This year’s Chabad of Greenwich’s parenting conference took an introspective journey into parenting, benefiting both parent and child.

The annual event, held at Carmel Academy at 270 Lake Avenue, is designed to inform, empower and inspire parents in the Greenwich community to become the best parent possible as they encounter the many challenges involved in raising a child.

Over a decadent spread of kosher sushi and wine, parents and peers gathered for an evening of guidance and inspiration. As one mother in attendance, Cori SaNogueira, said: “My kids are the most important thing in my life—their positive growth is my life’s mission, but I need events like this to teach me and give me strength during the tough times to know I am on the right path.”

This year the theme focused on cultivating respect and how to raise a child with an “attitude of gratitude,” particularly in a community as materially well-off as Greenwich.

The first half of the conference was divided into two smaller seminars: one for parents of younger kids and one for parents of teenagers, each followed by a question-and-answer session.

(This reporter attended the seminar for teenagers, thinking she could gain some much-needed guidance about her rising sixth-grade boy, who already possesses all the fixings of a teenager. And she did.)

The quiet, steady focus of the crowd of teenage parents conveyed their anticipation of Chabad’s Rabbi Yossi Deren and his words of wisdom: He is the father of 10.

Deren smiled generously and started the discussion with his customary humor wrapped around a truth: “Without a question of a doubt, a parent of a teenager is not just a parent, but a hero.”

“We are in a unique position as a parent of a teen and must remember when they make mistakes that we have taught them well, but now they need to find their place as they figure out who they are and how to live on their own, unique path.”

Deren offered advice for parenting different age groups and answered questions from the audience.
Deren offered advice for parenting different age groups and answered questions from the audience.

Deren recommended three fields of empowerment and transition during these older years:

1. Transition from teaching our children to respecting our children. “Our job is to pull out their potential as they work to figure out their identity.”

2. Focus our parenting tactics from discipline to love. “As children grow older, their need for love grows even more as they encounter many difficulties in their lives, whether it be academically or socially.”

He said a parent’s reaction to a crisis in their child’s lives can completely change the trajectory of the relationship. If we react with “shock and awe” rather than showing our kids that we can identify and connect with their feelings, “the outcome will be vastly different.”

3. Move from “more talking to more doing.” The familiar adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” does not hold up, according to the rabbi. “Teenagers are very, very smart today, and our actions as parents say everything—let them become the teenagers that we want them to become and set good examples for them.”

When asked what kind of impact social media has on teenagers, particularly with an increase in online bullying and constant exposure, he said: “Embrace its power for the good of life lessons [he referred to the recent suicide of a young boy whose friend had been an accomplice] and let them be exposed to the dangers of it in order to help them navigate through those dangers. It’s our job to create that safe space and promote our teenager’s peace of mind.”

Deren discussed the importance of Shabbat in the Jewish religion (Shabbat entails a full day of rest and spiritual enlightenment, devoid of all technology) beginning at sunset every Friday evening and ending at nightfall on Saturday.

“It’s a sacred time for people to be completely unplugged and just focus on talking and being with family and friends,” he said.

As the crowd shifted in their seats, Wolff posed a question to parents of their children: “How are we going to create gratitude within them?”
As the crowd shifted in their seats, Wolff posed a question to parents of their children: “How are we going to create gratitude within them?”

‘An Attitude of Gratitude’

The second portion of the night featured an inspiring talk titled “Raising a Child with Soul,” powerfully delivered by keynote speaker Slovie Jungreis Wolff, a noted author, teacher and lecturer, as well as daughter of Rebbetzein Esther Jungreis, founder of the Hineni Heritage Center, and an international inspirational speaker and mentor.

For more than 30 years, Wolff has been teaching weekly classes for couples and families, helping them focus on the meaning of kindness and gratitude in a fast-paced, complex society.

While guests grabbed a coffee and a cookie, the crowd instantly quieted when Wolff walked up to the podium and shared a painful story of loss: Many of her family members perished in Auschwitz.

“When you go through difficulties in life, don’t sit in the darkness,” said Wolff.

“It’s a gift to raise children, but kids need a spiritual foundation if we are to raise kids who stand for truth, honesty and have an attitude of gratitude,” said Wolff.

Wolff discussed how kids today are growing up in a disposable society where they are always wanting more. “Today, kids have no patience and have a need for instant gratification with too much of everything at their fingertips.”

She referenced the many parents who are quick to replace a lost sweater or pair of shoes, or continually provide their children with everything they want and desire, presuming it’s the panacea that will make them happy and peaceful.

Wolff shared the story of a family she had once worked with. They lived in a gorgeous mansion, filled with every game and toy imaginable, and yet their child would sit in the middle of it all and say to her parents, “I’m so bored. There’s nothing to do.”

As the crowd shifted in their seats, Wolff posed a question: “How are we going to fix this in our children’s character and create gratitude within them?”

Wolff says it starts with a simple “thank you.” The following are her suggestions for raising a child with soul:

• Teach kids to be thankful for all the people in their lives—to say thank you to one’s parents, grandparents, teachers, bus drivers, etc., for all that they do. Wolff said to encourage kids when baking cookies or challah to donate them to a charity or to the police, who are always helping others.

• Convey how time together with family is a privilege—one for which kids should have gratitude (Wolff mentioned that it’s often when we lose a family member that we regret not having more time with them.) With too many material things to focus on, especially our phones, kids tend to stop appreciating the people in their lives.

Wolff went on to observe that the phone calls from the people on board the hijacked planes of Sept. 11 spent their last minutes confessing their love and their sadness that their time with loved ones would end—nothing else.

• Parents also need to show appreciation for one another in the home and set the example. When Mom or Dad thank one another for making a nice dinner, or for working a long, hard day—that has a huge impact on the family unit.

Fostering Compassion and Setting Priorities

• Wolff said it’s important to teach kids to be inclusive of the child that no one chooses on the team during gym class or for a playdate. “Teach your child that you can change the world that way, and that compassion makes the world a better place.”

• “We need to foster a home filled with ‘less presents, and more presence’ in the home,” Wolff said. “We live our lives in black and white, and lose the color by letting little things get to us.”

Wolff told a touching story about a young boy who kept asking his highly successful, yet preoccupied father how much money he made per hour. The parents were upset by this pointed question and were wondering where it came from.

So the father said $20.

The boy went away, and then came back holding his piggy bank and a $20 bill that he had saved up.

He gave it to his father and said: “If I give you this, then you can get off your phone for just one hour and spend time with me?”

This story originally appeared in the Greenwich Sentinel on Aug. 4 and on its online version Aug. 9.