The Internet is buzzing with arguments and counter-arguments about what is being called “Magical Childhood.”
Magical Childhood, to the naysayers, is an ultimately self-serving series of actions taken by parents to over-plan every moment of a child’s life with over-the-top themed birthday parties, expensive vacations, outings, outfits and preciously arranged snacks.
A column that went viral last month titled, “I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical,” declared that such parenting is both exhausting for the parent and potentially damaging to the child – all that orchestrated, over-planned face time with Mom gets in the way of a child’s ability to develop his imagination.
On the flip side, moms who Tweet pics of their magazine-spread-worthy party favor bags took to the Internet to defend Magical Childhood as a beautiful thing that allows parents and children to build joyful memories together.
So where does Judaism come down? To my understanding (and now that I’m 40, I’m very, very wise, so listen up), Magical Childhood is, in fact, just another way of saying “Jewish Childhood.”
While most of the world spent millennia considering children to be nothing more than little adults, Jews have long recognized childhood as being a distinct, beautiful and (the ancient rabbis would never have used this word, but) magical time.
In twelfth-century Europe, Jewish boys were initiated into school by getting dressed up to the nines, escorted into the synagogue and fed eggs, fruit and honey cakes. There were no cute Instagrams of the boys showing off their monogrammed backpacks outside the synagogue door, but there might as well have been.
The letters of the Hebrew alphabet were written on a slate and read to the boy. Then the letters were covered with honey, which the boy licked so that he would associate the letters with sweetness and learning with reward. Is that really so different from a hand-crafted “Good Job” sticker chart?
The anti-Magical Childhood folks rail against moms who are hyper-involved and laser-focused on Junior’s studies, social life and extra-curricular activities. In other words, Jewish mothers.
It’s no surprise, then, that I take issue with this. I don’t use Pinterest to come up with Tooth Fairy ideas (don’t need to; my Tooth Fairy ideas are the best), but I do believe in turning to your community – online or off – to share ideas, frustrations and strategies. You know, like Jews have forever.
To the point that such parenting is exhausting and leaves mothers and fathers depleted and cranky: Yep. It sure does. But it also allows for families to create traditions together, learn from each other and grow together as people. Plus, I’m pretty sure a mom can get herself all tuckered out even if she never logs on to Pinterest or molds soft-boiled eggs into cool shapes for her toddler’s lunch.
Finally, to the argument that Magical Childhood robs a kid of his ability to cultivate an imagination, I recently read about the early childhood of one Jewish man whose mother was overwhelmingly doting, over-involved and indulgent.
That man? Steven Spielberg. Poor guy. Imagine where he’d be today if his mother had just backed off and let his imagination grow.
After a 10-year career as a newspaper reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register, Mayrav Saar left to try her hand at child rearing and freelance writing.