Throughout the ages, parents have been seeking serenity. Even thousands of years ago, in the time of the Tanach, our patriarch Yaakov- father to a very large family (he definitely needed a break), sought serenity. As it says in Rashi on the 2nd Pasuk in Parashat Vayeshev, 37:2, on the words from the first pasuk "Vayeshev Yaakov b'eretz migurei aviv b'eretz Canaan" - And, Yaakov settled in the land where his father lived, the land of Canaan." Rashi says, “Bikesh Yaakov leyshev b’shalva’” “Yaakov requested to dwell in peace and tranquility- serenity.”
Yaakov sought out serenity after fleeing from Eisav all those years. Was Yaakov successful? Unfortunately not, as Rashi ends “Kafatz alav rogzo shel Yosef’” “The tragedy of Yosef (and his sale) was thrust upon him.” Yaakov's family entered a new era of stress.
Likewise, as parents, this serenity in our homes is often elusive. Even Yaakov was unable to achieve it. What is the secret? Let me first share with you some of Dr. Blumethal's ideas (in red), and then I will relay my own, as they relate to the Yamim Noraim (in blue).
Dr. Blumenthal discussed some reasons why anxiety in children is at an all-time high- higher than during World War II or the Depression. We are safer and more secure as a society and as Jews more than during any time in history. Then why are our children so anxious? Dr. Blumenthal asserted that our children are too safe. We “bubble wrap” our children so that they never experience failure or challenges, so when they need to face any difficulties they do not have the skills to cope. He gave the example of playgrounds nowadays where they have removed all high equipment, swings and anything that could possibly cause a fall. And, yet research shows that children who have small falls, have decreased fear of heights. We need to provide our children with reasonable challenges and difficulties in life.
Today's society is also full of parents who are hesitant to provide structure, rules and consequences to children. Children need structure, discipline and limits to feel secure. Dr. Blumenthal stressed that children are supposed to misbehave, and we are supposed to enforce limits.
Some other sources of anxiety for children today are the “cookie cutter” syndrome. We expect all of our children to be the same, receive the same education, and go into the same professions, without any regard for the need of every child to be unique. As parents, we need to accept our children for their talents and uniqueness and not push them to be what they weren't meant to be. And, along these lines, we often compare our children to others, which causes anxiety.
Dr. Blumenthal ended with three ideas. First, Nachat is a source of stress. Who said as parents we are entitled to Nachat from our children? Let's stop putting so much pressure, and allow them to perform for themselves. Second, living in the age of the internet, where they are exposed to information from which our parents sheltered us, creates a level of anxiety. They live in an age where they are “entitled to know,” and we need to tell them before they hear it from their peers. Additionally, as “helicopter parents” we feel we need to know everything about our children at all times. Cellphones, nannycams- we must always be connected. This creates a myth that we must always be aware of what our children are doing . We need to calm down as parents and realize that it is not realistic to know everything. Third, our children are living in “generation lockdown” with the threat of terrorism closer to home. This also creates anxiety. Dr. Blumenthal did end the evening stating that our children are strong and resilient, and they can deal with anxiety if we teach them how to cope.
In the tefilla “Unetaneh tokef” that we say on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur we also yearn for a year of serenity as we say, “Mi yishalev u'mi yityasar” “who will enjoy tranquility/serenity and who will suffer?” Just like Yaakov Avinu, we also seek out “shalva” But, the tefilla itself provides us with the key to achieving that serenity “Teshuva, Tefilla, U'tzedakah” “Repentance, prayer and charity.”
Repentance includes the Teshuva process and the fasting. Yom Kippur is a day, according to Rabbi Berel Wein, “of serenity and inner yearning for the better part of ourselves to assert itself. One of the great lessons of Yom Kippur is that inner serenity is achievable only be a degree of separation from the worldly pursuits that press constantly upon us.” As parents too, focusing on our own internal growth is essential. Likewise, our ability to push out the rest of the world, (and the work e-mails!), and truly be present with our children is one way to achieve serenity.
“Tefilla” is truly an exercise in introspection. We know that the word “l'hitpallel” “to pray” really means to “judge oneself.” The Jews of older generations would spend an hour before tefilla preparing for prayer. Pondering ones spiritual status and where one is headed is a secret to achieving serenity. As parents, taking some “me time” for self-improvement is important to becoming better Jews and better parents.
The commentary on the Machzor of Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that “Tzedakah” - charity- is an expression of selflessness, empathy and compassion. It is the opposite of sin, which is the result of “selfishness, when temptation overrules sacred principles.” The ability to connect with others and realize “it's not all about me” is another path to serenity. As parents, when we have the ability to realize that every time our child does not excel, it is not necessarily a reflection of our failings. If we are honest with ourselves, much of the pressure we put on our children and on ourselves to make sure all is “perfect,” is to ensure that people do not wonder about the quality of his/her parents. Once we are able to focus on them and not what their behavior reflects about us, calm can set in.
But, as Dr. Blumenthal added, some anxiety is good for a person. Just the right amount- not too much and not too little- spurs on effort and the will to perform. So too, during the Aseret Yimei Teshuva, when we are anxious about the decree for the coming year and being forgiven, we do “perform better,” and engage in mitzvot and in our Judaism as we probably should all year long. May the positive anxiety we feel during this Yamim Noraim season lead to increased serenity all year long.
Sixth Grade- Did not have Advisory this week due to Selichot and extended Tefillot.
Seventh Grade- Focused on the basic communication skills needed for effective interactions with others. They began to learn the importance of utilizing “I messages” in discussing with others.
Eighth Grade- They discussed the plot of “Who Moved My Cheese?” as a metaphor for learning how to cope with change and difficulties in life. The message of the importance of change is a timely one for this time of year.