Sara Teichman, Psy D.
Dear Dr. T,
To be totally honest, I really dread Pesach vacation. So many days off from school – I can’t even begin to think how I will keep my children occupied. I know that yom tov should be meaningful and uplifting for my family and me, but, frankly, I’ll be glad if I survive!
I would appreciate any advice you might offer,
I would imagine that like most of us you are overwhelmed and stressed-out from Pesach preparations, and the thought of another project – that of managing the yom tov wants and needs of your children – just pushes you over the edge. The good news is that it is doable, but you need to step away a bit, and begin to plan proactively.
Begin at the end – as the saying goes, “No road is a good road if you don’t know where it’s going.” What are you goals for your family during yom tov? What choices can you make that will get you the results you want? What are the appropriate means to your end?
Aside from our bread-and-butter concerns (like food, clothing, medical needs), most of us parents want our children to enjoy their childhood. We work hard at providing quality time, connection, and stimulating, positive experiences for our children. As Torah Jews, we particularly want our children to look back on memories of a happy childhood. This is both our chinuch responsibility and our insurance policy, for it has often been noted that people tend to stay in a system that works for them. Making the yom tov experience a positive one is a vital piece in bringing up our children to continue on the path we set for them.
Let’s look at some possible choices that would support our goal of a relaxed, yet high-quality, yom tov experience for our family.
- Choose people over things. Always.
You could make that fudge meringue dream while your children wait around watching you melt the chocolate, beat the egg whites, prepare three layer pans…you get the drift. Desserts are a wonderful treat, but not at the expense of family time.
- Choose mental health over that final straw – whatever it is. You know your limits. Before you’ve reached them, stop! No one activity is worth your peace of mind.
It would be nice to invite your crotchety upstairs neighbor for all of yom tov – after all, she is lonely. But, you know that listening to her complain at every meal is way more than you handle, so you settle for having her for two lunch meals.
- Include your children in the planning stages to insure their buy-in and enjoyment.
How do they want to participate at the seder – Ma Nishtana? Divrei Torah? Hallel? What chores are they good at – and enjoy? Do they want to invite a friend? Go to a friend? What is their idea of chol hamoed fun?
- Yom tov involves lots of sitting at meals, more than some children – and adults – can bear. Develop a user-friendly time frame that factors in the age and stamina of each child. Discuss your expectations with each child before the meals begin and after the allotted time at the table, excuse the child gesunderheit.
Prepare toys and games in another room so that the kids are occupied. You may even choose to have a rotation of teen or adults to supervise the little ones.
- The seder is the centerpiece of Pesach, and while the older child may appreciate its significance, younger children – afikomen notwithstanding – are often bored. It is a worthwhile challenge to figure out a way of including the younger set and catering to their interests while not ignoring the adults and invited guests. In a family with young children, you may want to skip the guests altogether in order to focus on the kids.
Your cousin Harry from San Antonio is in town and wants to crash on your sofa for the first two nights to join you at your seder. Harry is an easy guest, and he can be quite funny – and distracting. You let him know that the last days of yom tov are a better option for your family.
- Discuss the family guidelines for afikomen before the seder. By developing reasonable expectations beforehand, parents save both their children and themselves lots of anguish.
Who will steal? Which night? What is a fair price – an American Girl doll or a 99 Cent Store prize? When can the child reasonably expect to receive his prize?
- Maintain some structure in the home, even if it is vacation. Serve three healthymeals and maintain a (relaxed) bedtime. Children behave well when they feelwell; tired and hungry children tend to be cranky and contentious.
I hope some of these ideas prove helpful and help you look forward to a chag kasher v’sameach.
The Book Nook: Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson. Though not strictly a parenting title, this very short book talks about doing things differently when we want different results. Engaging and easy to read, this book is a must for any growing person interested in change.
Sara Teichman, Psy D. is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles and Clinical Director of ETTA, L.A.’s largest Jewish agency for adults with special needs. To submit a question or comment, email DrT@jewishhomela.com