A few years ago at one of my Parenting workshops, a mom admitted jokingly about her parenting blunder: “You should know, I’m a recovering over scheduler!” This eager and dedicated young mother explained how she found herself loading her son’s schedule with activities, and although her intention was to help him find a sense of belonging and purpose, she found that he was actually losing his sense of self. Realizing she needed to make a change, she began to reduce his load.
As it turns out, the one extracurricular activity she had not yet canceled was scheduled on Friday nights. Before enrolling in soccer, this used to be the time that she and her family would gather at her parents’ home for Shabbat dinner just in time to light the Shabbat candles, where he learned to say kiddush, the blessing over the challah, sing the most beautiful Shabbat melodies and enjoy his grandmother’s traditional Jewish recipes. Soccer practice on Friday evening meant losing this very formative and special experience. Ironically, in an attempt to give her son a sense of belonging and to foster his personal growth, she ended up removing him from the one activity that gave him the greatest sense of connection and purpose in life: experiencing his Jewish self.
This predicament of over scheduling in a quest to bring our children’s lives meaning is all too common today. Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, the leading expert on overscheduled children, initiated a “National Family Night,” in which Americans were encouraged to set one night per year for their families only: No scheduled activities, work, sports activities or homework. Sound familiar? Imagine adding to this special “Family Night” a framework to connect spiritually, celebrate your religious individuality and Jewish heritage…and you have Shabbat. It seems we Jewish people are onto something!
As parents we intuitively recognize this need for our children to feel a sense of belonging, and we are right. But if we recognize the gift that has been bestowed upon us as Jewish people, rather than searching for novel (and sometimes forced) opportunities, we may find that it’s more attainable than we think. Alfred Adler, the Austrian psychiatrist who founded “Individual Psychology” recognized that we are all seeking a sense of belonging within a community, and this sense of community starts with a recognition and acceptance of the interconnectedness of all people. Ultimately, many come to realize that Jewish life, ritual and community is a gift that gives our children the sense of belonging and significance we have all been seeking, and is at our fingertips each and every day.
Tammy Keces M.A. is the principal of Irvine Hebrew Day School and a lead Certified Positive Discipline Trainer.