Four simple words


“Because, I said so!”

Four simple words effectively restore order when alternative tactics for ending the cacophony of whys or pleases have not. This declaration can render the most persistent young kvetchers powerless against their authority’s final say on the matter.

Considered a major no-no in child psychology, experts in the field call it “emotionally abusive talk,” which embeds shame, fear and victimization in youngsters. According to Chick Moorman, author of “Parent Talk: Words That Empower, Words That Wound,” such responses send a “silent message [that] ‘I’m big and you’re little. I’m smart and you’re dumb. I have power and you don’t.'”

Juvenile development literature suggests replacing these words with patient listening and reasonable responses that respectfully communicate feelings to the little whiner until they understand. One parenting guru suggests saying something like: “It’s frustrating for me, Mike, when you continue to ask, ‘Why?’ As the grown-up here, I make some of the decisions. This is why I have to say no, because (insert reasons)…. I won’t be changing my mind on this one.”

I’m no child development specialist, but as an educator and rabbi, my professional response is: Ummm, are you kidding?!

Here on earth, anyone who has been around children knows that sometimes — when your 11-year-old is protesting your refusal to let her have three friends over for the weekend while your 2-year-old asks for the 73rd time why he has to stay buckled in the car seat, all while in bumper-to-bumper traffic — the only thing left to communicate is: “Because, I said so!”

And if the result is kids believe they are at the humble mercy of a greater power who needs no reason whatsoever to tell it like it is: good.

I’ve got the Torah backing me up on this one — those four words are the greatest gift a child can be given. Within them lie the secrets of God, creation, personal empowerment and the alchemy of miracles.

In Bereshit we read of creation: beginning with the genesis of light and culminating in the formation of humans — made in their Creator’s image.

Genesis 1:3 explains that from out of chaotic darkness “God said, let there be light, and there was light.” With the declaration of these four words, the Source began to manifest the perfect order of reality: in which what is “is” — because, He said so.

And had Adam been shmendrik enough to nudge for a reason why, that’s what God would have answered. Why does the earth bring forth grass and herb yielding seed? Because God said it did, end of story (well, beginning of story, actually).

There are no reasons offered in the text; no explanations or justifications or rational interpretations exist in the account of Divine creation. God was not reasonable. He didn’t provide logic or meaning for his manifest designs; doing so would turn Him into their effect rather than their cause, which is impossible in the Chief’s case.

And this is how it ought to be for us, when we are truly realized in His image. In Bereshit, humanity is charged with the responsibility of mimicking God’s acts of Genesis: through the power of our words, we are blessed with the capacity to declare from out of the chaos what is — because we say so.

The only thing hindering our creating those direct experiences is the introduction of reasons for why we are generating them. Because with every reason, we further distance ourselves from the truth of what is and what we will allow to become of it.

Reasoning dismantles our power of creation, our ability to be source and master of reality; it locks us into the illusions of mind, where descriptions about something inhibit the emotive experience of it. Every word we waste detailing some interpretation for why something is interferes with a direct experience of its being; we become liars with each story told of some external source that has caused our present circumstance.

Patient explanations for why our assertions make sense are, according to this parsha, the very way we abuse our children. Our being reasonable delivers silent messages that destroy their capacity for greatness, and their reverence of ours. Rationale and justification for our actions convert them instantly into reactions — rendering us at the effect of something out there that is capable of causing in us limitation and powerlessness.

We end up perverting the obvious and necessary inequality between adult and minor. Grown-ups are supposed to be smarter. How is that shameful? How else will children learn to revere the word of their creator if not for their own maker’s effective mastery over reality? If we portray ourselves as victims to rational, out-of-our-control elucidation, how will we inspire creativity or self-empowerment — let alone deference before God — in children?

Bereshit calls for our re-creation; we are reminded to be at the cause of the reality we experience — made manifest by our unreasonable words. We are invited to remember our truth: in the Divine image, we must demonstrate for our young ones the accountability and illogical declarations that are the stuff of miracles manifesting.

While I agree with child psychologists who espouse the value of listening, it’s more important that the child listen rather than the adult. If we teach children to listen well, they will hear in our terse and tired responses the one instruction that can forever set them free to be, do and have the most glorious of life experiences. We’re telling them how they can be liberated from their feeling like powerless victims: “Because, I said so.”

Rabbi Karen Deitsch works as a freelance officiant and lecturer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at karendeitsch@yahoo.com.

Don’t hold your breath on plans for baby


Nothing is more exciting than finding out that you’re having a baby. The moment I found out I was expecting, I began making grand plans. I read the books, spoke to pregnant friends and questioned all the new mommies I knew. Then I made some big decisions.

Disposable diapers were clogging the landfills — I would use cloth. Baby foods had preservatives — I would puree my own. Cavities begin before teeth appear — no bottles in bed.

There would be no junk food, no TV, no yelling, no spanking, no spoiling, no bribing. I would provide only classical music and educational toys. I would never use food for reward or punishment. My baby would never use a pacifier or learn to suck his thumb. The list went on and on, and then our precious son was born.

Shortly after we came home, our son started an interesting habit. When upset, he would cry very hard, turn blue around the lips and make no sound. Then the bluish color would spread until he hysterically gasped for air and turned pink again. I got somewhat used to this routine until he progressed to the point of passing out.

