These days of the coronavirus are challenging all of us to think about what is most important in our lives. Now that we are not able to live our lives as we would wish, it is more important than ever to ask, How shall we live our lives? In the Jewish tradition, it’s a question that we ask at various “starting points” in our calendar lives. We ask it at the start of the new school year, at the start of a new year of religious observance, at the start of the calendar year, and, now, when our lives are struck by the momentous events of the corona virus pandemic.
My colleagues Marilyn Gootman and Heather Schwartz and I have reflected on this question for a number of years. We consulted the latest research in child development, and we consulted texts that share centuries of advice and experience with these matters from our Jewish heritage.
There are in fact a set of guiding principles that are no less relevant and grounding during our time at home during the pandemic than they are when we go about our business in the usual way.
These principles should stay with us as the restrictions on our lives lessen, so that we create a new and better “normal.” Our Jewish traditions help us to lead our lives in a holy way, regardless of circumstances. By holy, we don’t mean, necessarily, formal religious observance. We mean, in the best spirit of our tradition, “proper conduct” (derech eretz). Here is a summary of our thoughts on this topic:
We believe parents (and all adults) should strive to: Create peace in our homes
• Listen carefully
• Communicate effectively
• Express anger constructively
• Be a problem-solving family
• Minimize sibling rivalry
• Create predictability
• Celebrate weekly family time
• Establish memorable traditions
• Set limits to provide guardrails
• Cope with disappointments
• Be positive
• Know how to laugh
• Nurture responsibility in our home
• Take on appropriate responsibility
• Practice responsibility
• Take responsibility for mistakes
• Let go. Don’t “helicopter”
• Build confidence and competence
• Create connections and opportunities
• Encourage effort and accomplishment
• Be welcoming
• Visit the sick
• Help the needy
• Perform acts of kindness
• Nurture gratitude
• Appreciate people
• Appreciate time
• Celebrate freedom
• Appreciate and respect the gifts of nature • Inspire our children to live with integrity We believe that a lot of effective parenting is modeling, but not all.
How we set up routines and responsibilities in our home, how we relate to our children, how we speak to them, and how we communicate family values and priorities matter greatly. And in these times of social isolation, reaching out virtually may seem unsatisfying but it is far better than not doing so at all (e.g., visiting the sick, helping the needy).
I hope the list will inspire you to think about what you value most for your family and your children and how that plays out in your relationships and how time is used in your household – especially as we are limited in our interactions because of the pandemic but also interacting more intensively with those in our households than ever.
It is unlikely that we will live our lives with full integrity every day.
Parenting and perfection should not be thought of in the same sentence! But if we strive to do so every day, we will have a better record of success. And that success will be vital in helping us get through the coronavirus pandemic and as we get back to “normal” afterwards.
As restrictions lift, reflect on the values that you may have discovered, or rediscovered, and be sure to prioritize them. Perhaps we all will find ourselves establishing a new, better, more Jewishly-informed “normal.” The writer is professor of psychology and contributing faculty in Jewish studies at Rutgers University, where he also directs the Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org).
He is co-author of the new book, ‘The Joys and Oys of Parenting: Wisdom and Insight from the Jewish Tradition’ (Behrman House, available at Amazon.com), and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org