parenting

The Great Family Merger: Five Guiding Principles

Family

I’m a bit worried. Not terribly. But a bit.

I don’t doubt my parenting skills. And I certainly don’t doubt the person I married. Quite the opposite, in fact. I couldn’t imagine someone more qualified to take this journey with me and seamlessly become a part of my family.

However, I’ve heard stories galore about what happens when new parents come into the picture.

And I think I would be naive to assume everything will go smoothly without any deep thought and extremely hard work.

I don’t presume to have all the answers. Nor do I assume that anyone does, since every situation is different. And I’ve been around the block too many times to think for a moment that things can’t go wrong even if I do everything “correctly”.

Nevertheless, I’m going to work every day to have the life and family I dream of. And I will guide myself by these five principles:

1) Never Stop Loving

Maybe it’s obvious. Or maybe too hard for some out there. What happens when a child is angry and says horrible things? What happens when they get to a level where their difficulties start interfering with the quality of your relationship?

Do you separate a little? Do you give up? Is it possible to just place your focus on your new relationship and pull away from the children?

The answer is no. The answer is never!

Just keep saying “I love you”. Say it often, say it proudly. And mean it every single time.

These little ones need the reassurance that you aren’t going anywhere, and you will be there for them every step of the way. For all of their needs. For all of the imminent craziness in their life. Forever.

2) Emphasize the Three Different Family Relationships

The family used to be just you and them. There was no need to highlight that relationship. It was there day in and day out. Of course you would always be around. For certain you would have lots of fun and excitement together.

But now there’s another relationship in the picture. You wish to be with your significant other, and it’s encroaching upon this beautiful parent-child relationship you’ve developed. There needs to be a healthy separation, where your children know when you need privacy. But they need to always know their time with you is super special as well. And will always be so.

But then there’s the next level. Those precious moments when you’re all together. When you’re an odd, modern family. And it’s beautiful synergy. Personally, there’s nothing in the world I want more!

And who knows, at some point maybe they’ll have a relationship completely independent of you. Sounds like a dream come true!

3) Focus on Quality Family Time

By the time any day comes to an end, it’s so easy to have spent the whole time hyper-focused on the practical blah we all love so dearly. Washing dishes, taking out the trash, walking the pooch, paying the bills.

Sometimes it feels like a small miracle if we get anything done that’s not just pragmatic day-to-day chores and responsibilities. For certain there is nothing wrong with being productive. There’s nothing wrong with finishing a day knowing you’ve gotten a whole lot done.

But we all know the truth. We don’t want to end our lives thinking we worked a lot, but our family is a mess. And we don’t want to go the grave thinking our kids might despise us… but at least the trash got taken out.

We need to take control of the day and make sure that the entire household knows that every minute spent having fun together is infinitely more important than the little its and bits of items you successfully managed to cross off your to-do list.

4) Recognize that Fears and Other Feelings are Real

It’s so easy to sit back and confidently explain the logical fallacies in other people’s feelings and emotions.

And yet, never in the history of the world (outside of Hollywood) has this ever been effective.

We all do it. We do it often. Still, we get upset when others do it to us… but it never makes us learn. We just generate further pain or pour lighter fluid on already existing hurts.

Why? Because when you logically try and eliminate someone’s hurt, it’s as if you’re telling them their feelings are not legitimate. You’re telling them they are not allowed to feel what they are feeling.

It is every person’s God-given right to feel. Your emotions are the most personal thing you possess. And no one in the world can deny you your feelings.

So what do you do when your loved ones express their fears and concerns? Sometimes it’s enough just to be there for them. To listen. To understand. And for God’s sake, this is what hugs were invented for!

But never, ever tell someone they can’t feel what they’re feeling, or imply it in any way.

The damage is far worse than any “help” you might be giving.

5) When in Doubt, Don’t Hesitate to Ask

A great relationship with your kiddos starts with great communication. If you are open to their thoughts and ideas, and they feel safe letting you know their feelings, it should be natural to ask them how they are holding up through all the changes.

Give them all the room in the world to let you know if something is upsetting to them. Let them emote. Let them get it all out of their system.

