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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

What Messsages are Our Kids Getting?

There was a letter to the editor in a recent Yated that addressed an advertisement that came home from his son's cheder. The advertisement was for a Sunday "fun school" for ages 2-6, or the boys who don't normally attend school on Sunday. The letter writer was disturbed not by the fact that such a school exists, as there are people who do need care on Sundays, but the advertising method. The advertisement stated:

How in the world is a mother supposed to accomplish anything if the kids are home?”

This feeling, which was put into writing is in no way an aberration. I've seen this thought expressed very openly by mothers, teachers, and other chashuv people and quite frankly I find the expression of such a thought to be rather horrifying. In fact, I was planning a post on this very subject early this summer when a camp director approached me and asked if I hadn't enrolled my kids in camp because of the cost (I believe she had some extra spots and would have been happy to work a deal). I responded that we didn't need to send our kids because I was able to handle the work I do with the kids around. Her response: "but how can you stand them around all day?"

I was taken aback to say the least and wanted to say something like "what are you saying about MY children?" But I realized that she isn't talking about MY kids, but expressing her own feelings and thinking that I would relate. Instead of saying something snotty I'd be sure to regret, I just responded that we have a very lovely time together and that the summer is a great time to do things that are harder when you are on a schedule, which is true. And, I do enjoy my kids, but I'm not superhuman. At time, I feel like kicking everyone out of the house so I can get "something done."

But I find expressing that sentiment so openly to be extremely problematic and distasteful for that matter. Obviously the sentiment is strong enough that a school thinks it is a good way to advertise their program! Psychologists talk about self-fulling prophesies and I find that the more we talk about something unpleasant the bigger the monster becomes. And, our kids pick up on that too. There is a lot of talk about kids-at-risk, antisocial behavior and bullying, tzniut issues, etc. It seems to me that regarding children as a burden is a good way to cause many of the social ills that writers are writing about.

Just something to think about. More on the subject later I'm sure.

Update: Shortly after I had posted this post, I noted that blogger and homeschooling mom Avivah posted some thoughts on the subject "How can you stand to be around them all day?". The comments coming in on her site demonstrate once again that mothers are being told that being around their kids in large doses should make them crazy. My own observation is the opposite. When I'm around my kids in very large doses, such as in the summer, we fall into a nice rhythm. When we are dealing with the regular routine, a lot of tension can arise. It seems this observation is shared by others.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure you will get comments about how this is caused by large families or by spoiling children. This may very well be true.

However, I would like to posit something else, that this phenomenon is caused by the abundance of money (borrowed or otherwise). If one young mother on a block has a live-in housekeeper, it's human nature for the others living there to want it too. Especially when they are exhausted and have to take the kids to Shop-Rite! THe feeling of "why can't I have what she has" leads to the feeling of "I can't stand taking care of my kids by myself, all the time." It's a keeping up with the Joneses phenomenon. SO if Mrs. B can't afford a housekeeper, at least she can afford a Sunday babysitting service.

Miami Al said...

I dunno, there are months out of the year where my wife and I really need to work Sundays (there are also months out of the year where we are day tripping with the kids 14 hours a day and having a BLAST every Sunday).

We're lucky with family in the area that are happy to take the kids for a few hours if we need to work, but as a weekly occurrence... it's sad that there are parents that really don't want their children around at all.

Dave said...

See, this is a problem the secular world solved with television.



Sima said...

This summer,after realizing that the available (and expensive) day camp offered glorified babysitting services, I decided to keep all five of my children (3-11 years) at home. I teach, so summers are my vacation as well. This decision was greeted in my community with derision, incredulity, and shock -- I heard many variations of the quote you gave above. By the time school ended, I was second-guessing myself but the state of our finances at the time made my decision even more irrevocable.
Verdict? The most wonderful, relaxing, enjoyable summer I have ever spent with my children. My children loved it as well. We didn't do too much, we just lived day-to-day life with occasional trips to local (and cheap) attractions. We shopped for groceries, did housework, baked. The boys dug holes in the backyard and collected worms. The girls spent a lot of time doing crafts. Together, they formed a unit that entertained itself for ten weeks. I wasn't even tired of them by the time school started.
If you had told me five years ago that I would have done this, I would have thought you were crazy, but my children are a pleasure and I needed to spend serious quantity time with them to see it.

