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Kids & Priorities
Mom with a View

Kids & Priorities

How important is that internship in Kenya?


It used to be (in those elusive good old days!) that the goal of parenting was to raise a mensch. If our children were thoughtful and kind, considerate and caring, we could rest easy. We had done our jobs (Or, to put it more accurately, the Almighty had answered our prayers!)

But times seem to have changed. And being a mensch no longer appears a worthy goal. A college résumé needs to detail unusual internships in exotic locales. Oh – and of course only an Ivy League will do.

A job résumé must feature that Ivy League education eagerly pursued above – for both grad and undergrad, the appropriate clubs joined, habitats for humanity built and consciousness raised in a small town in Africa.

I acknowledge that not all of these activities are foolish per se. Some of them might even help develop the desired consideration and caring. But I think it may depend on the goal. Although behavior modification is definitely supported by Jewish sources and we believe that sometimes even if we initially do things for the wrong reasons we may come to do them for the right ones, this is not always the case.

If our actions are only self-serving (and résumé boosting) we may lose out on the actual growth opportunities.

And if our children do a semester abroad or a summer fellowship overseas, it will only broaden their character if they make that their focus.

There are certainly many external pressures these days and perhaps even a sense of competition for scarce resources. But I think our children’s goals, even as they enter adulthood, depend strongly on the messages they received at home.

Were we happy if they treated their sister kindly but didn’t get the highest grade on the test? If they helped the neighbor’s special needs child in their spare time but had no musical talents or abilities? If they made dinner and did chores around the house but didn’t excel at any particular sport?

Our minds tell us yes but how about our emotions? Our actions?

How about our neighbors? Can we hold on (with pleasure) to the fact that we have raised a mensch when our neighbor mentions that their son just got into Harvard law school? Or a prestigious job on Wall Street? Or built a mansion in Beverly Hills? (Just for example!)

It’s not that a mensch couldn’t accomplish these things as well. It’s just less likely to be his or her focus. And sometimes, not always but certainly sometimes, menschlike behavior just doesn’t get you there. As Lily Tomlin once said, “The problem with the rat race is that even if you win you’re still a rat.”

We all want a lot for our children, everything in fact. But we need to establish priorities and the priorities we establish will definitely impact our children’s future – no matter how much our teenagers protest to the contrary. So we need to proceed with caution – and not just determine the desired goals but make sure that we are actually walking that walk.

June 14, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 6

(3) Anonymous, June 20, 2014 10:23 AM

Very interesting topic.

This was an article that spoke out to me. I recently "endured" the process of registering my soon-to-be 9th grade daughter in a high school here in Jerusalem. I found the process to be very dehumanizing, very elitist, very name-dropping and snobby. After 3 or more years of agonizing over this issue, I took a deep breath, and did *not* send my daughter to the snobby, elitist school that she would have easily been accepted into. I chose a school "one notch down" while still mainstream. I told my daughter, and myself, that we really don't need that elitist energy dictating our next 4-6 years. I'd rather she be the best in her school than constantly fighting the fight to be on top of the heap. I'd also rather she have more free time to pursue other interests, rather than be swamped in homework for hours every day. When one of the girls in her current 8th grade class said, "The high school you go to determines your whole direction in life and who you will be," their teacher wisely responded, "No, *you* determine your direction and who you will be." HaSh-m should help us all make the right choices and do the best thing for our children.

(2) Anonymous, June 18, 2014 11:30 AM

The world is full of brilliant and talented people. I can admire their achievements while being proud of having raised a mensch. My 23 year old son is not sure of what he wants to do with his future yet, and pressuring him will be counterproductive. Let's resolve to learn from one another while appreciating our own unique gifts!

scott, June 19, 2014 6:38 AM

I have a question

Here's my question...who cares whether or not your kid figures out what he wants to do? What is your kid doing right now? He's 23. Does he have a job and his own place? Is he moving toward marriage and family? Does he understand the imperative to support himself and thereby be able to help others? Does he know that every day is a gift from G*d and not to be squandered?

There is a disturbing thing that happened on the way to affluence. We raised generations of spoiled people who think they are the center of the universe and their personal gratification is the key to life. Young adults that are afflicted with the some sort of messianic disease-the one that says that everyone will receive a message from G*d that will make their lives work universally important. That they will do something dramatic that "matters."

Living in SF I saw these useless people every day. Underemployed. Unattached. Always talking about dreck. Parasites. On the economy. On their parents, their neighbors, on the government.

Me..I have stumbled on amazing opportunities for the last 25 years. All because my parents told me to get out of the house at 18. College (with help) or a job. But not living in their house. After college-get a job. Grad school? When I got the money. (I'm sure they would have helped.) No living at home. No money if I couldn't make bills. So I did. And I do.

I got a masters at 23. A CPA license at 24. Started my own practice at 30. Married and had kids. Along the way I was able to be a man-take care of myself and have extra to help others. That's a real mission.

Now I live an adventure in Israel. Something that my imperative to get skills and move forward made possible. Any life planning at 23 would have been useless-other that get a job and start moving forward. I couldn't possibly know anything at 23.

Anonymous, June 19, 2014 11:31 AM

To Scott--I will try to answer your thoughtful questions as best I can. My son is currently working at a paid internship. He is not making a lot of money, but he is continuing to learn the value of a dollar. I have witnessed him thinking twice and sometimes three times before making a large purchase. He tells me that finances are confusing to him, but he is intelligent and I know that he will continue to learn and grow in this area. Incidentally he has Asperger's Syndrome/HIgh Functioning Autism, which affects every area of his life. With that said, his dad and I do NOT let him use his diagnosis as an excuse to sit back and do nothing. Re: Marriage and family. Unfortunately, his heart was broken by a young lady and at this point he has decided to remain a lifelong bachelor. My husband and I believe that will change when the right young lady comes along, as my son loves children and I think he would like to have a family of his own. Is he traveling on the exact same road as a typical 23 year old? No. However, he is not sitting still either. Incidentally, he also attended college briefly but hated being there. Fortunately he did not take out any loans and therefore has no debt. Perhaps he will return to school when he is more mature and able to appreciate the value of a higher education.

scott, June 20, 2014 1:07 PM


I don't know anything about asbergers. I too have a similar situation. My daughter has downs and I seriously I will use the same parenting plan as my parents. I was making a general statement and sometimes I forget that on the other end of these internet boards are real people. I'm sure you love your son and know far more than I do about what is right for him. Thanks for answering my rhetorical question. I learned something.

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