I know that part of my job as a parent is to teach my kids my values and my belief system. As a Jewish parent, I think long and hard about this aspect of my parenting. I take it pretty seriously.
Because of this, when the High Holidays came around, I used to get stressed out. It was the time of year that I had to think about the “r” word…repentance. How was I supposed to impart the importance of the Days of Awe to my kids?
After many years of thinking (and asking questions to lots of smart people), I have realized that repentance–and this time of year altogether–does not have to be as scary as it seems. It’s all about self-improvement and taking small steps toward meaningful and reasonable goals.
So now, when Elul rolls around and I hear that “r” word, I use it as a signal to take a good, long, gentle look in the mirror and think:
What accomplishments am I most proud of?
What mistakes have I made, and what can I learn from these mistakes? (If we evaluate mistakes in this way, are they really mistakes?)
What do I want to do differently in the coming year?
Asking myself these questions makes the process of repentance seem more practical and manageable. These are questions which I can wrap my head around. This process can even be enjoyable.
After a few years of following this practice and really seeing improvement in all aspects of my life, I knew I wanted to share this approach with my kids.
Unfortunately, I know that when we parents get into teaching mode, we tend to lecture and admonish.
“You know Rosh Hashana is next week and it is important to reflect on the past year and what your plans are for the coming year.”
“You know you’re always lazy and you procrastinate about everything. You should really work on that this year.”
Can you just see your kids’ eyeballs rolling in their heads? Perhaps you hear a power struggle brewing? I want to avoid that at all costs.
In my journey as a parent, I know that there are 3 simple ways to impart our values to our kids and teach them anything of importance:
Pick a quiet and calm time to talk.
Adopt a non-confrontational stance and tone of voice.
Talk about yourself.
So, to teach our kids about repentance, we might say:
“You know Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner. I try to take a little bit of time to think about last year and what I want to do better this year.”
“I used to get scared around this time of year, but now I just try to think of how all the mistakes I made helped me grow and how I can use them to learn to become a better person.”
We can also tell our family what we regretted about this past year: “This year I felt that I got too stressed out and yelled in the morning before you left for school.”
We can show them that we want to put a plan in place to make things better: “I have really thought things over, and I would like to work on this for the coming year. I have two ideas which I think will help me: to put out my own clothing the night before, and to take 15 minutes to clean up the kitchen after everyone has left for school, instead of trying to do it while you are all still milling about.”
And we can then let them know why we think it will work: “I think this will help me be calmer and stop yelling in the morning.”
When we talk in a non-confrontational manner about what we are doing to improve (repent), we make a big impression on our kids. They hear our viewpoints clearly and succinctly. No one likes a lecture, and no one likes being admonished.
In the midst of a lecture or an admonishment, kids aren’t thinking, “Hmm, how can I improve myself?” They’re thinking, “When is she going to stop going on and on about this?” “Why is he always on my back?”
Kids listen better when we talk about ourselves. They don’t feel like they need to defend themselves or like they’re being pushed into doing something that they might not feel like doing.
They are more likely to think, “Wow, I guess even adults have to work on themselves. Maybe I’m not so bad…” or “I was wondering what Rosh Hashana is all about. That’s pretty interesting.”
So here is to a year where lecturing and admonishing our kids is a thing of the past. Talking about ourselves will be the parenting skill of the New Year.