And listen. Listen! Don’t interrupt them. Don’t argue. For God’s sake, make sure they know that you are making a concerted effort to truly understand and appreciate everything they are saying.

And when all the smoke clears, let them know that your love for them hasn’t lessened in the slightest, that they still remain the center of your existence, and seek assistance from them to find out what happens next. They know what they want and need. If any real problem has arisen, there is an intelligent solution right around the corner, and it’s in their hearts and minds. You just need to pull it out of there.

Ask, listen, work toward solutions, and follow through. The stakes are way high. This is your time to shine as a person and a parent.

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, parenting, 2 comments

New Book Announcement: You’re Doing Everything Wrong

You're Doing Everything Wrong

I’m extremely excited to announce the publication of my second eBook, You’re Doing Everything Wrong. If you haven’t snatched up a copy of my first book, Teach Like a Ninja, please grab a copy at your nearest convenience (and don’t forget to write an Amazon review).

My new book, You’re Doing Everything Wrong, is a compilation of lessons I learned in the past several decades about dating, marriage, and divorce. The book has three sections with ten chapters dedicated to each of these important topics. It’s jam-packed with advice, stories, and just enough humor to make light of extremely complex and difficult topics. The basic premise: Learn from my mistakes rather than make them yourselves.

Here I’ll share some quotes from You’re Doing Everything Wrong with a bit of commentary. A little feel… before you pick up your own copy:

You’re Doing Everything Wrong: Dating

“Long-term dating and marriage are not solutions to loneliness… feeling lonely when you are married is infinitely more challenging than feeling lonely when single.” (Chapter 4)

It’s very easy to assume that when you’re single and lonely there is a magic panacea waiting for you out there. Just get married, and everything will be OK. No more loneliness. Your dreams have finally been achieved.

But this is so very wrong an approach.

Getting involved in a less-than-great marriage is a recipe for far worse pain than any loneliness you felt when single. Best to avoid learning this the hard way.

You’re Doing Everything Wrong: Marriage

“A marriage is only as good as the member of the unit who is putting in the least amount of effort.” (Chapter 13)

Never assume that any amount of effort you put into your relationship can save things if your partner is not willing to do the same. A relationship is a team effort. And the team member who shirks his duty, brings everything downward. They’re the team leader. And everything goes according to the inactive or less active partner. A good spouse and a bad spouse equals a bad marriage. Always.

“Never enter a marriage thinking you can change the other person, nor relying on the notion that they will naturally change as time goes by.” (Chapter 13)

Either assumption will leave you wide open for a very uncomfortable rude awakening. Assume that what you see is what you get. They might change, but don’t rely on it. Love the person you marry, not an idea of what you think they should be.

Wholeness and Floor Mats

“A marriage is ideally a union of two whole individuals coming together to create something far greater than the two of them separately.” (Chapter 14)

A marriage isn’t two halves creating a whole. That’s childish nonsense. A half person isn’t fit to be married. Only a person who knows himself and is happy with himself is ready to bring someone else into his life.

“You cannot be turned into a floor mat unless you let yourself be a floor mat.” (Chapter 16)

In any relationship in which someone is dominated by another, there exists fault in the one who is dominated. It is true that it is wrong and inappropriate to behave dominantly over another human being (who does not want it); however, it can only happen if the one being dominated allows it to happen.

Stand up for yourself, since you and your thoughts and opinions matter also. If you back down constantly, always trying to please the other, the end result will be your perpetual unhappiness. And that’s why this books exists! You deserve to be happy. Everyone deserves to be happy! Sometimes we just need some extra tools to help us get there.

Everyone Matters

“Everyone needs to feel like they’re important, their opinions matter, and they are a central piece of the household.” (Chapter 16)

If someone in a marriage feels secondary or neglected, the unit is broken. If someone “wins” an argument, ultimately no one does. One member gets a temporary feeling of control and victory, while one silently suffers in the background.

This feeling doesn’t go away. It just accumulates and ferments in its own juices, and over time it will destroy the unit. There’s a limit to how long anyone can let themselves be ignored before they break inside. When that happens, the marriage is essentially done. And both parties lose.

The only option is win-win solutions. All the time. Anything less is unacceptable.

