Rabbi Yonah Goodman
Director of Religious Education, Orot College of Education in Elkana
sometimes, new Olim undergo serious crises when they discover that they don’t understand the language of the native citizens in their new country. Differences in mentality, expectation and nuance often create serious tensions. The root of these difficulties lay in the fact that both sides are simply talking in a different language. This sense of a language gap that divides olim and native Israelis is also an example of what happens in quite a lot of families during summer vacation.
Sometimes, children on vacation expect “freedom from life” in addition to freedom from their studies, living from one pleasure to the other. They eat, shower (sometimes…), take money to run to the next amusement leaving behind dishes, clothes and piles of personal effects for their parents to clean up. In some families, parents work overtime to finance the unending trips to the mall, bowling, summer camps, beach, movies, and the like. Of course, parents want their children to enjoy themselves. But they can also reasonably expect cooperation in running the home as well as a vacation program that also includes worthwhile and meaningful activities. The dog days of summer represent the perfect time to wonder whether our kids’ only role is to enjoy themselves, or whether they should take upon themselves other responsibilities which include helping at home, volunteer work with the needy, Torah learning and other meaningful activities. This gap between our children’s expectation of constant pleasure with their parents’ expectations of summer time infused with meaning often creates internal family tensions.
This introduction leads us to the obvious conclusion: Creating an enjoyable but also meaningful summer (for the parents too) demands parental work. Vacation from school does not coincide with a vacation from parenting. Summertime demands wisdom and creativity in order for everyone to benefit.
I will try to offer some practical tips that may contribute to the creation of a constructive and beneficial family summer.
Planning:Before planning a summer schedule, parents should decide on some basic rules: what’s a reasonable hour for our children to return home? How many hours can they spend on the computer? How much money should we spend (based on age) for our children’s amusement? Only after parents decide on their parameters and expectations can they then proceed to the next step: dialogue with their children.
Dialogue:Parents should discuss summer vacation planning with each child (and adolescent) individually. The conversation needs to be conducted in a positive atmosphere (a plate of cold watermelon never hurts…). The conversation’s point of departure must be geared towards genuine listening, beginning by asking, “What are your expectations from the summer?” This and other guided questions must lead towards thought and discussion regarding both having fun as well as taking part in household responsibilities. “How much time should you dedicate each day to helping around the house?” (Note: not “helping mom”‘ because a clean home is not only a mother’s responsibility, but a “partnership at home”)? Limitations should also be discussed together. “How many hours on the computer seem reasonable to you?” Through dialogue, parents can set behavioral guidelines both inside the house and out for their children for the summertime.
This principle also applies to financial expenses. Some children ask for a small amount of money each day (for the mall, movies, etc.). However, when you add these small requests to the larger expenses (summer camps, trips etc.) the overall financial outlay can grow quite large. In light of this situation, some families determine a fixed monthly budget, and transfer the responsibility to the child to decide when to join his friends in activities that cost money and when to try to convince them to have a kumzitz near home.
Cooperation:Summer is a great opportunity to deepen the parent-child relationship. It is recommended for parents choose a fixed weekly activity with each child. One child might choose art and another sports; one might choose to learn computers (the parent from the child) and one might choose bike riding. The principle is “togetherness”, and the awareness that specifically during the summer we should dedicate more time to our children. This of course, is in addition to the principle of Torah learning.
Personal Example:sometimes we send a double-message. While we expect our child not only to enjoy himself but also to do charitable activities, the family and shared activities aren’t as productive or goal-oriented. The whole family goes out together for a pizza or for a vacation, but on the family level they don’t dedicate time for joint charity activities or Torah learning. The underlying message is that we – as a family – are exempt, and only you, the child has the obligation (for chessed or learning Torah). A healthy personal example includes chessed on the part of the whole family. This can be a one-time activity (family evening of packaging in a soup kitchen) or a fixed activity (weekly cooking of food for the needy).
Instead of a summary: Everything listed here could have been written in any newspaper or journal, not necessarily one geared to the religious community. How can we enlighten, within the family, all which is said here in this article, from our world of faith? What additional values and activities should we foster in order to emphasize our religious-Zionist orientation? During the vacation, how can we strengthen prayer and observance of the mitzvot, piety and the foundations of faith? How can we foster our relationship to the Land and intensify our sensitivity to the poor? In truth, we need to address these questions constantly, both throughout the year and especially during the summer. Through these questions – and the ways that we find to answer them – we will find ways to strengthen our children’s spiritual education, specifically in a religious-Zionist orientation, as a shining light that will shine brightly and influence everything that we do – during the summer, and throughout the entire year!