October 26, 2017
6 Cheshvan 5778
I have the most vivid childhood memory.
I was 8 years old, and my Mom took me to an amazing amusement park. Being the incredibly mature and responsible “big kid” that I honestly thought I was, I wanted to walk in the park by myself. I didn’t need my parents there, I didn’t need them to baby me. Little Ari could handle this, right? Well, my Mom acquiesced, and the next thing I knew, I was walking all alone and it was amazing. After about 10 minutes, I remember looking around for my Mom, and there she was...close enough, yet far enough away for me to feel that independence I craved. In hindsight, and now as a parent, I am CERTAIN she had all eyes on me at every moment, yet I didn’t realize at the time that I was being chaperoned. (She’s a Jewish Mother, you think she actually let me walk alone?)
Isn’t that the dance we do as parents? We want to hold tight, yet we know we need to let go so our children can flourish, learn from mistakes and gain independence. It’s a tightrope, a delicate path, we hold on, we let go, we hold on again. OY! The parenting literature I’ve read also seems to do that dance between being a helicopter parent, blessing their skinned knees and allowing what author Lenore Skenazy calls “Free-Range Kids”, which essentially means to let children roam free.
I’m personally not a fan of the Free-Range concept. I assert that it gives our children too much autonomy. It allows these adolescents to make choices that are perhaps not in their best interest, or not for the right reasons. Recently, one of my daughters (who will go unnamed!) told me that she they didn’t want to participate in an activity. After some digging, I learned that it was because a specific friend wasn’t participating. She would have missed out on a special opportunity, had I allowed her to make the choice in free-range style and resort to “group think” (taking a page from Alan Minsk’s playbook: “Google It”).
This week in Parsha, we encounter the first of our patriarchs, Abraham. The Rabbis view his life as one of a series of tests:
“Avraham was tested with ten trials and he withstood them all.
This demonstrates the extent of Avraham’s love (for Gd).” (Avot 5:4)
Abraham manifests his love for Gd by doing what Gd asked of him. So too, as parents, our job is to create a relationship of trust and love with our children so that they have faith in what we say even when they disagree with us. Perhaps our greatest test as parents, is to recall that just as Gd pushed Abraham in the right direction, so too we as parents - at times - need to make choices for our children to keep them headed in the right direction.
I had an interesting realization last week as I walked with a prospective family who was touring the school. There were 5 people on the tour - including parents and the students - as we see on most tours. That stayed with me. Here we are, an AJA family, and we invite these new families into our school with open arms. We don’t just welcome the child, we open our doors and encourage the entire family to join our community.
I noticed that one student commented on the sports trophies in the hall, the other was in awe of our theater. The parents, as expected, were more focused on the Academics and faculty/student ratios. That resonated with me - the importance of balance between what we as parents want for our children and know what is best for them, and what they want for themselves. I loved the dialogue between this family as they each highlighted what they liked the most about AJA and had an interactive and open conversation.
And then, the Mom summed it up for her children in one sentence: “This is definitely a family discussion, but it’s a parental decision”. No free-range parenting here. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the brain doesn't finish developing and maturing until one is mid- to late-20s. Our teens base their decisions on their current world at that moment and their “group think”. At the end of the day, studies show that a teen’s brain is not developed enough to make worldly decisions. This Mom clearly got that memo.
Back to “Little Ari”- I now realize that my Mom gave me the sense that I had total control and autonomy, while all the while she “had my back” and her eyes never left me for a minute. If I had started to make a wrong turn or head in a bad direction, I have no doubt my Mom would have stepped in to guide me accordingly.
Our faculty and staff all have our eyes on your children. We are here to help them flourish, learn from mistakes and gain independence in this academic setting. I’m grateful for this school and feel so blessed to be a part of this family - not only as your Head of School, but also as a parent!