Proactive Parenting: Chanukah

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Dear Dr. T,

I have always loved Chanukah, especially the look on my children’s faces as they receive their gifts. However, the past few years, I have noticed a change. I find that my children get such an overabundance of “stuff” that they lose their appreciation for each individual gift. I catch their eyes darting around looking for the next gift even before the one in their hand is unwrapped. Sometimes they don’t even manage to eke out, “Thanks,” before they turn to their next present. How can I help my children enjoy this special time without their becoming ungrateful, grabby, and whiny?

Merav

Dear Dr. T,

How do we – children and adults – deal with the excesses of Chanukah: too many parties, too much junk food, too many gifts! I find that this holiday is starting to lose its meaning, and that we are hard put to maintain any semblance of perspective or sanity. Your suggestions, please.

Shulamis

Dear Merav and Shulamis,

I certainly share your concerns about the commercialization of this very special holiday. It is reflective of our sorry state of golus that the minhag b’yisrael of Chanukah gelt has been transformed to reflect the December “Holiday Season.” Equally disappointing is that the victory of spirituality (the Torah) over materialism (as represented by the Greeks) has been distorted by the excesses of this period. However, this state of affairs is a topic for some other time.

The good news is that as parents, there is quite a bit you can do in the long run – i.e., in your quest to instill sanity and values in your family. The bad news is that – in the short run – you may need to relax your standards and go with the flow.

Let’s dispense with the short run – the hard part – first. You probably will not be able to control the number of parties, gifts, or treats your kids receive –without earning your child’s undying resentment, that is. You may, however, be able to slow things down; perhaps, for instance, by encouraging the child to put some treats or gifts away for later, when he might appreciate them more. Or, by being proactive and discussing each event beforehand with your child, you may gain his co-operation in preparing a sane plan. Such a plan might include the idea of eating a healthy meal before going to the party, or deciding to open only one gift each day of Chanukah. Having the awareness that you are in an unpredictable, uncontrolled situation allows you to accept the inevitable with grace and remind yourself that one week does not a whole childhood make.

In the long run, after the gifts are shelved and treats devoured, a wise parent knows that his influence – his words, behavior, and value system – carries the most weight in his child’s mind and development. Though a child may exclaim wildly about some fabulous gift or rave about a fun party, the consistent messages his parents send him are what he will remember in the years to come. De-emphasize prices, glitter, comparisons, and size, but emphasize the spiritual meaning of this holiday.

Some families make a big deal out of lighting the menorah, singing “Ma’oz Tzur” together, and playing dreidel with their children. Others model chessed – the joy of giving, particularly to those in need. Whether it is including people who are less fortunate than ourselves, or remembering the elderly and infirm, there are many opportunities for chessed right here in our community. Probably most relevant for your concerns is to stress hakaras hatov (recognizing the good) by both showing appreciation for any gifts we receive and remembering our benefactors. Though that sweater from Aunt Gertrude may not quite be what we had in mind as a “perfect gift,” we can still value her giving and the message behind it. As parents, we do have the power to make a difference and give our children a gift that lasts: positive memories of yom tov with the family and a true understanding of Chanukah.

A wise parent gets the drill and realizes that in the moment, it is difficult to compete with excitement and partying. However, we can never underestimate the power of consistent messages we send repeatedly until they are seared in the brain. Though the excesses are challenging, adopting the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude might allow you to get through the week, and perhaps, even enjoy the festivities.

In moderation…of course.

The Book Nook: Dear Rabbi, Dear Doctor by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD, provides straight answers to tough questions. The author, a renowned rabbi and psychiatrist, covers many of the basic issues that concern parents today. In addition to sections on self-esteem and parent-child relationship, he discusses social/ interpersonal issues, character traits (middos), and haskafah issues.

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