Offwinger said...

I don't think this is about large families or entitlements.

I think there is a strong movement in the Orthodox world against PARENTING, especially in the Yeshivish world, and especially with boys. This program is just another example of that "age creep" into separating children from their parents, especially boys from their mothers & sisters.

There seems to be this sense that your kids need to be immersed, full time, in the care of others. In yeshivahs - with longer and longer hours, with Sunday school, with Motzei Shabbat extra learning programs (though sometimes fathers are included, but certainly not mothers). With camp and sleepaway camp at younger and younger ages. With sending to yeshivah away for high school, even when a perfectly good option exists locally or even "dorming" in one's own neighborhood!

SL, you've written plenty about how important it is to spend TIME with your children, and about how much education begins & ends at home. I agree with you that there is an attitude problem with someone who views their children as something that "keeps them from getting stuff done."

What I wonder is which came first: did people first view their children, especially the boys, as something in the "way" that needed to be sent elsewhere? Or did people cave in to community leaders who want to separate children from their parents at earlier & earlier ages, and may have spread this norm by suggesting to people how much better off they could be if they shipped the kids away?

Anonymous said...


RE: Television

I was thinking the exact same thing!!!

David said...

When I was a kid, I remember the institution of such things as "mother's day out" programs: basically half-day day-care once or twice per week, which would allow a parent to go run errands (i.e. dental appointment) without causing too much fuss.

Sounds like a decent idea to me...

As for the Sunday babysitting service, don't we call that "dad?"

GilaB said...

It's not like there's an option to be childless by choice within the frum community. There may be people who, if allowed to think about it, would never have wanted kids at all. I'm sure these people still love their kids, but perhaps they place a higher value on their own free time and flexibility?

Reading this over, it sounds like I'm condemning them for not wanting to spend more time with their kids, which I'm not. I don't have kids yet myself, and am actually sympathetic to those unable to even see the road they didn't take, but might have preferred.

Anonymous said...

It's not like there's an option to be childless by choice within the frum community.

Absolutely correct, but this is a disturbing thought, because a child really needs to be wanted. I guess this speaks to SL's point in her post, that children who may feel they are not wanted may act out in all sorts of ways.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the ad is horrible and am troubled by all the expectations (summer camp, long school days, weekend programs, boarding school at a young age) that seem designed to keep kids away from their parents. However, every parent is different and I don't think its fair to judge Mom's who might need a few hours without the children home to get things done or keep sane, particularly if Mom is also working outside the home. This does, however, make me wonder what Dad is doing, although he might be working 60+ hours/week to pay tuition.

I also think we have to remember that for those of us who are a little older (and for those of us who grew up in smaller towns), when we were growing up by the age of 7 or so it was fine to let kids play in the yard, wander to friend's houses, ride bikes, etc. on their own. (When I grew up, kids walked to and from school on their own starting at around age 7 - something unheard of today.)
So, kids naturally were out of the house a lot. Now, its too dangerous and parents can't assume that some other adult is keeping an eye on things.

megapixel said...

if a mother works, and sunday is her day to accomplish stuff, it can be very useful to have the kids out for a few hours.

sometimes having them all home causes fights, etc. and just getting one or two of them out allows the others to enjoy their day without teasing and sibling rivalry. there have been so many vacation days that the kids were so obnoxious - from boredom - we had to take them on trips etc.

some of these sunday programs are actually just an hour or two and they are the enrichment programs like gymnastics, art, swimming, and sports that the yeshiva kids dont get as part of their regular curriculum. so what is so terrible? I wish I could afford to send my daughter to gymnastic class on Sunday. she would love it and it would break up a long day (she would still have lots of time at home the rest of the day)

Anonymous said...

