suffer silently and alone. They don't realize just how common and normal their feelings really are.

Coping with Negative Feelings

Feelings of dissatisfaction in parenting occur to almost everyone at some time in their parenting careers. A personality clash with a particular child can trigger such emotion. A badly behaved child can trigger it. A houseful of noisy, messy, wild youngsters can trigger it. A rebellious or disrespectful teen can trigger it. Even the expenses of parenting can trigger it. In fact, there are endless triggers for unhappy responses to parenting.

Of course, parenting has its good times as well. Over the twenty years of raising a child or the thirty or forty years of raising a family, there are plenty of ups and downs. What can parents do to help themselves negotiate the down times more successfully? Here are some ideas:

  • Accept the dissatisfaction as a normal part of the parenting journey. Expect negativity to fluctuate, to come and go as the situation changes.
  • During stressful periods of parenting, try to find personal satisfaction in other endeavors. This may be the time to take a course you've always wanted to take or get involved in an activity that you've been interested in. This is a good time to strengthen your marriage and spend more quality time with your spouse. A bit more attention to your social life, sleep habits and diet will serve you well, as will a dedicated exercise routine. The more full and balanced your personal life is, the better you will be able to tolerate and deal with a difficult parenting situation.
  • Don't try to raise challenging children on your own – enlist the power of prayer! Ask G‑d to help both you and your child(ren). It's not all up to you.
  • Get professional support if your negativity is affecting your mood or your health, or impacting your relationships with the child or children in question, or your marriage.
  • Learn specific stress-reduction strategies that can lighten feelings of anger, resentment, helplessness, despair, anxiety and other negative emotions. Such techniques make it easier to cope with difficult periods in parenting.

It's easier to enjoy parenting when we give ourselves permission to not enjoy it, too.

Enjoying Nature

September 1, 2010


How can I get my child interested in spending more time outdoors, enjoying nature?


Joy is highly contagious. We don't need to try all that hard to convince our children to appreciate what we appreciate. Our own joy speaks volumes.

When we are able to focus on the beautiful world that G‑d made, our perception seeps into our children as well. And nature – including all the plants and animals – has so much to teach us. Can tiny ants demonstrate how to work hard for a goal? As we carefully watch them carrying loads much bigger than themselves, they become exemplary models of industriousness. And if even a little ant on the sidewalk can be viewed with renewed respect, imagine the awe that's possible when viewing a vast ocean.

We can notice how, at certain times in the day, so many little creatures seem to be croaking and chirping all at once, giving thanks, it seems, in their own way. And we can freely share our wonderment about this. We can notice that there are so many different colored birds and think about how they all could have been the same color. Instead, G‑d blessed our Earth with so much variety to add joy to the world. That delight can be spontaneously passed along. We may feel a little silly at first, but the value of these genuine expressions are inestimable.

Just looking around, the life lessons are plentiful. We can see clearly how every detail matters in every tiny creature we meet – as it does in our lives.

We learn that a plant plucked from its source quickly wilts and then withers. And that's just how we feel when we get disconnected from what gives us life.

A fruit tree can tell us how to treat a guest – by freely providing us with food, drink, and a shady spot to rest!

Right next to a valley is a hill – life sure has its ups and downs – and hey, look, that's natural!

Each creature - like each of us - has its own beautiful and unique song.

There are spiritual messages found in each creation of our natural world, and when we pause to listen to them, we gain newfound wisdom. No make-believe "talking animal" stories are needed on a journey into the woods – or even into one's backyard – with time to spend and ears to hear. When given the opportunity, the creatures and vegetation we encounter really have a lot to say.

Collecting little reminders like shells, sand, pine cones, acorns, leaves, and special rocks while on a walk, bring added pleasure that can be later savored. If they are saved in a memory box, it can quickly turn into a timeless treasure chest.

The responsibility given to us to guard and protect our wondrous environment is often forgotten. As we roam across planet Earth with eyes wide open like a child's, our appreciation blossoms. Then we have a chance to value and care more deeply about the natural resources all around us. And this will be gently infused in the children who get to experience that sense of awe along with us.

Taking walks in parks, biking on a trail, going boating, or even just simply strolling in the neighborhood with our children can be an enchanting experience. During every season of the year, and at every season of our lives, spending time together in nature is something that can make us all richer. And at the very same time that we will be exploring more about our remarkable natural world, we will be discovering more enjoyable wonders about each other.

Disrespectful Children

August 25, 2010

Some very nice parents have some very rude children. In fact, parents may be busy taking parenting courses and reading parenting books and doing everything in their power to learn how to be respectful and loving toward their kids. Their children, however, are not busy taking courses; they're just being "natural." When they feel upset or frustrated, they show it – by stamping their feet, yelling, crying, whining or employing any method of communication that gets the message across. In moments of intense frustration, some kids insult their parents: "You're so mean!" "I hate you!" "You don't know anything!" Some kids slam doors or phones.

