Peer pressure, bullying, and simply trying to fit in can lead any child to make wrong choices. When you add to the mix our kids who can struggle socially due to their differences, the desire to be part of the crowd (or just have one friend – PLEASE!) can pull our kids in directions we certainly would not choose. How do we raise kids who are grounded? At a recent lunch and learn event, Rabbi Ranon Teller of Brith Shalom Congregation talked about Jewish traditions and how they are effective in raising young people who are grounded. He had my undivided attention. He pointed to three pillars that are part of Shabbat (Sabbath): ritual, Sabbath rest and blessing.
On Shabbat, the family gathers for a meal Friday night beginning at sun down. In this tradition, all family members are present and seated at the table together enjoying a meal without interruptions. No excuses accepted for other things that need attention. A key piece is simply the ritual, the intention and practice of making it a priority to be together. In this, the family disconnects from the outside world and reconnects with each other. Studies show that over time American families eat together less and less. Conversely, families that do eat together are more resilient and have improved communication between members. A healthy body happens with intentional regular action. We can say we want to have a healthy body and that it is important to us, but for that ideal to become a reality we need to develop regular practices of healthy eating and exercise. A healthy body comes through regularly repeated activities. And so it goes for the health of the family. Building family closeness and connection requires regular practices as well, such as the ritual of a gathered meal and time that is set aside just for the family. (Family game night, anyone? Pizza and a movie? Build the best ice cream sundae contest?)
Sabbath is the practice is disconnecting from the business and work of everyday life and setting aside a time of rest. In the Jewish tradition, part of that rest includes disconnection from technology. (I hear wailing and gnashing of teeth. Some of that noise is coming from me!)Engaging with technology draws focus and energy away from those gathered together. Rabbi Teller told of families placing technological devices in a basket and intentionally setting them aside. Disconnecting from iPads, gaming devices, and cell phones encourages deeper connection within the family. I tried it and it really works. On a recent date night my husband and I did something we had not done in years. We left our phones at home. On purpose!
In the Jewish tradition of Shabbat, parents bless their children in prayer, often with the priestly benediction:
May God bless you and keep you.
May God shine light and be gracious to you.
May God show you kindness and grant you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26 NRSV)
Showering your child with the gift of regular prayer and blessing teaches them of God’s love, as well as your love, for them. Also, the power of prayer is an amazing thing in the life of a child. Never under-estimate what God does through prayer. Prayer itself can become a ritual. I used to pray with my son every day before he got on the bus to go to school. It was just a brief prayer about asking God to protect him, bless him and give him the ability to handle the day. Several years into this tradition I started attending seminary. As I was leaving that first night for class my son came bounding down the stairs and said I could not leave yet because we had not prayed. He offered a blessing to me, a simple prayer that left me blessed in more ways than one.
What are your family rituals? Are there ones you would like to start? How do you take a Sabbath rest and disconnect from the demands of the world? When and how do you bless your child and family?
“Time for Family” Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net