This fall, along with my wife, I participated in the Parenting your Tween Through a Jewish Lens class led by Judy Elkin. It was a great experience, and I came away with a number of insights on how to parent our daughters (ages 10 and 7) as they grow into teenagers. One of the biggest insights I took away from the class was the Jewish concept of tzimtzum, which means “contracting.” One of the first texts we explored said, “Just as God contracted to make space for creation, so too parents must go through the process of to give their children the space to grow.” To me, this means less of telling them what to do and more letting them figure things out for themselves. It helped me come to the idea that, at this point as a father, my main job is guiding my kids and also modeling positive, menschy behavior – not deciding everything for them.
So, recently, my daughters had something of a Solomonic dispute. There was a $1 bill in the trash can in their bedroom; the older one found it, but the younger one took it out and “called it.” They were fighting about it and came to me for help.
At first, I suggested following the time-honored “finders keepers” rule. Then I suggested that each kid state her case for why they thought the dollar was hers. I told them I thought that they both had reasonable claims on the dollar. I suggested just splitting it since I didn’t think it would be fair for the whole dollar to go to either of them. Somehow I had ended up in the role of arbiter, and realized I didn’t want to be. So I suggested this: they could either each get 50 cents, or they could put the whole dollar into the tzedakah box.
They went off to discuss this amongst themselves. Honestly, I expected them to choose to split the dollar. We talk about and give tzedekah regularly, and we recently engaged in a fun family Chanukah giving project, but I wasn’t sure how much of it had “sunk in.” Much to my surprise and pride, they came back into the kitchen with big smiles on their faces. “We decided to give the dollar to tzedakah.”
It was a really nice moment, and a reassurance that we’re doing our part in raising menschy children. It was also a great reminder that if you give children the chance to be kind and generous, they’ll often take it.
For more information about Parenting Your Tween Through a Jewish Lens, visit http://www.hebrewcollege.edu/parenting-your-tween.