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Help! I've got kids...

My Daughter Hates Me

February 26, 2010

Dear Bracha,

My daughter has gone to stay with her grandparents after another row between us. She is 16 and I am a non-supported single parent. Our relationship has been fraught, to say the least, over the years and I have said very hurtful things to her. I tried to use my parents, with whom she is now staying, for support, but regrettably, that has become a conflict as they have not helped regularly with both her and my own emotional care. My daughter now says she has had enough and wants to stay there until she is 18. I am distraught, as she is all I have worked for. What can I do now to repair the relationship? She says she never wants to live with me again.

Single Parent

Dear Single Parent,

Your situation is by no means unique. It is very common for mothers and daughters to become like fire and water; it seems that they just don't "mix." There are many reasons for this; the first is that many mothers see their daughters going through life very similarly to themselves. Their daughters are so similar, in fact, that they have the same bad habits, make the same excuses and mistakes as their mothers did. It's like "déjà vu" for Mom and drives her absolutely mad as she attempts to prevent her daughter from making these "same" mistakes. It drives the daughters absolutely mad as they have their mothers constantly on their back and can't get away with anything.

The second reason for this happening is that mothers love their children. Mom sees her daughter making mistakes and tries to correct her because she doesn't want to see her daughter hurt. But there is no plan and Mom ends up correcting her constantly, giving her no peace, and friction results. This is one of the proofs that you can love your child too much.

One of the basic reasons that this happened between you and your daughter is that everyone needs a place to call home. A place where you can put your feet up on the table and just relax. Maybe you were are on your daughter's case so much that she just couldn't relax, had no downtime, no peace, no rejuvenation from her day. You needed to pick your battles and turn a blind eye to the rest; you needed balance.

I am sure there were many things that led to the current situation you are now experiencing, but what you're really asking is: how do I rebuild my relationship with my daughter?

I see the fact that your daughter is in a safe place with your parents as positive. She is safe and well cared for and that is so huge! This also gives you time to take a step back and get yourself under control. There can be many additional factors that place pressure on parents and many missed opportunities for people to help, but at the end of the day we parents are responsible for what comes out of our mouths and how we treat others. It is unfortunate, maybe even tragic, that your parents were not more supportive, and the pressures on you as a single parent were difficult. But when you were talking with your daughter, there was only one adult in the room and it was your obligation to keep the situation under control.

Having said that, no one can push a mother's buttons like a daughter… fire and water.

Your daughter's time with your parents is her time to heal and grow. It is also your time to do the same. First, you have to heal. To heal, you have to forgive. You have to fully and emotionally forgive your parents, your daughter and yourself. Let go of all the pain and what ifs and maybes. The only reason for remembering the past is to learn from it. Many times a relationship benefits a great deal from a little physical distance. Now you are not in each other's faces. Your daughter no longer has to worry about whether another fight will start at any moment. Give her time to let the pain drop away.

Give her time to remember how much she loves you, because she does love you - very much.

Never think that your efforts were in vain. The best parts of you are in your daughter and they will show themselves. You may need to get someone to talk to, to help you get over your own pain so that you can build a strong and happy relationship with your daughter. I suggest you keep your contact with your daughter firmly focused on positive things. Resist all inclinations to instruct or comment other than in a supportive way, unless absolutely necessary. If conversation with your daughter is like a minefield, you had better have a good road map, or you risk an explosion. Don't tell her what to do. If you feel she should be taking more care in some of her decisions, ask her questions about how she feels about the situation or perhaps some "what if" scenarios. The idea is to get her to think about the situation and come up with her own plan. If she doesn't realize you're guiding her to the decision, then you have done a superb job!

As long as your daughter is happy at your parents and making positive progress, you should let her stay there. I have frequently counseled mothers in similar situations to allow their daughters to go to schools out of town. The breathing room has the added benefit of removing mother as a crutch. Perversely, many poor habits cannot be broken in the family home where it is too easy to slide back into the old way of doing things. Children can more easily see their own responsibilities when there is no one around to pick up after them.

Take care of yourself, and work on getting your tongue under control. No matter how many times your daughter pushes your buttons, from now on she will find she does not have the code to set you off.

Most importantly, remember that your daughter was in emotional pain, but it only hurts when you care for someone. She cares, and you care and that is the basis of a really great relationship. Wishing you and your family all the best.