Natural or Suppressed?

"I want my child to be able to express herself. I don't care if it's not polite and controlled. My parents never let me be natural and I hated feeling suppressed all the time. I want my kids to feel that they can say anything."

This sentiment is often expressed by adults whose parents never gave them a voice. It is important to let kids talk, to tell their end of the story, to express their thoughts and feelings. However, allowing someone to communicate isn't the same as allowing them to be abusive. Those who communicate with harsh language, hurtful words or ugly gestures will lose more than they will ever gain by their "honesty." They will lose love. Those who speak this way to their spouses or children will inevitably discover that they are rejected by the people who are most important to them.

The opposite of abusive communication is not, however, no communication. If a child isn't happy with a parent's rule, he should be allowed to share his thoughts and feelings on the subject. However, he should not be allowed to browbeat the parent with endless complaints and arguments, because browbeating is a destructive communication tool. Anything a child is allowed to do becomes wired into his or her brain as a pattern to be retrieved in adulthood. Thus, children who are allowed to argue with their parents can grow up to be argumentative adults. While the parents may find the behavior acceptable, spouses and bosses may not. Similarly, children who are allowed to call their parents names or otherwise speak in an insulting, disrespectful way, may very well grow up to use this same style with spouses, in-laws, children and others. They will generally find that it doesn't work nearly as well in adulthood as it seemed to in childhood.

Teaching Respectful Communication

Teaching children to express their upset respectfully involves showing them how to do it (modeling), and teaching them to do it. Here are some guidelines for both strategies:

  • Never say or do anything when you are upset that you don't want your kids to say or do to you. For instance, if you don't want to be yelled at, hit, hung up on or insulted, don't ever do those things to your children. If you find it hard to refrain from disrespectful communication, enlist the help of a relationship specialist and/or mental health professional.
  • Do not make exceptions for yourself ("I was tired/overwhelmed/hormonal"). Live by the motto that abusing others is never acceptable.
  • Follow the Relationship Rule: I only give and I only accept respectful communication. I do not give, nor do I accept, disrespectful (abusive) communication. When a child speaks or acts disrespectfully in anger or upset, use age-appropriate techniques to put the child back on track. Do not just accept the communication because it was an authentic expression of feelings or because the child had a good point. Feelings and good points can always be communicated in respectful ways. Show the child how to do it.
  • Use positive reinforcement and rewards to encourage self-control in communication. Let your kids see that respect is a fundamental value in your home. ("I like the way you told me that you didn't like dinner in such a nice voice. You were very respectful. I'm so impressed that I'm going to help you find something else that you can eat tonight.")
  • Use discipline when necessary to discourage inappropriate communication. ("From now on, when you shout at me, you will lose computer privileges for the night." Pick any age-appropriate negative consequence that will motivate the child to think before she speaks. Be sure to discipline in a respectful manner – no yelling, insulting, etc.
  • Be consistent. If you never accept disrespectful communication, your children will grow up to be respectful in all of their relationships. This will help them to enjoy healthy, loving relationships throughout their lives.

Although pre-schoolers tend to experiment with disrespectful behavior, they can quickly learn that you will not accept it. They will also learn – if you are careful to teach them – that there are acceptable ways of saying what they want to say. If your children are older and have already developed ingrained speech habits, don't worry – it is never too late to teach them a new way. Just be patient, because it will take the older child time to undo the habits of the past before he or she can consistently use new skills that you impart. However, if you persevere and do not waiver, everyone in your house will soon possess the tools they need to communicate all of their thoughts and feelings in a productive way. The Torah teaches us, "Do not hurt others with your words" (Vayikra 25:17). Living by this commandment helps us to have peaceful homes and healthy, loving relationships.

Bad Parenting Days

August 18, 2010

Everyone has those days — days that you wish you could just do all over again. Sometimes, it starts first thing in the morning. You get out of bed in a bad mood (having slept way too little the previous night, what with all the interruptions from the little ones). And yet, whether you have the energy for it or not, "the show must go on." You've got to get the kids out the door on time, cleaned, dressed, fed and all the rest. Of course, they're fighting and balking and dawdling – not helping at all and in fact, making it harder for you. Is it any wonder that you just start screaming? Your nerve endings feel fried, and it's not even 8:30a.m.


So you get them out the door, but then the bad feelings start. "What kind of parent am I? What's wrong with me? They're only children, after all. I know I'm destroying them with my temper. Okay, it's their fault for not listening, but still – this can't be good. I never wanted to be a screamer like my parents and look what's happening to me!"

