Friday, November 25, 2016

Chinuch in the Teen Years

My boys still refuse to wear tzitzis.  They aren't comfortable; they scorn even the soft cotton ones.  I've been thinking a lot, having been through the teen years with my oldest and now going through them with my second.  And it's really changing how I'm thinking about parenting the boys in their teen years.

I was talking to a dear friend of mine who parented 5 wonderful boys and her sixth is a girl.  As I was talking to her about girl teenagedom and mother-daughter relationships, she said to me that it's too bad she'll have gained all this knowledge from parenting her daughter through her teen years and then she won't have another girl to parent with the benefit of this knowledge.

I half joked: "Take it from me--it doesn't help."  But that's not strictly true.  Some of the lessons I learned with Sarah: how to de-escalate during conflict, how to take a step back, take a deep breath, how to shift my tone and my body language out of "bristling" and into "listening" mode; how to assume that if they say I'm yelling at them or if my tone is aggressive, then to dial it down, whether I think I've been aggressive or not; how to cool down from an encounter and then later, when we are more calm, ask her to please explain her position and really, really try to listen without explaining where I'm coming from-- all of these things have only been helpful as I stumble through these years with the next teenager.  However, with each child being so different, and the challenges being so very, very different, I am often just as much in the dark now as I was the first time.

I simultaneously grapple with major issues (as people always used to say, which I never really understood, "little people, little problems; big people, big problems"), while I am also very immersed in little people and the drudgery of caretaking.  I have the experience of parenting littles while having an awareness that within the decade, the boundless desire for them to be in my personal space and have me share their lives is going to shift into the desire to separate from me, to individuate, to reject me, my values, and everything I stand for in clarification of where they stand on things.

This has gotten me thinking about a lot of things that I never realized would be an issue with boys.  Growing up a girl and feeling the burden of halachic modest dress and later covering hair, I never realized that boys grapple with minyan, waking up for shema, wearing tzitzis and covering their heads all the time.

When I was a young and naive parent, I assumed that at bar and bat mitzva, my child would joyfully pick up the "עול מלכות שמים" the yoke of mitzvos.  My daughters would dress with skirts to knees and shirts to elbows, and would daven every day and make brachos before and after meals, and their newly bursting intellects would enjoy the wondrous Torah that we would learn together.

Well.  Suffice it to say, reality is different.  Even with Chana's (not so) recent transfer into full nocturnal, along with recent studies that say that teenagers should start school not before 10am made me realize that in a few years I'll be heading into a monumental battle, especially with my middle son, who has naturally preferred a 10pm-10am sleep schedule since he was two years old.

I've observed teens AND adults fully grown, those who attend minyan regularly and those who don't.  Of the minyan go-ers, some tell me their parents instilled it in them, and some tell me they came to it themselves.  Of the non-minyan go-ers, a huge percentage tell me that their parents pushed and annoyed them.

Personally, I feel that telling my teenager what to do is generally an exercise in futility, frustration, and conflict. (To a large degree I feel that telling any of my children what to do tends to devolve into that, which perhaps is why I gravitated towards unschooling, which has a different approach to that whole issue.)  However, I also feel strongly that the internet exerts a very strong pull on the concept of identity and values, and although my teens are smart and skilled at analysis and tend to make good decisions, I want our family values and our Torah and Judaism to be one of the voices in the conversation.  As I may have mentioned before, when I consulted with my Rabbi, he suggested that I take opportunities to share my thoughts and values in conversation, and stay away from nagging and being annoying.

More recently, I've been thinking about my own upbringing.  I was brought up "Modern Orthodox," and when I stopped wearing shorts and began covering my hair when I got married, I crossed over into the land of "crazy""strict" according to my parents, even though I had studied the halachos in school and considered them to be as binding as the laws of Shabbos and kosher that I had grown up keeping.

Modesty was something my mother cared about in terms of the spirit of it, not in terms of halacha.  We wore shorts to midthigh and went swimming in bathing suits; very tight shirts and dresses were our battlegrounds and it had nothing to do with halacha.  My mother rarely told me to daven; davening was between me and God.  Brachos were between me and God.  Everything was between me and God.  I decided what I wanted to keep and how much and what I really thought.  My parents didn't have much opinion except being extremely supportive of my education and my Torah study.

My approach until now, which was to be mechanech my children to keep the Torah so that they will be keeping Torah halachically when bar or bat mitzva, did not take into account the complexity of teens wanting to figure out for themselves who they are and where they stand.  It didn't account for the fact that they often use their parents as a safe space to push against as they discover themselves, as the book Untangled describes with a pool metaphor--we are the walls of the pool and we need to be stable and be there as they push against us to swim, and come back to us to take a rest and breathe, and push against to go swim again.

And inserting myself into the ruminations doesn't seem to be useful.  If a person is grappling about halacha and God and values and restrictions and meaning, isn't the grappling simply about that person thinking about those issues?  What possible good can it have to throw into the mix their complex and conflicted relationship with their superego/parent?  Waking up for minyan and going to shul should be about the question of tefila and being part of the tzibbur; is it a value to have the person also grappling about whether this act is going to please or annoy the parent?

(One might say that there is a value in doing things to please the parent, as per Yosef Hatzadik seeing the image of his father and refraining from adultery with the wife of Potifar.  I don't disagree with that.  But it does seem to me that me pushing for certain halacha observance during the teen years does muddy and cloud their thinking and grappling unnecessarily.  They get distracted thinking about halacha observance vis-a-vis parental opinion instead of it just being about their values.)

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