Kids are pretty smart and perceptive. If the children come to feel that the reason they are being sent to summer camp, have a long school day, classes on weekends, etc. is to make it easier on the parents they will sense it and become resentful. Even worse to me would be parents following the agenda of some "expert" who thinks all these "programs" would do a better job of raising the children than their own parents.

Orthonomics said...

Wow, there are a lot of great comments here. I might post some of them in their own post.

I want to try and offer a stab at Offwinger's question: What I wonder is which came first: did people first view their children, especially the boys, as something in the "way" that needed to be sent elsewhere? Or did people cave in to community leaders who want to separate children from their parents at earlier & earlier ages, and may have spread this norm by suggesting to people how much better off they could be if they shipped the kids away?

I'm not sure that there has been any organized movement to separate children from parents. However, my own observation is that time away from kids might result in a need for more time away from the kids. If a kid spends most of their waking hours away from home, they can appear to be a rather demanding guest, even moreso when the parent(s) haven't had a chance to breathe themselves because they just walked in the door from work, running carpool, or dealing with the myriad of demands of a frum family.

When kids are part of the day in and day out operations of the home, a rhythm has a good chance of developing. This isn't to say that there aren't rough moments because there most certainly are.

The push for conformity places those parents who don't participate in all of the "required activites" to be on the defensive. Many parents have placed their kids in care situations that they aren't particularly ready for because that is what "is done."

And to address megapixel's comment: so what is so terrible?
And I completely symathize with parents who are trying to do it all and just can't keep all of the balls up in the air at the same time. I'm a free market type of gal and have no problem with an institution looking to fill a market demand for their benefit.

What I am commenting on is the **method of advertising.** I have every intention of enrolling my kids in the extracurriculars that THEY are dying to do if we are able to swing it. I benefitted tremendously from the activities I convinced my parents to enroll me in. I am objecting to advertising that states that as a parent you can't get anything done because your kids are around and therefore you need to get them out of the house. It isn't tasteful and I believe that it is damaging.

Avi said...

Sundays are family days, and no, we can't accomplish entire categories of activities (bill paying, filing, fixing things) with the kids around. Kids require attention. If you're playing with them or taking them somewhere, you can't "accomplish" all sorts of "anythings." Object to the language all you want, but there are tasks I haven't accomplished in years that I was on top of before we had kids.

We don't ship off the kids on Sundays, but we are starting to look at these types of options for other "off" days. We both need to work to pay for all this tuition/camp, and our jobs don't come with enough time off for 12 days of yom tov, never mind breaks for winter, teacher days, erev this and erev that. We just signed up our oldest to a mini-camp organized during winter break. I'm not crazy about paying more money on top of more money, but I need him out of the house so that I can get work done, he'll get some exercise, and with him occupied and exercised, the younger ones will be more manageable and the rate of sibling violence should be lowered.

Avivah said...

We're in our tenth year of homeschooling and have nine children ages 16 and down. If I couldn't get anything done because the kids were around, we'd have collapsed into chaos long ago. :) Not only haven't we collapsed or succumbed to sibling violence, we do a significant amount of activities in addition to bill paying and home repair type things (like renovating our kitchen ourselves), and the kids get along great. Not everyone will want or need to do this, but it's definitely doable.

Kids can learn to be quiet and give you space when you need it, and we as parents can learn to work around our childrens' needs. It's not the same dynamic as being single but it can still be just as effective.

Anonymous said...

We all grew up fine with a little Sesame Street, and that is how my mother managed with a lot of little kids home, we watched some (not tons of TV). Kids need to learn to enjoy music and other things on their own - and older kids should watch younger ones for a little while - as yes, it is hard for a mother of many small children to "get things done."
Also: make kids do it. Even two-year olds enjoy taking a sponge and cleaning, or pushing the vaccum around.

Commenter Abbi said...

I agree with Avi. You say you're objecting to the language, but the post comes across as objecting to the practice of getting the kids out of the house to get work done. In my experience of having 3 kids, all of my kids, including my 18 month old, and I are happier when they get out of the house for at least half a day. They watch less TV, they are exercised, they've played with their friends and just much happier to come home and play with each other and hang out at home. And since I've gotten my work done, I have time to totally focus on them and not feel pressured by the other things I have to do.