– Bracha

Discussing an Invisible G-d

February 19, 2010

Question:

How can I explain to my young child that it makes sense to believe in an invisible G‑d?

Answer:

You can explain this concept to your child the same way you explain it to anybody (including yourself)… only children can probably grasp it quicker and better!

In one of my picture books for young children, The Invisible Book, this perplexing question, one of life's deepest puzzles, is explored in a very simple manner. The boy in the book looks around his world and realizes that there are many invisible forces in his life, like air, electricity, and gravity.

Continuing his exploration, he finds that thoughts and feelings are invisible, too, and so are sounds and smells. Even the strong force of magnetism is invisible. Through recognizing the invisible nature of so many indisputably real things we experience, we can believe that we have been blessed with invisible souls by an invisible G‑d.

The joy we experience in our souls from doing a mitzvah is invisible, and yet we are strongly aware of how intensely wonderful it can be. Amazingly, the joy becomes almost palpable when we engage in learning about the most basic, yet deepest, questions of life with our children. This holds true even when they are teens or already adults. In countless ways, if we are open to it, our children become our spiritual guides.

Why can children more readily understand, when first exposed to these deep concepts, what is much harder for us to grasp as adults? Children seem to "see" that they are, in essence, invisible souls made in the image of our invisible G‑d with a similar infinite spiritual energy. They are more "in touch" with their pure souls, which have not been covered over with years of confusing messages that deny our spiritual essence.

Children may come up with questions like: "Where is G‑d? Why can't we see G‑d? What is a soul? What does G‑d want us to do?" We can let our children know that these kinds of questions are actually coming from a place within them that is connected to G‑d. And the questions themselves are proof that they are much more than just bodies. We can't see spirituality, but like many other invisible things, we can feel its effects and awesome power.

We can ask our young children to blow on the palms of their hands and feel the gentle invisible wind. In Hebrew, the word for wind is ruach, and, interestingly, it's the same word for "spirit." With the invisible spirit within us, our souls, we can act in the world as the wind does, and bring about much wonderment and goodness.

We can let children know that G‑d wants us to increase goodness in the world. And we can explain to our children that the Torah explains exactly how to be good. We can also ask our children what answers they have for their questions because we honestly want to know what they are thinking about this important subject.

What we don't need is to be afraid of exploring these essential questions with our children, even if we feel we don't have all the answers. This is an exploration with no end. If we can humbly return to these questions again and again throughout our lives, we can find richer meaning. Then we can help each other with the unique insights garnered through one's personal trials.

As invisible time goes by, the spiritual searching and discovering that we share with our families – even, or especially, about G‑d – can create invisible bonds of love that last forever.

Getting Your Kids Involved

Finding age-appropriate responsibilities

February 11, 2010

What responsibilities are appropriate for your child's age? Your child may be ready for some jobs earlier or later than suggested, and you will probably think of chores beyond those listed here. Each child is unique. We must educate a child according to his way, catering to his abilities. The pleasure of accomplishment for the child who masters various skills is invaluable for his or her growth and development.

A house is a "small Temple," a place where the Divine presence rests. Keeping house with that in mind elevates the mundane tasks and makes them more meaningful.

Two-year-old kids can already be trained to undress themselves, pick up toys, put their pajamas away and clear their plates from the table.

At four and five, children can be taught to dress themselves, wash their face and hands, brush their teeth, put their dirty clothes in the hamper.

At six, they can graduate from "self" tasks to "others" tasks, with jobs such as setting the table, wiping up a spill, dusting furniture, picking stuff off the floor and putting them away.

At seven, they can already learn to sweep the floors, hang up clothes, put away folded laundry, spot clean walls, vacuum, load a dishwasher.

At age eight and nine, they can clean and trim nails, pack school lunches, organize their own drawers, fold laundry, wash and dry dishes.

At ten, eleven and twelve, they can be taught to scramble eggs, bake a simple cake, prepare fruits and vegetables, polish silverware and take telephone messages.

