Dear Emuna,

I attend a daily study group with five other people. I always try to arrive on time but some people come chronically late and then we have to spend the next few minutes catching them up to speed. Short of kicking them out of the group, what can be done to encourage more prompt attendance?

-- Prompt and Constantly Frustrated

Dear Prompt,

This is a universal problem that doesn’t just apply to study groups. It can occur at business meetings or dinner dates. Since we all know that time is precious (unlike money, it can never be recouped!), we hate being victims of the cavalier attitude of others. (Do I sound like I’m getting emotionally riled up? You’ve touched on one of my pet peeves.)

There are a few practical solutions. One is that the person leading the meeting or study group should be prevailed upon to start on time, no matter how many are in attendance. This is very hard to do but it definitely sends a message to the chronically late.

The corollary to this is to not spend any time catching the tardy attendant up on material covered. This will have real consequences in a work or study environment and may motivate a better effort in the future. At the very least, it won’t waste the time of others.

In social situations some clever spouses and friends deal with this issue by telling their time-challenged companion to arrive at an earlier hour than actually scheduled, thus increasing the chances of their punctual arrival.

Finally, I recommend that we remove the expression “Jewish time” from our vocabularies. There is nothing cute or, in fact, Jewish, about being late. In reality the opposite is true. As Jews, we are very conscious of the preciousness of time and the need to use every moment to the fullest.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

Sometimes when I’m disciplining my kids, my mother-in-law will announce, “Oh, leave them alone; you’re being too strict.” I believe this undermines my authority and sends the kids a mixed message. What can I politely say to her and what should I say to my kids?

-- Trying Not To Tell Too Many Mother-In-Law Jokes

Dear Mother-in-Law Joke,

I certainly appreciate how frustrated you must feel. But I want to let you in on an important secret: Your kids don’t take what your mother-in-law says very seriously.

Most grandparents are experienced by most grandchildren as only love (with a little bit of spoiling thrown in). Even when they say critical things (to them or you), it rolls off your children’s backs. They can take it with a sense of humor because it doesn’t have the emotional import for them that it does for you.

The best course would be to just smile and say nothing. Or make a joke about the difference between parents and grandparents (I wish I had a few up my sleeve to share with you). Your kids will learn more from your kind and thoughtful treatment of your mother-in-law than from her words of rebuke.

Let me know how it goes…

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

One of our neighbors is – how shall I put this? – not of the highest class. Their kids use words that I’d rather not have my kids hear (and repeat) and the parents are generally not careful about which books, films and other media their children are exposed to. The challenge is that everyone plays outside together – especially during the summer. How can I control the situation?

Playing with Fire

Dear Playing with Fire,

This is a tough situation that you describe, although not that uncommon. My advice to you is…move! Okay, maybe that’s too drastic (although I do know someone who felt that his neighbors were too materialistic so he moved to a smaller home in a different neighborhood).

Since you didn’t reveal too many details, I don’t know how bad it really is. If it’s really damaging to your children, you need to dramatically limit their outdoor street time. As I once heard a teacher say, “If there were wild wolves running lose in the neighborhood, would you feel any compunction about telling your kids to stay inside? Would you let them go out when they complained about boredom?”

A third possibility is to encourage most of the play to take place in your environment – in your home or your backyard – where you can have more direct supervision and influence.

And finally, I think you need to talk to your children. As much as we try, it is very hard to completely control all the influences that affect them. (In fact it’s impossible – just try sending them to the grocery store where all the latest magazines are on view by the check-out). We need to make clear – frequently – the behaviors, language and activities that we find acceptable and why. We need to give our children tools to fight inappropriate influences. (Didn’t your parents ask “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?”!) These are skills that will serve them well their whole lives – and it is never too early to start.

-- Emuna