“Oh my gaaawd! They’re fighting with knives!” she shrieked in the old school Brooklyn accent distinct to Jewish bubbes. The bubbe swiftly removed the table knives from my children’s hands, scolded them, and then walked away mumbling something judgmental about people who don’t watch their kids.
Now, before you report me to child’s services let me explain. I was watching my kids. Yes, I was watching my 2.5-year-old and 5-year-old son engage in a lively yet playful swordfight with dull table knives and I didn’t stop them.
Sitting around a large table in a Pesach hotel, surrounded by family and extended family, I noticed my children giggling and sparing at one another with knives. I quickly did some mental calculations: Hmmm, is this safe? The knives are so dull. Their kiddie scissors are probably sharper. And my poor boys are out of their element, off schedule, and starting to get the dodgy look in their eyes of caged beasts. As of yet there’s no violence or maliciousness towards one another, they need to release some energy, I think I’m going to allow this.
Ignoring the accusing stares from those at the table with me, I quietly turned to my husband and said, “It’s fine, right? Table knives aren’t sharp.” He nodded confidently and our children continued their game.
Happy that I had decided not to interfere and secure with our decision that this was not a safety hazard, I was actually enjoying watching them delight in brotherly roughhousing. And then, just moments after I had made a conscious and thoughtful parenting decision that I was quite proud of, a well-intentioned onlooker took matters into her own hands and robbed me of my role as their mother in that moment.
I’m not here to villainize the bubbe, who no doubt acted out of love and concern for my children. Nor is it my goal to bash those who discipline other’s children (though I could go on for a while about that!). Rather, the episode strengthened my resolve to parent my boys with intention and thought instead of just reacting quickly and emotionally.
READ: Don’t Cook Like Bubbe
As someone who likes control, I could easily find myself reprimanding my children all day. The constant barking of orders—“Stop that!”… “No”… “Put it down”…“Don’t touch”…“Come here”–would blend in with the background noises of the whir of the air conditioner and the hum of the dryer. My “no” would become ineffectual and my interactions with my kids would be mostly negative.
Instead, based on amazing parenting advice from a rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) in Jerusalem, I make an effort to speak to my children with the kindness and respect that we generally extend to adults. Instead of commanding them, I’ll suggest or ask. When I feel the need to say “No,” I’ll take a second to evaluate if the situation warrants a battle or if I can let it go. As much as I can, I try to save my “No”s and direct orders for the biggies, the times when I want to convey a value that’s near and dear to me.
And, back to the knife story, while safety is definitely a value, I’ve come to reevaluate what’s truly dangerous and what I can let slide. In our family, we’ve had broken bones and deep sprains from innocent riding toys and ball pits, yet no serious injuries from wild wrestling or jumping on beds. Of course I want to protect my children physically, but I also want to nurture them emotionally by not coming down on them with heavy doses of continuous negativity.
So, to the dear bubbe whose overflowing love for Jewish children spurred her to immediate action, thank you for helping me to realize that I choose to express my overflowing love for my children by not always acting immediately.