You’re Doing Everything Wrong: Divorce

“All the greatness that’s yet to come in your life is built upon the shoulders of all the suffering that preceded it.” (Chapter 23)

How did you get to where you are now? And what lessons did you pick up along the way? Everything you’ve done up until this point, every shred of pain you have endured, exists for a reason. You may not know the reason yet. And you may not appreciate the benefit of what you have experienced. But it all needed to be there.

You are the person you are because of everything that happened before today. So don’t mourn over the past. Rather, embrace it, build upon it, and make your life what you want it to be.

“Deep within all of us is a kickass parent… And you finally have the opportunity to [be this] without the weight of a bad marriage holding you back.” (Chapter 27)

Co-parenting is really challenging. It’s rare that two people agree 100% on how to raise a child. And it’s even rarer that someone who is upset or depressed can parent to the best of their abilities.

Divorce provides a unique opportunity for many. You get the chance to be with your children entirely on your own terms. If you’re using this period in your life well, you should be able to escape the pain you felt earlier and be free to be the parent you want to be.

And every parent has the ability to be amazing, given the right circumstances. Embrace the kickass parent within you!

In Conclusion…

My past 20+ years have been very interesting and eventful. I made many mistakes along the way. But I’ve learned from all of them. You’re Doing Everything Wrong is a compilation of lessons I learned along the way. I learned them the hard way. Pick up my book and learn them the easiest way possible!

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Posted by jaffeworld in divorce, Health, opinion, parenting, 1 comment

Parenting Your Way Through the Crazy: Five Tips I Picked Up Along the Way

parenting

I’ll be the first to admit that I am hardly the best parent in the world. I’ve got worlds to learn about parenting and I’m certainly not an authority figure on the subject.

However, I have four beautiful angels in my life. For nearly 15 years I’ve been working harder every day to become a better parent. This post is about five parenting life lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1) Parenting through Creative Distraction

My children will never forget several years ago when we were in the car and the stress levels were off the charts. One of my darling daughters was having the meltdown of the century, and repeatedly shouted at the top of her lungs, “I want to go home!” Each word was said slowly, loudly, and with purpose.

Unfortunately, taking her home was not yet an option at the time, and my other children and I were about to go insane.

On a whim to never be forgotten, I made up a song on the spot with the unforgettable lyrics of “I want to kill a dolphin.” This was followed by an adorable little “Doo doo doo”. Every time she would start another slow and drawn out “I want… “, I would finish her sentence with “kill a dolphin” and my other kids would chime in with “Doo doo doo”. Before you knew it, even my daughter in full-on meltdown mode was singing along with us.

Situation diffused.

To this day, my kids and I use that song when things get tough or someone needs a distraction.

Never underestimate the power of good, creative actions to quickly move children away from what’s bugging them and pull them to a happier state. And without them even realizing it happened!

*As an aside: Please note that no actual dolphins were harmed in either the creation of our family song, nor in the composing of this post. If the content of this section has offended or upset you in any fashion, please contact my legal team with your concerns at iseriously@dontcare.com.

2) Stop Your Damn Screaming

Fact of the matter is, there has never been a moment in my life where I’ve looked back after screaming at a child and said to myself, “Well gee, I sure handled that situation like a champion.”

Unfortunately, yelling is the average parent’s go-to method of dealing with any and all complicated situations. We use it because it’s easy and thoughtless. We use it because we’ve been so exposed to it. And we use it because on the surface it appears effective.

However, this appearance not only can be damaging for children in the long run, but is ultimately ineffectual as well. For long-term success and a feel of love, safety, and security in your children, it’s almost always worth looking for another path.

3) Buy a Dog

Getting a dog was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Yes, dogs are fun and entertaining. They are loving and loyal and protective of your children.

These are all fantastic things…

But for me those were all secondary.

I had two daughters deathly afraid of dogs… so I got a dog!

There was some adjustment, for certain. But my little six-year-old who used to cower in terror when a dog walked by, can now go with me to a dog park and play with each and every pooch, without a shred of hesitance.

Getting a dog was giving all of my children the ability to walk down the street without fear. And it was giving them the ability to be loved by a dog, one of the greatest feelings on God’s earth.