It's a different way of organizing family life, including on Sundays. There might be less physical time together, but the kids still love being with each other and I enjoy being with them.

Essentially, some families need more space to be happy together than others. That doesn't make it necessarily "bad". And I agree with the previous comment that there was a time that kids went out to play in the morning and came back for lunch, went out and came back for dinner. This idea of kids spending a lot of time at home together is quite new, though I'm sure you'll disagree.

Offwinger said...

There is a significant difference between encouraging the kids out of the house, whether it's to go outside & play, go over to a friend's house, ride a bike, or participate in an organized activity when it is for the sake of the CHILD's benefit as opposed to manufacturing reasons to get "rid" of the children for the sake of the PARENT.

I don't think SL is suggesting that kids should remain couped up indoors to create more "family time" at all. I think this is a post about whether the attitude is to let the needs of the child dictate or that of the parent.

There are many parents who need time when the kids are out of the house to accomplish certain goals, especially when the kids are younger. But you know what? There are a number of casual or organized ways to achieve this and meet both the needs of the child AND the parent! And there is no reason to promote or market anything as simply a means for getting children out of the way.

When your child is excited to be going over to a friend's house on shabbat afternoon, do you tell your child, "Great! Now I can nap." Not below a certain age, you wouldn't. Same deal here. Young children needs to know they aren't being shipped off for someone else's convenience.

gavra@work said...

A point which has not been mentioned is this is the Yated, and the ad is probably for Lakewood(?) If so, the father is not home on Sunday, and the mother is watching her children by herself (without her cleaning lady, who may be off on sundays). And yes, large families will play a role here, as well as the boy/girl divide and the plethora of supported children.

In addition, its a good headline for some women who are working with these children and probably need the money.

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Orthonomics said...

gavra@work-I believe the writer lived in Brooklyn. The last letter where people went guessing was also Brooklyn although everyone thought Lakewood. I don't know why everyone is always thinking Lakewood.

As for getting stuff done, my parents just put us kids to work. If my father needed my mother at his office, we kids got packed into the car and assigned duties like running the vacuum, cleaning the windows, running some tapes, or typing a letter on the typewriter depending on the skill set. I'm sure sometimes our work needed redone, but it kept us occupied while the big stuff was being dealt with.

I am of the theory that kids enjoy work and being useful. I try to employ similar techniques for my little ones and one thing I've learned not to do is interupt someone who is occupied with a task, even if it means that something doesn't get done. Building that attention span is incredibly helpful for me.

If anyone has techniques that have worked for them, I'd love to hear them because it is a challenge to run a home and stay sane.

(Off to file a stack of papers. My little one has managed to occupy herself through a few phone calls to clients!)

gavra@work said...


The Yated is really a Lakewood paper, but has recently tried to become more inclusive.

One of the great things we used to do as a family is wash the car. We currently (fall/winter) enjoy baking together (and spend some "sunday/off" afternoons doing so), which my son very much enjoys (and gets to eat the results :-)

Orthonomics said...

Gavra-I think my kids "washed" the car nearly every day this past summer. It is a nice activity for them and I was able to do some things close by.

Offwinger said...

Sorry to nitpick, SL, but "washing" the car daily can quickly turn into the wrong lesson re: the environment, depending on where you live. I hope your kids were using one or two buckets and sponges, not hoses!

Ok. Sorry to be so off-topic...

Orthonomics said...

Not to worry Offwinger. A bucket and a sponge. That is why I put "wash" is quotes.

Bklynmom said...

If children are not around while chores are being done, how will they ever learn to cook, clean, do laundry, shop?
Are we raising a whole next generation of Jews who will need to hire household help because they were never at home to learn basic skills?
We need to model correct behavior for our children, but they need to be around to witness it. And the same long school day that keeps children away from home also keeps them away from each other. Sundays, and more importantly summers, are times when my children grow closer together and get to really know each other. Squabbles are inevitable, but they are lessons in conflict resolution, respect for others, and love for each other.

