Dear Emuna,

I really want to make Shabbat dinner in my home but my teenagers have so many activities Friday nights – sports, parties, school events, social events – that I just don’t see how it will work. Plus they will be the only one of their friends doing it and they may be resentful. I want it to be a part of our lives but I feel so torn. What do you recommend?

Shabbos Seeking

Dear Shabbos Seeking,

I am of the “if you cook it, they will come” theory of Shabbat dinners. I think you should start by just making it. Certainly you and your husband will enjoy and benefit from the meal, even if no one else will. Don’t pressure your kids. Make a delicious meal. Set a beautiful table and make it available. Suggest that they join you for dinner and then go to the “big game”. Suggest that they bring their friends. Before you know it, you will be famous in the neighborhood for your Shabbat dinners and everyone will congregate at your home.

But don’t make it mandatory; that will push the rebellious button in your adolescents and they will feel compelled to disobey. I can’t promise that your children will join you but I can suggest that, if you want them to, this is the best way to make it happen. Love and patience are the keys.

I read once that the Chofetz Chaim said (and I paraphrase) that he was willing to go anywhere at any time to speak to anyone about the damaging effect of speaking gossip even if he was the only one there! Along those same lines, Shabbat isn’t just for children; if you and your husband, or even just you (!), benefit from the Shabbat experience you have created, then all the effort will have been worthwhile.

Emuna

Offering Parenting Advice

Dear Emuna,

I am looking for advice on how to deal with toddler’s temper tantrums and uncooperative behavior. My friend has a 20 month-old baby who is frequently out of control. Most children of this age can be reasoned with on their level. Having grown children, I’ve spoken to her about this and tried to tell her that unless addressed, these behaviors tend to get worse. I shared my strategies (which were firm but loving): distraction, focusing on the positive, and when all else fails, a time out or if that didn't resolve the issue, he was not allowed to be in the company of others until he calmed down and behaved. My son at that age (and beyond!) was quite difficult, relentless and sometimes what was best was simply walking away and not paying attention to him at all. I feel the key to discipline is consistency. Any other ideas?

A Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned Friend,

While it is certainly thoughtful of you to worry about your friend’s baby, my first question is “Has she asked you for advice?” If not, then I would suggest that you keep your mouth shut. She knows that you have grown children and if she wants parenting tips from you, she will ask for them. You risk destroying your relationship with her by offering unsolicited advice, particularly in the parenting department where we are all very sensitive.

I’m also not sure what you mean when you write that “most children of this age can be reasoned with.” That is certainly not my experience – even on their level! I agree that we shouldn’t indulge a child’s tantrums but we may have to sometimes just wait them out and endure the unpleasantness. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach. Each child is unique – with unique strengths and weaknesses and personality. That’s why King Solomon admonished us to “educate each child according to his way.”

You are correct that consistency is the key; you don’t present any evidence that your friend is inconsistent. And, despite the closeness of your relationship (unelaborated here), there may be issues going on behind the scenes – medical, psychological, marital, familial – that you are unaware of.

I know that you mean well but our children are so precious to us and the relationship so delicate and sensitive (I can’t overuse that word here) that I really recommend silence.

Green-Eyed Friend

Dear Emuna,

My friends are building a big, new house. We, on the other hand, live in a much smaller one and can barely make our mortgage. I’m not complaining and I’m (usually) satisfied with my situation. But my friend keeps complaining to me – about what she can’t afford, about where the painters messed up, about the shipping problems with their Italian tile…and on and on. I’m not usually jealous but between my consciousness of my own circumstances and the constant complaining, this relationship is wearing me down. What do you recommend?

Green-Eyed Friend

Dear Green-Eyed,

Whatever someone’s circumstances, financial or otherwise, I think we can all agree that being with people who complain all the time drags us down and that constantly complaining is not a good character trait. Sometimes these bad habits are contagious. If our friend is always complaining, we think it’s okay and start complaining also. Sometimes it’s just the attitude that affects us. Even if we are normally sunny and grateful, a constant barrage of complaints sometimes leads us to focus on the negative in our own lives.

Our sages advised us to steer clear of bad friends and bad neighbors. They didn’t necessarily mean people involved in evil deeds; rather they were alluding to negative influences. We are affected by those around us, in ways that are sometimes subtle and sometimes conspicuous. And when that happens, we need to introspect and make some choices about our lives and our behaviors.

One of those choices may be to place some distance between our self and our complaining friend. Our own self-preservation may require it. In addition, to recapture our optimism and positivity, we should refocus ourselves on the good in our lives, reminding us how much we have to be grateful for and not how much we lack.

It’s hard to separate from friends – but our first loyalty is to our self, our family and our relationship with God. If a friend inhibits or damages any of those relationships, then they are not a friend after all.