4) Parenting and the Punching mattress

This one was accidental, and so effective.

Sadly, my apartment is not so big. So when my kids come over, they’re practically on top of each other. It could get very hairy sometimes.

Unfortunately, in the midst of terrible moments where kids have gotten extremely aggressive with each other, I’ve had to physically separate them, something I absolutely hate doing.

But it solves nothing if I cannot calm the separated child down. They’ll just head back out of the room, and before you know it, we’ll be right back where we started.

So, here I was. Standing in my bedroom with my youngest child. She was hysterical. Crying. Screaming. It seemed like there was going to be no way to come down from the situation.

And it was going to be a long and rather unpleasant evening.

I have several mattresses in my room leaning against the wall, and on a whim I suggested that my daughter punch the mattresses. She gave it a swift and angry (and adorable) kick.

I could see by the look in her face that something positive had just happened. I suggested she do it again. And then again.

Within a few minutes she was laughing and smiling. She left the room and was an angel for the rest of the night.

Teach your kids non-destructive ways to get out any and all anger and aggression. The results are remarkable!

5) Equality and Planning

My children cannot stand any inequalities. Everyone needs an equal amount of time sitting next to me, sleeping in the bed of their choice, amount of dessert received, and the list can go on forever.

This is an ideal that is basically impossible. The only way to get anywhere near some semblance of success requires lots of planning, and an even larger amount of creativity.

Sometimes the ideas will be used to foster equality (charts and specially purchased items), and sometimes the ideas will be used to circumvent equality (creative random choices, like making choices by drawing names from a hat).

One thing is for certain though: Do nothing and just make your decisions on the fly, and disaster will ensue.

Many people don’t think of planning in its relationship to parenting. You wake up in the morning and you’re a parent, like it or not. So you just start going through the motions of the day, with parenting just being one of the things that you do, like putting on your socks.

But like so many things in this crazy world, a break to sit back and think about everything is welcome and highly recommended. No one knows your kids better than you do. Leverage that power. Plan ahead. Think about how decisions might impact them. Calm the fights before they ever happen. A little thoughtfulness can go a long way to making everyone’s lives infinitely better (including yours).

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in parenting, 0 comments

Planting and Building: Raising a Jewish Child (Book Review)

Jewish Child
I recently finished reading Planting and Building: Raising a Jewish Child, a translation of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe’s original. It was a pretty solid, concise read. The author is extremely honest, often stating principles at odds with the accepted practices of his community, principles important for any parent, regardless of religion or religiosity. I wanted to highlight some of my favorite moments, with a bit of my own commentary.

1) Thinking About The Future

“If you force him into a different track, one inappropriate for his nature, he will indeed listen to you now, and you won’t notice that any damage has been done… when he matures and no longer fears you, he will no longer listen to you.” (p. 28)

I have a friend who used to pressure his son to go with him to his synagogue. When the son was older, he was a fantastic, God-fearing young adult… who never wanted to set foot in that particular synagogue again.

We as parents can so often think that our coercive or intimidating methods are effective. But we are being wildly short sighted. The long term result is almost inevitable failure.

This would be like the teacher who sees the child sitting quietly in the classroom after being angrily chastised. The teacher might feel pride and joy at their brave accomplishment. How does that teacher feel when the student grows old and still feels angst toward school in general, and that teacher in particular? How does that teacher feel when he learns two decades later that this student still avoids that subject matter, since it just makes him feel the pain of the classroom?

We must learn to look at the future of our children, as daunting as a task it might be. We must sometimes sacrifice immediate results for far more important, long-term goals.

2) Screaming At Children

“Screaming at a child is as bad as, or perhaps worse than, spanking a child… when a father screams at his son, the child is so terrified that he begins to tremble… True, it is difficult to control oneself: When the father returns home… tired and hungry, and of course the children want  to jump on him… the children refuse to go to bed… a father might get angry and begin to yell… Yes, it is very difficult to control oneself in such a situation. Nonetheless, screaming damages.” (p. 37)

I am thoroughly intrigued by the notion that causing fear can be as if not more damaging than actual physical violence. But not terribly surprised.

