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Apr 18 2013

Israeli Moms are the New Tiger Moms

By at 3:59 pm

paper cutout familyWhat’s the difference between American moms and Israeli moms? Apparently, a lot. In her latest piece for the Sisterhood blog on The Forward, Elissa Strauss points out a potential new kind of parenting trend, this one taken from the community-focused parenting style of Israelis. Strauss writes:

There is no shortage of parenting methods to choose from these days. In the past few years we’ve seen Tiger moms, Parisian moms, attachment parents and the free-rangers all make their way onto national magazine covers and the pile of books on our bedside tables. But none of these philosophies place much emphasis on the roles our friends, families and communities can play in making awesome kids.

So, in the spirit of Harris-Perry’s commercial, I would like to throw a new parenting method into the mix, one that shows us how much better life can be when we help one another out. I’ll call this the “Fight Song of the Sabra Parent.”

So what are the benefits of living in a society where parents aren’t so afraid to parent other parents’ kids? Read the rest of her piece here.

Nov 15 2012

Should My 8-Month-Old Already Be Competing?

By at 9:40 am

As he toweled off, my husband asked me, “How old do you think the youngest Floater ever was?”

My 8-month-old son, Carston, had just completed his first swim lesson as part of the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy (LKSA) at the JCC in Newton, Massachusetts. LKSA is a seven-level swimming program designed to teach kids to swim safely; it begins at level one, Splasher, continues on to Floater, then Kickers, and eventually ends with Flyers.

I’d been motivated to sign my little splasher up for safety reasons and, honestly, because I’d heard kids nap better after they swim. My husband, on the other hand, was ready for our son to become the next Michael Phelps—or more appropriately, Mark Spitz.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 27 2012

Drama at the Swimming Pool

By at 10:23 am

swimming class underwaterI had high hopes for swim class, and it seems they were justified: both girls are taking to the water like… uh… like ducks to water! But I had an unfortunate situation arise at the pool today, and I’d appreciate some opinions (polite ones) on the subject.

Neither girl has had swim lessons before, and they’re just 22 months apart. Still, I thought I’d try having them in two separate classes. Abby, 23 months, was in the Mommy and Me class, and Penny (3.5) was in the Starfish class. Both do roughly the same skills, but in the M&M class, the kids are doing stuff the whole time (since mommy is there to assist), and in the Starfish, they spend a lot of time bobbing around in the water waiting while the teacher holds them up to float, works with them on kicking, yadda yadda. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 29 2011

Diary of a Wimpy Toddler

By at 10:24 am

My 21-month-old son is the light of my life. He is kind, loving, giving and he takes a three hour nap everyday without fail. He is a quiet, gentle soul that speaks to me in ways I cannot explain. He shares his toys without hesitation, he freely gives hugs and kisses and wants nothing more than my love and attention. I, on the other hand, have a huge personality and practically bounded out of the womb dancing and singing.  My husband and I wonder repeatedly how this sweet soul was ever created from the combination of our candid and mildly abrasive DNA.

I hesitate to even write this next part, for fear of sounding like a “tiger mom” or worse have it seem like I am less than enamored with any aspect of my sweet son. But, over the past few months, I’ve wished my son were a little more fearless.

It took my little one 17 months to muster up the courage to walk. He doesn’t run, jump or climb and he is thoughtful and cautious at the playground, and with everything he does. Just last week he was pushed down the slide by a burly 10-month-old girl. He sat at the bottom, tears streaming as she whizzed past him at twice his walking speed.  And instead of scooping him up and smothering him with kisses and Mama fuss about how that little girl shouldn’t have pushed him, my husband and I looked at each other and laughed. We laughed after our twig of a boy was manhandled by a chick half his age.

I know we must seem like insensitive parents and while most days I do assume the role of “helicopter parent” or “referee” that afternoon I just wished my kid would haul off and push someone. I wish he would snatch back a toy at playgroup, instead of passively finding something else to play with. I want him to explode with giggly energy; running, jumping and playing until he passes out from exhaustion. After a day where he’s been pushed, shoved and had every toy he tried to play with ripped away by another toddler, I sit and pray for the strength to not strangle another mother’s child. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 2 2011

Long Live The Tiger Bubbies

By at 1:15 pm

4-month-old Mayim with her mom and Bubbie Bialik

I haven’t read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua’s somewhat controversial book advocating the strict style of discipline and parenting her Chinese immigrant parents raised her with, and I don’t know if I will. I have heard a lot about it, though, both from her and from other people, and I’m sure you are not surprised that I have some opinions.

Generally speaking, Chinese folks and the Jews have a lot in common when it comes to our track record with our offspring: high achievement and lots of awards for science, math, and music. I would guess that a number of the Jewish Nobel prize winners, world-renown physicists, surgeons, etc. were likely raised with a strong dose of “Tiger Mama” similar to what Chua describes. It’s an immigrant intensity motivated in our own people by the Holocaust or the Great Depression or fleeing from one of the many countries that have kicked us out.

