Par­ent­ing in Perspective

Bar­ry Kislowicz
  • Review
By – May 8, 2017

What does it mean to be an effec­tive par­ent? Bar­ry Kislowicz’s rich­ly-tex­tured and high­ly acces­si­ble book answers this crit­i­cal ques­tion with the spir­it of an expe­ri­enced par­ent and teacher. This could be con­sid­ered an owner’s man­u­al, valu­able for both new and expe­ri­enced par­ents, draw­ing from a win­ning com­bi­na­tion of schol­ars in moral, edu­ca­tion­al, psy­cho­log­i­cal, and faith devel­op­ment the­o­ry. The author inte­grates aca­d­e­m­ic the­o­rists in these areas from Lawrence Kohlberg to John Dewey, Alfie Kohn, Erik Erik­son, Vik­tor Fran­kl and James Fowler. Not stop­ping with the the­o­ret­i­cal, he refers to Jew­ish sources and thinkers such as Mai­monides as well. Kislow­icz also cre­ates mem­o­rable and instruc­tive lessons about par­ent­ing styles in the lives of two fic­tion­al and high­ly rec­og­niz­able Jew­ish fam­i­lies whom he calls the Steins and the Abrams.

The Steins and the Abrams share their val­ues in dif­fer­ent ways, the Steins often tak­ing a more force­ful and pub­lic approach to dis­ci­pline and reli­gious obser­vance, the Abrams tak­ing a more flex­i­ble approach while still main­tain­ing their moral and reli­gious integri­ty. Mr. and Mrs. Stein, for exam­ple, spend time instruct­ing their chil­dren, whether in bas­ket­ball, in mat­ters of Jew­ish obser­vance, and even in plan­ning a bat mitz­vah cel­e­bra­tion, insist­ing that their chil­dren adopt their val­ues. Mr. and Mrs. Abrams, by con­trast, nego­ti­ate with their chil­dren, putting their chil­dren at the cen­ter with­out spoil­ing them, remind­ing them that in both easy and dif­fi­cult times, the fam­i­ly bond should stay unbro­ken. When­ev­er they are in doubt, their moth­er assures them, some ice cream and fam­i­ly time is bound to help!

On a more seri­ous note, the two fam­i­lies wres­tle with com­pelling their chil­dren to attend syn­a­gogue on Shab­bat morn­ings, fig­ur­ing out which issues and val­ues to share out loud, which ones to keep to them­selves, and how to mete out appro­pri­ate dis­ci­pline. While we ask our chil­dren to attend syn­a­gogue with us, speak­ing to the impor­tance of sup­port­ing the com­mu­ni­ty, will they see and come to mim­ic our occa­sion­al bore­dom and impa­tience, even­tu­al­ly resent­ing the syn­a­gogue expe­ri­ence? Is it devel­op­men­tal­ly appro­pri­ate to ask a child to attend syn­a­gogue for the two or three hours that our ser­vices last and are there ways to avoid fight­ing a los­ing bat­tle? As Kislow­icz puts it, there are times when we feel as if talk­ing to an ado­les­cent is like han­dling a but­ter­fly: if we hold the child too close­ly, they may col­lapse and feel crushed by our influ­ence, or if we upset the child or push them aside with too much force, they may flee resent­ful­ly seek­ing freedom.

Kislow­icz encour­ages read­ers to find ways to stay con­nect­ed with our chil­dren, to tell foun­da­tion­al and instruc­tive sto­ries that demon­strate the val­ues that guide us, that brought our fam­i­lies to where they are today, and that help us to be role mod­els as we nego­ti­ate our own chal­lenges as adults who bal­ance work, fam­i­ly respon­si­bil­i­ties, and our own inter­ests. He encour­ages us to prac­tice our val­ues by repeat­ing them day after day over fam­i­ly meals and oth­er infor­mal time together.

This book is unique­ly valu­able for obser­vant Jew­ish fam­i­lies who are rel­a­tive­ly new to par­ent­ing and for Jew­ish day school and syn­a­gogue school edu­ca­tors and to cler­gy who look to Jew­ish tra­di­tion and to psy­chol­o­gy and phi­los­o­phy for guidance.

Relat­ed Reads:

Judd Kruger Lev­ingston, Ph.D. and rab­bi, serves as Direc­tor of Jew­ish Stud­ies at Jack M. Bar­rack Hebrew Acad­e­my in the Philadel­phia area. Lev­ingston is the author of Sow­ing the Seeds of Char­ac­ter: The Moral Edu­ca­tion of Ado­les­cents in Pub­lic and Pri­vate Schools (Praeger, 2009).

Discussion Questions