Bullying: Boys vs. Girls

I’ve often quipped as a teacher that girl bullying is infinitely worse than boy bullying. Boys generally bully with their fists. For sure it’s not good, but it’s easy to spot when it’s happening, the damage is usually temporary, and there are countless ways to counteract this, including learning to fight, learning to stand more confidently, and just getting bigger as time goes by.

Girl bullying on the other hand is a whole different beast. It’s subtle and evil, and the damage it does can linger for quite some time if not forever.

Nevertheless, society has come to associate most bullying with the former, and most abuse in general with a physical act. But those in the know realize that mental and emotional damage is far more potent, and lingers for much longer.

So it does not surprise me that yelling at a child (an act all parents have done and continue to do) can cause real long-term problems.

I’ve often said there is no greater character trait for a parent to obtain than patience. And there is rarely a time when one can look back at having yelled at their child with pride, feeling the situation was handled in the best possible way.

We should all be blessed with enough patience to be firm yet calm no matter what parenting complications come our way.

3) Whose Kid Is This?

“Parents often deceive themselves into thinking that their primary concern is their children’s education, when their motivations are really selfish… We see the child as our property. We think that his purpose on earth is to benefit us, the parents… What happened to the principal that we should “Educate a child according to his way?” (p. 42-43)

Ah, what a trap this is! Why should they not act according to our standards? And why should we not have very specific expectations of someone who owes everything to us?

Why? Because they’re free-thinking human beings, with their own strengths and weaknesses, their own preferences, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies. We need to raise each and every child to be the best them, not to be some idealized image we’ve created that we wish for them to become.

All children will be better served by giving them space to grow, with support and encouragement, and ample opportunities to fearlessly learn from their mistakes.

4) The Dinner Table

“Shabbos [Shabbat or Sabbath] should… be attractive, not oppressive. We should not force children to sit at the Shabbos table for an entire meal. This is too difficult for them… ” (p. 54)

Hard to forget a time I sat with a family in Bnei Brak for a Shabbat meal. I watched horrified as the father screamed at a small child for breaking the most intricate of laws. The child burst into tears.

The father wasn’t trying to make the experience beautiful. He wasn’t enticing the children with songs and treats. He wasn’t focusing on the amusement of the youngsters at the meal. Just that people looked and behaved a certain way.

Children are not adults. Not that you should scream at adults for small things, but you are entitled to have greater expectations. The inability to be reasonable, and to focus on children being children, simply cannot produce quality long-term results.

Kids need to run and play. Let them run and play!

5) An Aware Child

“It is also distressingly common that children riding on a bus fail to give up their seats to older passengers. Certainly, this reflects some insufficiency in the schools’ curriculum, but such behavior also reveals flaws in the educational program at home. Parents must teach their children to notice others and care about them. It should be obvious to a child that an elderly passenger needs to sit, and the child should enthusiastically and happily offer his place on the bus.” (p. 59-60)

Bus rides are easily within my top five most stressful parts of living in Israel. Whereas I think most adults here are actually exceptional about giving up their seats to the elderly and others, I find that the youth often claim much more space then they should. I’ve been on crowded buses with a teen sitting in his chair, legs spread out on the chair in front of them with a bag to their side taking another seat. Often they’re shouting on a phone, or even blaring music from their phone. One kid, three seats, lots of noise. Every last bit of this is because they grow up not learning to be aware of the people around them, and it’s very refreshing to find a leader of the community acknowledging this.

An Adult Problem

Nevertheless, I personally consider this an adult problem. Yes, adults usually stand up for their elders on buses here, but my compliments of their awareness of others around them ends there. I am often shocked at the lack of awareness people show in everyday life, whether it be walking through the grocery store or just up the street.

Years ago I was Youth Director at a synagogue in Baltimore. I was asked by one of my employers to “take care” of the talking problem during the teen services. My response: You will never stop the problem with the teens until you solve the problem with their parents in the adult services.

Our children learn from what we do. If we want caring and kind children who are extremely conscious of others around them, we must first look at ourselves and the environment in which we choose to raise them.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in book review, judaism, parenting, 0 comments