I know that part of my job as a parent is to teach my kids my values. 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 come around, I used to get stressed out. It was the time 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 – do not have to be as scary as they seem. It’s all about self-improvement and taking small steps towards meaningful and reasonable goals.
So now when the High Holiday season rolls around and I hear that word repentance,” I take 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 that I can wrap my head around. It 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, when we get into our teaching modes we tend to lecture and admonish.
“You know Rosh Hashanah 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 kid’s 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 three 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 this past year:
“This year I felt that I got to stressed out and yelled in the morning before you left to school.”
We can show them that we want to put a plan in place to make things better:
“I really thought things over and I would like to work on that for the coming year. I have two ideas that I think will help me: Put out my own clothing the night before and take 15 minutes to clean up the kitchen after everyone has left to school, instead of trying to do it while everyone is milling about.”
And we can then let them know why we think it will work: “I think that will help me be more calm 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. Because 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 Hashanah 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.