Monday, January 31, 2011

What Parents Do

[This week’s Haveil Havalim is here!]

Sitting on a packed flight to Israel, I can’t sleep, as usual. My thoughts turn to my kids, at the moment.

I know I’m not the only parent who wonders, on a daily basis, what he can actually do to influence his children. In truth, from an intellectual perspective I know that much of what I’m doing is seed-planting, and so I’ve explained to enough other parents over the years. In ten or twenty years’ time I’ll see fruit, Gd-willing. But still – what can we do, to what productive ends should we direct our approach to training these soon-to-be adults?

I think it’s important for parents – like schoolteachers – to focus less on communicating information and more on communicating “coping” skills, meaning the approaches to handle life situations for decades to come.

• It’s less important that I teach my kids which fork to use for an appetizer, and more important that I guide them to watch others’ conduct for cues to proper manners.

• It’s less important that I teach them therapies for headaches, and more important that I demonstrate a healthy approach to illness and medication.

• It’s less important that I teach them Jewish responses to Christianity, and more important that I manifest a confident approach to living a Jewish life in a non-Jewish world.

And so, and so on – managing success, antagonism, depression, you name it. If the parent seems prosperous, if the parent’s life seems enviable, the children intuitively emulate her/his behavior.

Of course, there is a need for parents to convey certain specific information as well, just as there is a need for schoolteachers to do so. But my sense is that the coping skills are really primary.

This is especially true given the way that parental time with kids is structured; there simply isn’t enough time to teach data properly, and certainly not to multiple children. And then there’s the fact that kids absorb data all day long, and burn out on it. And the fact that parent-child relationships are not always geared toward direct-teaching relationships.

It’s more effective to teach skills. Multiple children can learn these coping skills by watching the same parent, even just being around the same parent. And those children can learn these skills outside of a formal setting, often by osmosis. And they can learn them by witnessing situations here and there, as they come up. And skills remain applicable over time, while data becomes irrelevant.

Just some thoughts on the plane…


  1. sinai vs. oker harim in a way
    Joel Rich

  2. Interesting, Joel; I hadn't thought of that, but I suppose it's applicable.

  3. Internet on the plane! Nice! If it's not too expensive I'll give it a try on my next trip to Israel IY"H in April (El Al or Air Canada?). (I also can't sleep on planes; subways, no problem but not planes!)

  4. Hi Michael,

    Sorry - no in-flight Internet (and it was Contentinental). Wrote it on the plane, posted it on arrival.