The inner critic pounds away, convincing you that you are a complete parenting failure. In the midst of the brow-beating, your spouse telephones for a friendly check-in; you respond unkindly. Your mood is foul. It pours over into your marriage. After all, if your spouse would help more in the morning, you wouldn't be so frazzled would you? See? This isn't your fault after all. It's your spouse' fault for letting you down and not partnering properly!

The shifting of blame helps for a few minutes, but then it's back to feeling bad. Now the inner critic reminds you that you are both a bad parent and a bad spouse. You can't be nice to anyone. You're starting to feel depressed and exhausted, and hopeless. Your "yelling diet" has been no more successful than any other diet you've ever tried. On for a few days and then off again. It's just too hard.

Welcome to Parenting

You are not alone. Parenting brings out the best – and the worst – in everyone. No matter how much we love our children, we will find ourselves saying and doing things that we later regret. We're only human, after all. Sometimes we are so tired, we can't even think straight, let alone solve a difficult parenting problem. Sometimes the state of our health interferes with our better judgment, or the state of our finances or the state of our marriage. In other words, stress, separate and apart from parenting issues, wears us down, eventually spilling over to the way we parent. These are not excuses for bad behavior – there is no justifiable reason to treat our kids poorly. They are, however, contributing factors. They help explain why we succumb to our "yetzer hara" – our evil inclination. Stress weakens us, making it harder for us to resist the dark forces lurking inside.

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges in our parenting endeavors is to gain the upper hand. We have to learn how to keep our voices down or even keep our mouths closed in moments of intense parenting pressure. When we're racing against the clock, when too many children want too many things from us all in the same moment, when everything seems to be going wrong, we have to learn how to stay cool, calm and in control. We have to master and gain control over ourselves, before we can expect to gain control over our household. But it is a learning process. It takes time. G‑d knows that it is a struggle and He is there to help us with it. When our parenting challenges are over, there will be other challenges that will provoke us. But by then, we can hope to have learned quite a bit about our own evil inclination and hopefully, we will have managed to outsmart it on many an occasion.

Parenting is a super-highway to spiritual growth, offering as it does, so many occasions to do battle with our darker impulses. Bad parenting days are all part of it. They are the ones that can prompt us to confront on inner demons, eradicate them and soar upward. Yes, we regret our bad days, but we can also recognize them as our teachers. They show us where our weaknesses are still lurking inside. They give us the opportunity to correct our flaws and move forward. Used properly (in a process of self-examination, prayer and correction), they help us not only become better parents, but better people as well.

So, thank you, Bad Parenting Days.

The Self-Esteem Equation

August 11, 2010

Sharon sat on the bench in the playground, watching her son play. Suddenly, another boy playing near her child picked up a metal bar that he found on the ground, and began to swing it ominously. Terror seized Sharon's heart as she imagined the damage that the bar could do if it accidentally connected with another child's head, perhaps even the swinger's own head. The bar was sharp enough that even unintentional damage would be serious.

Sharon quickly called out to the mothers surrounding her, "Whose child is that? Please tell him to put down that bar right away! It's dangerous." The child's mother turned to her and replied, "Oh, I would never say something like that to him in public. It would be so shameful and damaging to his self-esteem to be criticized before his friends. I'll mention it to him later when we get home."

For a moment, Sharon was speechless. She could not believe that this woman equated a potential risk to her son's self-esteem with the immediate safety and well-being of those around him. Yet she was too insecure to challenge her about it. After a moment, Sharon summoned her son, and told him they were going home.

Several days later, Sharon was still disturbed by the incident in the playground. That night, she called her best friend from college, now a child psychologist, and asked her, "Jennie, am I just missing something here? Or is it possible to be too concerned about self-esteem? Is it possible that our fear of damaging our children's self-esteem can actually prevent us from parenting effectively?"

Jennie laughed, and reassured her, "Sharon, you are not the one missing something here. But many people are learning about parenting from pop psychology, and they are getting the wrong message. As a result, some parents are afraid to act like parents. They are so afraid of damaging their child's self-esteem that they refrain from teaching them how to behave appropriately."

Her conversation with Jennie reassured her, but the troubling incident did not fade from her consciousness completely. In years to come, whenever Sharon felt nervous about taking a firm stance against a child's inappropriate behavior, she would remember what she had witnessed that day at the playground. Then she would remind herself that her concern for her child's self-esteem should not prevent her from fulfilling her role as a parent.

Sharon applied this principle many times. She used it in order to establish a firm bedtime on school-nights, a no snacking on junk food before dinnertime rule, and later when her children were older, a "no unsupervised parties" rule, and a "no accepting rides from any friends who have received their driver's license in the last six months" rule.