Where I come from, there was no crying over lost parts. Three of my four grandparents (blessed be their memories) were immigrants from Poland and the Czechoslovakia/Hungary border. Their personalities were defined by struggle, loss, tragedy, cautious curiosity, and tremendous fear of the “other” (ironic, no?). They were intense, somber, and they had a strong work ethic and a pretty small worldview. Basically, they were Tiger Grandparents. My parents were one generation removed from this intensity, so was there crying over a school play? Yes. But mentioning it to my grandparents? The reply would be either: “Vos is dos?” (Yiddish for “Huh? What’s a play?”) or they’d say “Psha!” with a disdainful look and hand wave, possibly also with an eye roll (Yiddish for “What’s the big deal? I lived through a war.”)

Bubbie Winkleman says: "Eat! Eat!"

Although some of the “Jewish” stereotypes also existed for my grandparents–the pushing of food until it was literally coming out of your nostrils and pockets, the overwhelming pervasive guilt, the complete lack of respect for privacy, and psychological enmeshment worthy of many, many sessions of psychotherapy–for the most part, I had some version of Tiger Bubbies and Zaydes to learn from.

Here is some of what I learned from my Tiger Bubbie in particular:

1) Be wary of “The Man.” We always have been and always will be the “other.” Don’t get too comfortable where you are; we may have to flee come morning. Never lose a sense of being a stranger in a strange land, and thank God for the State of Israel.

2) Never ever ever spend money unless you really truly have to. Save it for a rainy day. How you’ll know when the rainy day arrives was never elucidated.

3) Aesthetics are just that: aesthetics. Make do with what you have and be grateful–and creative. Be not deceived by the supposed need to repair a holey couch, for example; simply place shmattes strategically over the holes and no one needs to know any different. These shmattes do not need to match the pattern of the sofa, in case you were wondering.

Bubbie Bialik pregnant with Mayim's dad, 1942.

4) Comfort over style. Polyester pants swept through this great nation and my religious Bubbie never looked back.

5) Don’t be afraid to cry when you are any of the following emotions: happy, elated, joyous, content, serene. All are equally good occasions for weeping and sobbing audibly and copiously even if you make everyone around you really uncomfortable. God made tears for a reason: use them!

6) Do not waste food. Fish eyes? Can do. Marrow of chicken bones? Who wouldn’t!?

Now that I am a vegan, this is one I have to skip. I hope my Tiger Bubbie forgives me. If not, in the Next World, she will greet me with a platter of marrow-soaked fish eyes, crying with joy in her polyester pants.

That’s one fierce Bubbie. Grrrr.

Want more Mayim? Read about her take on extreme parenting, her Mormon husband, and having to be the parent that’s “not nice”.

Jan 21 2011

Let’s Leave the Animals Out of It, Moms

By at 11:45 am

Oy. I’ve had enough.

Tiger moms, mama grizzlies.

Not to mention Ayelet Waldman.

Parenting is a style. Some of it’s instinctive but more of it is learned. You liked what your mom did? You act and imitate it. You disliked it? You react and do something else. You observe, maybe you read a little, you do what you think is right. And then you pray. A lot.

Each kid needs a different parent and no kid is born into the same family. There is no “one size fits all” in parenting. Just when you think you’ve got it right, you realize you need a whole different system. It’s learning on the job. It’s flying by the seat of your pants. It’s knowing–absolutely–that you are going to goof- sometimes in a big way.

My friend told me that when she asked her husband if he thought they’d mess their kids up the way their parents messed them up, he replied, “No, we’ll do it in our own (expletive deleted) way.” Wise man.

I was pretty strict with my children. I expected them to uphold standards of behavior which, my husband and I agreed, were realistic for each particular child at their particular stage of development.  I was very consistent and followed through. I remember, in the antediluvian past, when my older daughter and son wanted phones in their rooms. I was against that on principle (too spoiled) so I put an extension of the house phone in the hall between their rooms. I told them that they had to negotiate the use of the phone (I forbade call-waiting) and the first time I heard a fight over the phone, I was going to rip it out of the wall. I never did hear of a fight. Which doesn’t mean there weren’t any.

What we said, went. There could be an appeal but if, after giving it another go-round of discussion, we still said “no,” that was it.

We do the best we can and we hope that when they grow up, our kids forgive us our mistakes.

I’m sorry, daughter #1, that I only let you choose a New York college and wouldn’t let you go out of town. I’m sorry, son #1 that I didn’t let you go to the concert, the tickets to which you won on a radio show. Daughter #2, wanted to go to a New Year’s Eve party in the city when she was 14. I said absolutely not. The local party I let her attend was broken up by the police. The decisions we made seemed like the right decisions then. (The concert seems like the right decision now, too. And I shouldn’t have let her go to either party.)  And son #2….well, let’s leave the baby of the family out of this for now…His sibs still think he got away with murder. But, truthfully, he needed a very different parent than they did. Maybe, as their families grow, they’ll get that.

So, moms, don’t be tigers, or grizzlies. Or Ayelet Waldman.

Be yourselves, do the best you can, and know you’re going to make mistakes. Just love as much as you possibly can. Treat each child as an individual. And know that it really does go very fast.

My daughter (#1) once described our home as a “benevolent dictatorship.” I love that.


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