June 16, 2024
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How to ‘Make Some Room’

I am writing in response to the letter to the editor titled “Let’s Make Some Room” (September 8, 2022). The author shares her daughter’s painful experience of feeling excluded and not having friends to hang out with on Shabbat and Yom Tov. She expresses her own sadness and provides recommendations to other moms to help her daughter and others in this difficult situation. Before I share my thoughts, I want the author and all your readers to understand that I acknowledge that this is a sensitive topic and am truly coming from a place of empathy. Of course, I am 100% in agreement with promoting kindness and inclusivity on both the personal as well as the communal level; however, I question some of her recommendations as being effective.

For example, telling our kids as they leave for school each day to be kind and hoping that this mantra sinks in is just lip service and when you think about it from your child’s perspective it is nagging and annoying. It is like saying each day “Behave,” “Be organized,’’ “Stay focused in class” etc. These are just words without real meaning. A child being kind comes from years of watching those around him/her practice and role model kindness. Children internalize what they see and then are able to carry out those lessons. The kids who need to be reminded to be kind may not even know what that instruction means.

The author also recommends moms to encourage their daughters to include her daughter when they get together. Again, I’m all for inclusion and making others feel welcomed, I just question if this is a strategy that would have positive outcomes especially when dealing with middle school- aged kids rather than elementary age. I can’t imagine anyone would feel good and comfortable hanging out with a group knowing that the invitation resulted from cajoling on the part of a mom. I will never forget a Shabbat invitation I received in 11th grade. I had switched to a new school and was having a very hard time socially. A girl invited me for Shabbat “to be nice.” This was not someone that I felt any connection with and I knew the invitation was coming from a place of chesed. Although I appreciated her good intentions, her reaching out seemed unnatural and did little to alleviate my feeling excluded and lonely. It took time and effort but eventually I got invitations from girls who wanted to hang out with me. Girls that saw what I had to offer and enjoyed my company not because they felt bad for me.

I’d like to share a few recommendations in dealing with the difficult situation described in the letter. (1) Increase our own positive and upbeat attitude. Our child knows if we feel sad and upset about a situation he/she will mirror this. When we put a smile on our face and bring fun and laughter into the house our child feeds off our positivity. Order a new game to play. Sit and just talk and enjoy your child’s company, Do food prep together or engage in other activities that your child likes. (2) Focus on what we and our child can control. We cannot control what others do whether it’s the mom or her child. We can only control ourselves and our response to situations. When we request of others and wait until they comply we set ourselves up for unhappiness and frustration. Ask the question “What can I do to make a difficult situation better?” Perhaps your child could reach out to someone else in the grade who is also “not popular” and invite her over. Is there a mom with a bunch of little kids who would love some help on Shabbat afternoon? Could we host a family or two for lunch so the afternoon is more social and exciting? When we take the reins of dealing with a situation to improve it, we feel so much better.(3) Appreciate the natural process of experiencing many ups and downs in life. It is how we respond to those downs that creates resilience and the ability to be content throughout all the “seasons.”

A person hears no after no when looking for a new job or a person experiences this hurtful word after every date. Eventually the right job and the right person comes along. So too with our kids. When we allow things to progress naturally, they ultimately find others who they connect with and can form meaningful friendships.

Rivka Stern
Teaneck
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