When did I become *that* mother?

Some of the “strategies” I used to try to get my girls to come to shul with me this morning:

“There will be no computer time this weekend if you don’t come.”
“If you come with me this week, I won’t ask you again for another month.”
“I’ll give you extra computer time if you do come.”
“We’re going. NOW.'”
“If you don’t come, you will have to go to the dump with Papa.”
Finally, they agreed to accompany me. (It wasn’t the threat of the dump that convinced them. They told me they would prefer to go to the dump.) However, we clearly had not sufficiently hammered out the terms of  this agreement, since in their mind it only extended to entering the building. They flat out refused to enter the family service (which is actually a very well done, age appropriate program) and stayed in the hall the entire time. I was in turns angry, sad, frustrated and exhausted and definitely not feeling the shabbat love.
Until Kiddush, that is. We sat with friends, we ate some lunch, the girls played on the bimah for over an hour with a bunch of children of all ages, and then went home with one of their friends for a shabbat afternoon playdate.
This evening, those same shulophobic children reminded me to do havdallah, and then engaged their stuffed animals in a full reenactment of the story of Esther. (Scroll down for pics.)
I wrote some time back about our family’s habit of not arriving until kiddush. I had hoped that by the time my kids hit the ages of five and seven, they would be more open to attending services. They have friends are there, they know more of the prayers, and their attention spans are longer. As an added bonus, the shabbat offerings at our shul have improved.
None of this has made one whit of difference in their willingness to go to services. And I am truly stumped about how to proceed. On the one hand, I feel that I ought to be making them go. On the other hand, I have children with a real love of Judaism on their own terms. Maybe I’d ought to leave well enough alone. Maybe this is a battle I can’t really win.
Oh, and some pictures.
Vashti. Not sure why she is wearing goggles.
Achashverosh and friends. (Not sure why Achashverosh is wearing Ella’s underwear.)
The lovely Esther
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posted February 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm

I took E to the Friday evening folk service last night as it was also a tribute to Debbie Friedman’s life and music. I am starting to worry that he’s not getting enough exposure to services and the prayers, even with attendance at Hebrew School twice a week, but am not often inspired to attend services myself. We had a really nice time and he didn’t complain about being bored or anything. I was pleasantly surprised. He’s about to turn 9. Is it an age/maturity thing?

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Rabbi Riqi

posted February 12, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I love this post and (shamefully) I could have written it myself, only not anywhere as well-written as you. There might be a child-of-educators (rabbi, educator, cantor, etc.) thing going on. As a 5 year old, I supposedly said loudly, in the middle of one of my father’s sermons, when my mother told me to stop talking to my friends, “Why should I? I already hear him all the time at home!”
The list of bribes is classic and the first picture and your comments made me burst out laughing. Thank you for your brilliant honesty.

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posted February 13, 2011 at 12:36 am

You are an AMAZING Mama so please never ever question that. I LOVE reading your blog and all of your life’s story is so inspiring to me, mother of one 17mo daughter. I have much to look forward to myself! Your children love their Jewish identity, well done, Mama! I think it is so normal to go through phases like this, and you handled the matter very well. It is normal and healthy to feel frustrated by the situation, and the fact your post is glowing with love, you are doing everything SO right! You are fabulous!

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Sarah Buttenwieser

posted February 13, 2011 at 9:38 am

I love this & really think you are instilling love of Judaism & communing over food. They even have the two associated… Seriously, participation in all these “should be ready” activities (soccer teams, homework, ballet class whatever, sleepovers!) doesn’t “have” to be on a specific timetable. I say, relax, listen to them. They are doing to beautifully in all regards including this one.

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posted February 13, 2011 at 9:43 am

Amy, I saw you guys Saturday, and was thinking…I am in awe of this lady. How does she do it. Just saying.
We also often come almost just for kiddush. It’s where we meet in the middle, having different practices.

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posted February 13, 2011 at 9:47 am

You all are awesome. Seriously. I needed that. Thank you.

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posted February 13, 2011 at 10:16 am

I fear you will not like what I have to say about this post. Children don’t like getting up from play to transition into something else, especially if they know the something else may be even partly boring. But kids do like routine, right? If you were to simply go every single week, for the davening, without much fanfare and it was simply what you did, expected, routine, they would become much more amenable to it.
My kids go every single week. They don’t have a choice. And they still complain sometimes and say they don’t want to go. So, I hope that makes you feel better. But they just don’t want to leave the house. It’s vacation from school, it’s pj’s late in the morning and they want to take it easy.
But once we all get dressed when the adults are ready to go, so are they, with no fuss. Because they know it is simply what we do. When they get there they have a good time. And they daven. At least some of them do.
Don’t know if it’s worth it, but I am sure you have had to make other things in their life “routine” in order to make them happen smoothly, no?

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posted February 13, 2011 at 10:19 am

Oh, I do like what you have to say, and I know you are right. Of course, you have picked up on one of the real issues. My own ambivalence about prayer. But that’s another post.

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posted February 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Amy – i’m so there with you. We went Friday night since it was a hebrew school run service and beside friday night is so much shorter. we really haven’t gone much this year.. from the beginning they weren’t paying attention. eventually my little son (just 6) engaged with the music quite a bit. but the girls not at all.
at the end as everyone went down to kiddush I discovered my kids playing with live microphones in the sanctuary. they wouldn’t stop even when I said to – and when the rabbi stuck his head in to say the same thing. i was MORTIFIED. And truly have to rethink everything. I think ima2seven makes an interesting point. i have recently wondered whether trying to be jewish without full commitment is even possible.
Each of the children wrote apologies to the rabbi, but I’m in the midst of a much bigger issue I fear…

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posted February 22, 2011 at 10:20 am

I can’t say if my approach is better or not, but it’s at least working better than I hoped. Originally, I would go all by myself (except for once a month Tot Shabbat, when the wife and daughters came along). Generally, I never told our 5-year old to come, and she started asking where I was going. She likes the toys in the play room there, and eventually she wanted to come along to play there, at least if there was one or more other kids there (usually there’s exactly one other).
Now, she demands to go with me every week. She still mainly plays in the play room, but is getting very comfortable with GOING (and staying for 3+ hours), and is at least exposed to some of the service. Also, she observes that, even if she wants to run off to play, that I, the responsible adult, need to stay and be engaged in the service, and she sometimes “gets to help” with things like pesicha and motzi. YMMV. I always worry that I’m too hands off and undemanding, but I doubt I’d personally get any more with overt coercion.

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Daphne Steinberg

posted February 23, 2011 at 9:05 am

I have to say, Amy, as an adult I’ve railed against going to shul “as we know it” because as a kid I was obligated to go and I always felt like I was standing there reciting a bunch of words I didn’t understand. It had no real meaning or “flavor” for me.
More recently, as I’m sure you’re aware, new spins have been put on Jewish worship. I came across this YouTube video this morning that presents prayer in a wonderful, exciting way.
Perhaps presenting shul to your girls as a opportunity to be joyful and sing might entice them to go more? I’m pretty sure this would have worked for me. What little girl doesn’t like to jump around and sing, eh?

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