My children had a long weekend from school this week and it rained continuously from beginning to end. Translation: Instead of jumping on my head for 48 hours straight, they did so (with vigor) for 72.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't enjoy spending quality time with my kids. I do - more than anything. It's just that when the whining, fighting and personal-space invasion hit critical mass, it's easy to stoop to small-stuff-sweating mode.
Since locking myself in the bathroom for three days seemed neither a constructive nor responsible parental option, I needed to come up with Plan B. No, I'm not talking about grabbing my umbrella and running for the hills! I'm talking about refocusing and reaffirming my parental purpose.
I know what you're thinking. I might as well have attempted to climb Mt. Everest... barefoot. But I'm happy to report that - despite a backdrop of pure maternal mayhem - I was able to execute Plan B with relative grace, with the help of two guiding beacons glimmering from my bookshelf.
The first of these resources is Mommy Mantras by Bethany Casarjian and Diane Dillon, a recent release built upon a series of simple, empowering phrases designed to help mothers diffuse tension and find their center during moments of mega-maternal stress. The second was The Book of Jewish Values by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, a longstanding pillar of my Jewish parenting library, which boasts a year's worth of pithy Talmudic and biblically-inspired teachings on leading an honest, decent life - and raising children who do the same.
Each of these texts is exceptionally worthy in its own right. But in combination, their nuggets of wisdom (perfectly proportioned for busy parents) seamlessly intertwine to illuminate a straightforward Jewish parenting path. One that can help us remain on course - with our sanity and values intact - over the rainiest of school holidays and throughout our parental journey.
"No phase lasts forever" (Mommy Mantras)
With this simple statement, Casarjian and Dillon provide both a comforting and wistful reminder that every stage of parenting has a beginning and an end. In other words, the next time our 40-pound four year old plops herself down in the mall atrium and insists we carry her a half-mile to the car because her "feet are tired of walking," we should remember that one day, in the not too distant future, our child will not make such irritating ultimatums. And that one day, in the not too distant future (when our daughter is driving her own car to the mall), we will long for the days when she would.
"Don't make your family afraid of you" (The Book of Jewish Values)
On its most basic level, this message condemns physical abuse; but Telushkin takes this Talmudic edict a step further: "Parents who become unduly angry when a child misbehaves will cause that child to become a liar. Many children who are untruthful have learned from painful experience that the price for telling the truth is too high."
Simply put: Should our kids' behavior cause us to see red, we must remind ourselves that while boundaries and consequences are integral to raising disciplined children, unchecked anger is not.
"Bring it on" (Mommy Mantras)
"This mantra is not a signal to crush or destroy the opposition," say the authors of Mommy Mantras, "it is a cue to fully engage them on their turf. 'Bring it on' can shape a negative event into a warrior act of service for a greater good."
This is not to imply that we should suck it up while our kids behave like wild banshees. Rather it is meant to help us step up to the task at hand without checking out emotionally.
"Educate a child according to his way" (The Book of Jewish Values)
Telushkin writes of a friend of his who confessed that yelling did not work with either of his sons. "The older was overly-sensitive, and sharp parental disapproval was so devastating to him as to be cruel and counterproductive. The other had skin so thick he simply shrugged off his parents' high-pitched voices and angry disapproval, responding only to more reasoned discourse."
The task of parenting can feel so daunting it often seems easier to use a blanket approach for all of our children, or the one that feels most comfortable to us. But ultimately, such tunnel vision makes our journey bumpier, not smoother. Whether behavioral, emotional, academic, social or physical, we owe it to our kids to figure out the techniques that work best for them... and do our darndest to use them.
"Lock it in" (Mommy Mantras)
Caught up in the blur of parenthood - homework, carpools, schlepping, stressing - it's easy to overlook those brief moments that make it all worthwhile. But it's those fleeting moments that have the power to get us through all the rest, say Casarjian and Dillon. That's why during the final hours of that long, soggy weekend, as I rounded up shoes, kippot and backpacks for the following morning, I locked the feeling in. Not the relief I felt that my 72-hour stressfest was alas coming to a close, but the pure, unadulterated contentment of knowing my children were safe, warm and sleeping within our mezuza-clad doorposts.
Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning educator and mother of four. Her first parenting book, Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? will be released in 2007.