Over the years, her various children accused her of being heartless and unfair, of being uptight and un-cool. She would then tell her child firmly what the rule or punishment in the situation was. If her child responded that her behavior meant that she didn't love them, she would reply, "I love you but I cannot allow you to behave in a way that is harmful to yourself or others."

It is definitely true that one of our goals as a parent is nurturing our children's self-esteem. Yet as Sharon's story demonstrates, this is definitely not the only goal of parenting, and it should not be viewed as such. Healthy self-esteem is necessary in order to lead a productive and moral life. However, ultimately what determines who we are is our behavior.

As parents, our main goal should be to help our children choose the appropriate behavior in any given situation. Our role is to help them to differentiate between right and wrong. In order to do this effectively, we need to help them recognize the difference between truth and lies, and to understand the dichotomy between fantasy and reality.

The Talmud teaches an interesting principle that superficial behaviors eventually become integrated into one's personality if they are repeated often enough. In other words, don't worry about whether you feel like it or not. Do it anyway. It is reasonable to expect that our children will behave appropriately even if they don't feel like it at the time. Eventually the way they are allowed to behave routinely will determine the person they become.

Children are born narcissistic and self-absorbed. Initially it will not concern them if their behaviors impact others in a negative manor. However, if we establish and consistently enforce guidelines for appropriate behavior in relation to others, our children will break out of their cocoon of self-absorption.

Furthermore, self-mastery brings its own reward. It is the true foundation for self-esteem. There is a great difference between empty self-esteem inflating words, like "you're great" being repeated indiscriminately and true self-esteem building words that reflect a child's positive choices. True self-esteem, like many other things of lasting value, is only acquired through the hard work of mastering negative impulses and achieving self-mastery.

Tuning In

August 4, 2010

One of the most important things we can do for our children is listen to them. We need to listen, not only to their words, but to their tone, facial expressions, body language, to their complete and total message. In fact, we need to listen to their hearts. The more accurately and often we do this, the more emotionally intelligent they will become. That's right: our listening makes them more emotionally developed. As a result, they will get along better with us, their friends and teachers. They will do better in school. They'll be physically and mentally healthier. They'll enjoy all these benefits and more – just because we listened.

Although the idea of listening seems easy enough, it is, in fact, a very difficult thing for us parents. We prefer to talk. We like to teach and explain. We like to correct and offer guidance. Indeed, we sometimes talk so much that our children think we are lecturing instead of educating! They sometimes cover their ears because they've heard enough of our speeches! We tend to think that our job is to give over important information; we must teach them why it is important to eat nicely, be kind to siblings, do their homework, be prompt, etc. We spew fountains of information aimed at helping them grow and improve. It seems counterintuitive that we should stop talking and listen.

However, if we could be sure that our listening would "pay off," perhaps we'd be more inclined to do it. Research shows that listening to children leads to better problem-solving, more cooperation and better learning. In order to help this come about, however, parents must learn to trust that children have answers inside of them, installed by G‑d.

For instance, suppose a mom sees her teenage son lying in bed daily when he should already have left for school. Her old approach involved a speech about the importance of punctuality, fulfilling responsibilities and so on. All of it seems to have fallen on deaf ears because, day after day, week after week, the youngster is still in bed long after his alarm has finished ringing.

Today, Mom tries a new approach. She is going to try to listen. So she asks her son, "Sweetheart, is there some reason that you don't want to get up on time?" The boy, surprised by the question, first mumbles "no." But Mom persists: "No, really, Honey. There must be some reason that you don't get up on time to go school." Realizing his mother is actually interested, the boy rouses himself, rubs his eyes, and says, "I find the first class way too boring." Mom is tempted to launch into a speech, but refrains, deciding instead to continue listening. Making a huge effort to be receptive, rather than judgmental, Mom acknowledges her son's words. "You find the first class boring." Her reflection invites him to explain further. "Well, not all the time, but usually. Mr. Simon is the worst science teacher I ever had." Again, Mom curbs her teaching instinct. She is really trying to understand.

Slowing down to think, Mom realizes that what her son is saying makes sense. He has been diagnosed with ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is harder for him to sustain attention when the subject matter is boring. His brain craves stimulation. Of course a boring science class is hard for him. "Yes, I get it. It's hard for you to listen to Mr. Simon's uninspiring lesson." Now the boy is stunned. His mother actually understands! "I'll try harder to manage," he says out of the blue. "I know I really have to show up for the class even if it's hard."

The miracle of listening has just occurred! For some reason, being heard releases the feelings and thoughts of the listener. Being understood can unlock stuck behavior. It doesn't happen like this in every conversation, but it does happen frequently. Sometimes there is a delayed result, rather than immediate. Over time, however, consistent listening leads to consistent growth and development.

Try it sometime and see for yourself.

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