My daughter attends an online Jewish school twice a week, and this past week the school organized a parent session discussing living a vibrant Jewish life in rural areas outside of Jewish communities. There are many things that I gained from this discussion, including making myself feel better about my situation, that others have it much more difficult. The other is this: Don’t let your children latch on to your anxiety.
In any situation where someone feels emotions, this is translated through tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. It’s expressed in how they react to others and what choice of words they use when speaking about the subject. Children are sponges, it’s true, and they are very in tune to the feelings around them, much like when a horse can sense that you are nervous to be around it (or any other domesticated animal). Our stresses are simply that, our stresses. When we bring our children into things — knowingly or unknowingly — that they can’t change or situations they can’t help, it does them a disservice to then assume our anxiety as their own.
Our personal anxiety is tough, but we can, G-d willing, find ways to cope with the situation. We are adults, we’ve dealt with many different types of situations, and whether we can change the situation, we know how to cope with it (or can find out how through our resources we’ve, iyh, accumulated). But when children feel and internalize our anxiety, it becomes a bigger deal. They can’t change it, and much of the time, the anxiety is in regards to things they should be falling in love with instead of falling in love to kvetch about. A big situation that could be anxiety-causing is school. We want our children to love going to school! But how can they when they know that we think this is a sub-optimal environment for our future prodigies?
We live in a town about 45 minutes out of a Jewish community (complete with a kosher market, many synagogues and a few kosher restaurants). Baruch Hashem, we have about 6000 Jews in our town and about 25 families are Orthodox — and that number might be stretching it. There is one Jewish day school that is technically a Solomon Shechter school, a conservative Jewish school. This means that they promote egalitarianism in prayer and don’t focus too much on limudei kodesh, Hebrew/Jewish/religious subjects. They have a kabbalat Shabbat ceremony on Fridays to welcome the Shabbat before the end of school. They learn Hebrew and a little bit about the Torah. They don’t learn exactly what I want them to, but that’s okay. No school is perfect, however, this school is no where near where I want it to be for my daughter.
I had to pull my daughter out of the Chanukah performance because it was going to be in a synagogue that shares the sanctuary space with a church. I didn’t want my daughter to sing in a sanctuary of that caliber. These are very sensitive places and I believe she should only be in places like that that align with our beliefs. I had to change the words on her reading activity because I didn’t think that “ham” was an appropriate word for my Jewish child to be reading in her Jewish school. I have to have her daven before we go to school because they only do a very minimal davening and don’t emphasize the importance of it. I could go on for days like this, but I’m pretty sure you get the picture.
For now, I have no other choice. This is where my daughter is going to go to school unless, chas v’shalom, G-d forbid, I were to put her in public school. I don’t have to be okay with this, but I need my daughter to believe that I am. If she senses that I’m not really into this school and think it’s a terrible institution (which I don’t!! It’s just far from my first choice), then going to school is a lost cause. She is still learning valuable things in terms of secular education. I have the Jewish Online School that is an amazing program that my daughter loves. I do my own education with her in the home about things that I think she should know about, such as the Chabad Chassidic holidays. She has a poster in her locker with the Rebbe’s picture and the twelve pesukim, verses of Torah. She exposes other children in her class to Orthodox Judaism who possibly wouldn’t have been exposed otherwise. It is an extreme kiddush Hashem, sanctification of The Name, for my daughter to be in this school and to thrive within it. It is a chillul Hashem, desecration of The Name, for it to be otherwise.
I do let my feelings spill over into my parenting. It’s definitely something that needs to be actively worked on and thought about. It’s not easy, just as any aspect of parenting isn’t. But it’s something for us to recognize and to be aware of so that we have the ability to actively work on it. While I didn’t have to deal with many of the struggles many of the parents in the session did — such as pulling children out for chagim, Jewish holidays non-permissive of work, since our school is closed for them — I did learn a lot from the session itself. I also gained a little bit gratitude for at least having a Jewish school to send my child to, no matter how unhappy I get with it.
For today, I’m going to focus on having positive body language, speech and facial expressions. It’s going to be a challenge, but I sense that it will be a better day overall because of it. I’m ready for the challenge.