Jewish Parenting Wins
A Conversation with Dr. Deborah Gilboa
For parenting and youth development expert, family physician, media personality, author, mother of four sons, and JWRP Media Magnet Dr. Deborah Gilboa, there’s one Jewish value that guides her parenting above all others. “My kids don’t need to love everything I ask them to do, but they do need to do the right thing,” she said. “And as their parent, I need to have empathy for their confusion and doubt, just like Judaism has empathy for my confusion or doubt about G-d — as long as I continue to be Jewish.” In our conversation, Dr. Gilboa, also known as Dr. G, shares innovative ways to get our kids excited about traveling to Israel, and explains why showing vulnerability can foster beautiful conversations with our teens.
What are some tips for sharing our beliefs about Israel with our kids?
Present your own beliefs about Israel in a way that respects your kids’ opportunity to form their own opinions. When we don’t assume that our kids will have the same opinions as us and when we model how to listen to each other respectfully, we set the stage for less conflict in the future. As parents, we don’t want our kids to take opposing views simply for the sake of opposing us. If we tell them how they need to feel and what they need to believe, they will more likely go in the other direction. Share your own beliefs, but make sure that your kids know that you’re interested in hearing their beliefs and in knowing why they feel the way they do. When you make this clear, you’ll strengthen your relationship with your kids instead of getting into a standoff.
Do you think that teens should get involved in Israel activism? And if so, how?
Parents often complain about their teens’ apathy and lack of motivation. So if your teen wants to get involved in Israel activism, help them look for ways that tap into their interests and that fit financially and philosophically into your life. For example, if your child likes to work with her hands and grow things, she can get involved with an environmental organization in Israel or with an organization that supports sustainability. If you have a kid who loves to cook, he can volunteer with an organization that feeds poor people in Israel or he can attend an Israeli culinary program.
How can we get our kids excited about traveling to Israel?
Start by getting them involved in the trip planning. Ask them what they’d like to do or what they’d like to know more about and plan activities that feed their curiosity. If you have kids who are 10 or older, I recommend giving them the chance to plan one day, which has a set budget and which everyone agrees to. During a family trip to Israel, we gave our kids the opportunity to plan a day together — and they didn’t have any trouble doing it. They chose to spend a full day at Balagan, an arcade near Haifa that’s complete with bouncy houses, bumper cars, a ball pit, and air hockey. We arrived as soon as Balagan opened its doors and left when everyone was ready to go.
How can we engage our teens when talking about our MOMentum Trips to Israel?
Ask your kids questions. For example, have you ever had a transformative experience? Pick out a story or feeling from your trip that you’d like to communicate to your kids and then ask them if they’ve ever had an experience like that. Ask them to share their story and then relate your story to theirs. Also, pick something that didn’t go well during your trip. For example, share with them a time when you felt awkward or out of place and ask them if they’ve ever felt that way. Tell them that you experienced the feeling during your MOMentum Trip and share your story. Teens want to see their parents “being real” with them. Talk about your experience in Israel, while showing your discomfort and fallibility.
How do you recommend fostering a love of Judaism in our kids?
The first thing to do is to figure out why you love Judaism. If you feel like Judaism is only an obligation, then it will be difficult to help your kids feel a connection to it. But when you understand what exactly you like about Judaism, you’ll be able to find ways to pass on your enthusiasm.
At different times in their childhood and adolescence, your kids may see Judaism as all good or all bad. That’s okay and that’s not a parenting fail. Be clear with your kids about what you require them to do, but don’t require them to feel a certain way about it. For example, if they don’t enjoy attending synagogue because they find it boring, you can express your empathy for them. But don’t stop going — unless you’ve decided that it doesn’t make sense for your family anymore. When our kids complain, we often feel like we need to fix things, but we don’t have to.
When talking about Judaism and why it’s meaningful to you, make it your goal for your kids to hear you and don’t make it your goal for them to agree with you. Study after study shows that kids are ultimately influenced and interested by their parents’ passions.