I read a post on another website that at first just made me sad. Monumentally. Overwhelmingly. Sad.
Then I received a very encouraging email from a blog reader about some of the ways she feels my blog inspires others and I realized I must say something.
I cannot in good conscience link the actual post on my blog because frankly, I find the style it was written in to be too crass. I will try to to justice to the author while omitting foul language and crudeness.
Before I begin let me state that I myself have raised a family of four children, the first three in three years. Yes. I had three children in diapers at the same time as we cared for ailing parents and grandparents, and no, my home was anything but perfect during those whirlwind years. I remember them well.
I am NOT here to judge or to criticize.
But perhaps to inspire......
The article began like this:
"....Oh, Friday night dinner. You’re meant to be the highlight of the Jewish week. Each day we grow closer and closer to you, our anticipation measured by the lists and the shopping and the cooking and then the more shopping to get all the things we forgot, all of it building to a monumental crescendo of hope, promise, expectancy, and all of it ending in complete, unfettered, unmitigated disaster."Encouraging start, right? Further on, after the author details multiple arguments among her children, she continues with this ....
"At some point, we get everyone upstairs. We light some candles, and pour some grape juice.
“She got more than me.”
“Why does he always get that cup?”Meal over. But then we get the kicker:
I won’t dignify any of these with my responses, but at some point we get them to drink the juice and move on to the challah, but not until we've all complained about the table plan.
“I want to sit next to you.” All week long nobody really wants to sit anywhere near me, but Friday night dinner becomes a virtual smack-down to see who can physically climb back into my uterus. This can go on for hours, but usually ends with someone getting up and leaving the table, refusing to return. Often, there is a slammed door.
Still, we soldier on through the too-hot chicken soup (“Why does she get two ice cubes in hers when I only got one?”) and usually that’s about it. Anything else I’ve made rarely surfaces because one kid refused to join us at all, one kid left during candle lighting, two got into a fight over the grape juice and… you get the idea.
We try to talk about what they've learned in school all week, but maybe “all week” is still too close, because it becomes a shouting match to show us who learned the most, or really, who can talk the longest and the loudest.
Disagreements that on any other night would be shrugged off, become world wars–with each child going from zero to really [upset] in about three seconds flat.
Food that they devour in other people’s houses (I have actual reports, actual reports) is suddenly untouchable, so revolting that it needs to be pushed away from the eater. Believe me when I tell you that we have been out for Friday night dinner and I have had the kids ask me to get the recipe for a dish that I myself make regularly. At least two of the kids will at least try a dish, but only after they have picked out all the things they don’t like (a mushroom, a walnut–why do I bother?) and put them on the table.
Oh, and of course each child (and have I mentioned that there are five of them?) makes sure to make a brief appearance at the table in order to spill something.
At some point, my husband and I, left alone at the table with its sodden, stained tablecloth and chunks of discarded challah and unwanted food, look at each in complete bewilderment."
"And there’s the rub. EACH WEEK WE ARE SURPRISED. Not only is it like it’s never happened before, but it’s like it didn't just happen LAST WEEK.Because, come Wednesday, I will realize that tomorrow is Thursday, which means that Friday is only 48 hours away. Come Wednesday, I will start a brand new list on a fresh piece of white paper. Come Wednesday I will plan a menu that nobody will eat. Come Wednesday, I am born anew.You would think that this in itself would be enough to make me sad. I mean, isn't one definition of insanity repeating the same actions over and over and expecting different results?
In short, I have no institutional memory. Each week I repeat the Kabuki dance of Shabbat dinner, convinced that THIS week is going to be the week that it all comes together for me.
I’ll let you know when it happens."
But that is not what upset me the most. What really got to me was the myriad of reader comments that followed not only identifying with the writer, but glorifying her experiences. Is this what Shabbos across America really looks like??!?! I find this terribly depressing and unnerving.
Now I am fully aware that Friday night dinner with children cannot ever be a formal "adults only" affair, but I do wonder whether perhaps some parents are no longer teaching their children boundaries and are suffering because of it. Suffering to the point which even Shabbos meals are something to be dreaded and the day loses much of its holiness.
I've given this some thought and I have some advice for this woman:
- Do something early in the day when the kids get home from school to start setting the mood for Shabbos (I couldn't bring myself to excerpt the author's description of her Friday afternoon, but suffice it to say it too was less than optimal). Create a Shabbos playlist of Shabbos songs to play loudly around the house. Act excited YOURSELF for the upcoming day. Perhaps even consider taking your children to shul (or have some special Shabbos books to read after candlelighting while your husband is in shul that make the evening special for the children).
- Assign your children seats at the table. Rotate seats on a weekly basis if you must but frankly, life will not always be equal, it's time they learn to be prepared for that.
- Be a leader, not a bystander. This is not really a Shabbos-only problem. Parents need to set boundaries for their children's behavior all week long. Parents need to get over the concept that not giving in to their children's every whim will scar them for life. Newsflash: A generation ago, even though each child was an "individual", mothers made ONE DINNER. One. And the children ate it - whether it was their favorite or not. And if not? There was another meal coming in a little while. Nobody starved. And if you stomp off from the table - don't plan on returning (to spill something or otherwise). Actions have consequences. Start setting limits and following through. They'll think twice next time.
- As one commenter was brave enough to suggest - sing some zemiros or something! Find activities that will make the day special to your children. Use their currency...not yours.
- And last but not least, INVITE GUESTS TO YOUR MEAL! "How can I bring guests to my meal when my children don't behave?", you ask. Never underestimate the power of an unfamiliar face to get children to mind their manners. Of course, you need to have items 1-4 in place in order for this to work and I fully recognize that mommies of small children may not have the head for a lot of guests all the time. But try it once in a while. And don't get hung up on making everything perfect (Yes! I just said that!) Most guests who are looking for a family meal are very happy with how ever you make Shabbos.
I'm interested in my readers' advice on how to make Shabbos successful with young children. I'm writing this post to restore my faith in families. I refuse to believe, dozens of comments aside, that this is the way most households see Shabbos. Everything in degrees - I know. But this just went too far.......