Ariella said...

when none of my kids were old enough to be home on their own, I either shlepped them all to Shop Rite or scheduled my shopping for Sundays or evenings when my husband was home. I did have a babysitter but only for the hours I taught, which only amounted to a few hours a week.
There were some SAHMs who did have housekeepers, either full or part time. I didn't think it is necessity just because other people had that luxury. We have to remember to distinguish between what is absolutely essential and that which just makes things a bit easier. I have to admit life is easier now that I have teenage kids who could watch the youngest if I want to go out on an errand without kids. But I did pay my dues.

RAM said...

It's ironic that Orthodox Jews would do and say things that symbolize a rejection of Jewish women's traditional role in the home.

Ariella said...

RAM, many of these women are "home" in the sense that they don't work outside the home and bring in income. But they find having their children home with them overwhelming. That's why they either have help, send kids as young as 2 to "school" and camp or both! Now I hear even of kids as young as 7 going to sleepaway camp!

RAM said...

The underlying problem for these women may be having no available older family members to help out.

Critiquer said...

Important post, thanks for writing it.

"I think there is a strong movement in the Orthodox world against PARENTING ...
There seems to be this sense that your kids need to be immersed, full time, in the care of others. In yeshivahs - with longer and longer hours, with Sunday school, with Motzei Shabbat extra learning programs (though sometimes fathers are included, but certainly not mothers). With camp and sleepaway camp at younger and younger ages. With sending to yeshivah away for high school, even when a perfectly good option exists locally or even "dorming" in one's own neighborhood!"

I agree with you Offwinger and I've posted practically the identical points on Rabbi Horowitz's website.

"Psychologists talk about self-fulling prophesies and I find that the more we talk about something unpleasant the bigger the monster becomes."

I wrote a post about this point called,"Increase the Light" about how we in the frum world have been inundated with way too many articles and lectures about the problems in our midst. It's Chanuka - bring on the light! "A little light dispels much darkness."

Commenter Abbi said...

Bklyn mom- I grew up in a home with weekly cleaning help and believe it or not, I still know how to clean my home.

Ariella, I take my kids to the supermarket only under extreme duress and only then for absolute necessities.

I think there is a serious lack of understanding that there are different types of kids and different types of parents. There are kids who love being at home and doing quiet activities and let there moms get things done in the meantime. And there are kids who are completely wild and can't sit still for a minute. Of course there are many in between. It's a combination of temprement, discipline issues, social pressures to have more kids then many pple would like, lack of encouragement of women to develop their own careers.

Here in Israel, most kids are out of the house, at least in the mornings, by a year and that includes Sundays, since that day is a regular work day. Everybody I know, kids and parents, are much happier with this setup and no one judges mothers for kicking their kids out of the house. Just yesterday I was fired by my kids as the Chanuka vacation coordinator. They wanted to go to the local vacation day camp to play with their friends, because it's more fun then going to the supermarket. Who can blame them? Most of the time, kids just want to play with their friends.

Critiquer said...

In Israel they're happier that way? It's the only way they know, being raised by strangers from infancy. It's something frum people seem to have copied from the kibbutzim and their "children's houses." They would probably judge a mother who actually (surprise!) wants to raise her own children as psychologically unsound and unfit to mother.

I recommend the book, "Hold On to Your Kids - Why parents need to matter more than peers" by Neufeld and Mate. They approach the issue from a secular perspective, not even putting chinuch into the equation, and they show how damaging it is when we train kids from the youngest ages to value their peers over their parents and homes.

It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that in religious homes across the spectrum - Chassidic, black hat, Modern Orthodox - we are losing our kids over the past two decades precisely when more and more mothers are not raising their infants and toddlers and when parents opt to relinquish their influence. By losing our kids I mean their dropping out of religious life/just going through the motions of religious life/acting out in ways like drugs, drinking, promiscuous behavior.