Motivation will make the difference between a child doing his task with a cheerful, smiling face or a sullen, angry one. Here are some incentives you can try:

  • Racing – "Let's see if you can clean your room faster than I clean the kitchen." Set the timer and try to beat it.
  • Make it fun by playing a children's tape while they work. Challenge them to finish their job before the song is over.
  • Sing while they work… "Who will pack away… Leslie packs away… Leslie has a mitzvah, a mitzvah today…"
  • Remember to give positive encouragement. Catch your child doing something right.
  • Avoid negative labels; censure the job, never the worker. Let the child judge his or her own work.
  • Be generous with rewards. They can range from positive recognition to stickers, to a favorite dessert, to playing a game with Mommy, a story, or placing a call to Grandma.
  • Be creative. For dusting, make a puppet out of an old sock. Add a funny nose, mouth and eyes.
  • Avoid attaching jobs to every pending privilege.
  • Pay for jobs with play money and then hold an auction.
  • Hide coins around a room to encourage thoroughness.

Charts are fun and functional. The advantage is that the child knows what is expected.

  • Build a weekly assignment chart so kids can easily review their tasks.
  • Make a "to do" list with pictures for the young child to cross off bedtime chores.
  • Place a morning chores chart in the kitchen so it can be easily referred to.
  • Use a circular chore chart to rotate jobs.
  • Screw hooks into a board and hang assignments written on marker tags.
  • Use checks, stars, stickers, or even jellybeans to reward each completed job. Keep them stapled to the chart, so they are handy. Even a bag of jellybeans can be stapled on.
  • Allow the children to place their own check, star, sticker, or jellybean on the chart.
  • Make a pie chart. One piece of pie can be earned each day. Fill a whole pie, and offer an reward.

Can't Take "No" for an Answer

February 4, 2010

Tali is a little girl who can't take "no" for an answer. When she asks Mommy for a cookie, the answer had better be "yes, here's one I just baked for you" because if it is anything else, Tali has a complete meltdown. It has come to the point where Mommy and Daddy are both afraid to disappoint their little girl – they just can't take the scene that follows. "But why? Why can't I have just one? I promise I'll eat my dinner! I promise! Ple-e-e-e-e-ase? Just this once and I'll never ask again! Pretty ple-e-e-e-ase?" Again, unless the parents rapidly have a change of heart, they're in for a very unpleasant time. It's hard on their nerves. It's easier to give in.

Yet, if they do give in, Tali has a very good chance of growing up to be an obnoxious young lady. She may use badgering and battering to get what she wants in other relationships including friendships, marriage and parenting. She will have learned the lesson that most people can't tolerate a scene and she will use this to her advantage.

Expressing rage of this sort is antithetical to the Torah personality, the very opposite of the humble person who respects everyone, particularly parents. What can her parents do to help Tali learn to show more respect and consideration by graciously accepting the answer "no"?

To begin with, they can help prepare themselves for the inevitable confrontation. They can imagine the upcoming scene in their minds, breathing deeply as they "see" it unfold on the inner screen. They should watch this "movie" as many times as possible, particularly when just about to fall asleep (and the drowsy mind is in a particularly receptive state) and when waking up (same thing) and a few times during the day. This work will help to desensitize them to the conflict that will ensue as soon as they utter the word "no."

Next, they should create a new script for the inner movie – a script in which the parents say "no" calmly and quietly and refuse to budge from that position. No matter how much the child tantrums in that movie, the parents hold their ground. "No" means "no." The movie ends when the child has exhausted herself and can carry on no longer.

Then, the parents should have a little meeting with Tali. They should explain to her that they are changing their tactics and from now on, when they say "no" they will mean "no" and they will not be changing their mind. They should let her know that they understand that this will cause her frustration and upset but that they expect her to keep her voice down and say one sentence only – something like "I'm not happy then." She should leave it at that. They should also tell her that when she can do that, they're going to give her a sticker and when she's collected five such stickers, she can go to the dollar store to buy a small prize. The parents should then wait for the next opportunity to say "no."

When it comes, if Tali keeps her cool and responds appropriately, she'll get a sticker. If she forgets what she's supposed to do and whines, begs, tantrums or uses other forms of manipulation and intimidation, the parents will wait until she's finished her "show" and then remind her of what she was supposed to do. They shouldn't express anger or disappointment. They should simply encourage her to do better next time.

Using this positive, good-feeling form of discipline, parents can help their children accept the reality of "no."

Just about every career requires prior course training, and often some work-related experience.

Becoming a parent can be one of the most responsible positions we undertake, yet most of us do so unprepared and without any prior knowledge.

What makes your child tick? How can you learn to communicate better so your child will listen? Dealing with bedtime fights? Teaching gentleness? Arranging allowances and chores?

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