“He’s a breath holder,” the pediatrician said calmly.

“The books said nothing about breath holders,” I wailed.

“It’s not very common, but it happens,” he said. “Don’t worry. He’ll start breathing again as soon as he passes out. Just don’t blow in his face.”

“What?”

“They used to say that if you blow in the baby’s face, he’ll catch his breath,” the pediatrician said. “But it really doesn’t work; it just makes him madder.”

He paused right before administering the vaccination.

“When I give him his shot, he’ll probably start crying,” the pediatrician said as he stabbed the needle into my baby’s thigh.

Sure enough, the crying began, the lips went blue, the face grew ashen and my baby passed out. It happened again with another shot in the other thigh.

As I packed up the diaper bag, sniffling back my own tears, the pediatrician warned me: “Don’t let him manipulate you, or he’ll use breath-holding to get what wants. He’ll grow out of it eventually. See you next month.”

From that moment on, my grand promises were cast aside. Attempting to avoid crying and fainting episodes, I broke my own rules. I kept pacifiers everywhere and shoved one in his mouth at the smallest whimper. When he tired of pacifiers, I taught him how to suck his thumb. When he wanted up, I picked him up.

Diaper changing was a particularly tricky time. He’d be happy and bubbly for the first 30 seconds or so, but if it took any longer than that, he would become frustrated at being on his back and begin to cry. Since I could change disposable more quickly than cloth, I fired the diaper service. Once I had crossed the diaper line, it was easy to give in on anything.

I developed a do-what-works attitude. Why be so rigid? Jar food was just fine. In fact, he ate so much that I switched from organic to whatever was on sale. I used generic wipes on his tender tush.
One time, I found the dog licking his face after a messy spaghetti meal. My son loved it. From then on, I sat him on the kitchen floor and let the dog clean him up after he ate. A mother must find clever ways to make her job easier.

As the doctor predicted, the breath-holding eventually subsided. By the time my second son came along, my child-rearing methods had evolved considerably.

Potty training? M”&”Ms for a tinkle in the toilet. Television? How did we grow up without videos? Spanking? Watch your toddler dash into oncoming traffic and then tell me you never spank. Yelling? Ever seen a cheesecake after 10 minutes in the microwave? Bribery? Try taking two toddlers to the market and see how long it takes before you say: “If you’re good, mommy will buy you….”

That breath-holding baby is now 16 years old. A few thousand dollars in orthodontia fixed the overbite that the thumb caused. He regularly uses the potty without expecting M”&”Ms. The last time he had a shot, he hardly let out a peep.

The only time he holds his breath is when he’s swimming, and the bribery item of choice has progressed from cookies to car keys. He does, however, still eat his way through the grocery store.

So, have your baby, make your plans, set your limits, follow your rules. And when things don’t go the way you expected and the mess is just too big and you feel like crying until you pass out, do what I did — put the baby on the floor and let the dog clean up.

Women Still Struggle to ‘Have It All’


 

More than 30 years after Gloria Steinem founded Ms. Magazine and Sally Priesand was ordained a rabbi, more than 25 years after Judith Resnick became an astronaut and more than 10 years after Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Jewish women, along with their non-Jewish counterparts, have discovered that they can have it all — at a steep price.

Many women must work to support their families, but it turns out that many others just aren’t willing to. They are opting out of lucrative, high-powered positions to stay home, while others are settling for part-time, non-career-track jobs. They are claiming that the all-consuming demands of the workplace are incompatible with the all-consuming demands of childrearing.

They choose to underutilize expensive advanced-degree educations, believing they are rightly making their family’s best interests a top priority.

On the one hand, ostensibly in pursuit of professional lives, American women are earning more than half of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees and constituting almost half of all law school and medical school classes. They are delaying marriage and childbirth and having fewer children, Jewish women even more so, according to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01. And slightly less than one-fifth of all American women, and slightly more than one-quarter of all Jewish American women, are actually remaining childless.

On the other hand, women with children, at whatever age they give birth, are choosing to stay home in greater numbers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, stay-at-home mothers numbered 5.4 million in 2003, about 850,000 more than a decade earlier.

“We got it all, but we didn’t get to lose any of our responsibilities along the way,” said Candice Koral, the mother of two daughters, now 22 and 16, and head of her own nonprofit strategic development company. “It’s really hard. I always feel my life is put together with spit and a prayer.”

So can women realistically have it all? Or do career trajectories irreconcilably collide with biological clocks and children’s needs? And is the American workplace failing to adjust to this reality?

Linda Hirshman, attorney, author and former Brandeis professor, believes that most women are failing themselves.

“They are not bargaining with their partners in family creation to distribute responsibility between them,” she said. “They don’t expect to lead dignified, independent and interesting lives. They expect to take on the whole burden of the family,” she said.

In her research on working women, Hirshman interviewed professional women who’d announced their weddings in The New York Times in 1996. She discovered, unexpectedly, that within eight years, 85 percent had jettisoned their successful careers to stay home full or part time.

She claims that most women are not genuinely engaged in their careers from the get-go and are not willing to work as hard as men.

“The handful who stick it out are passionate about their work and relentless about negotiating with their husbands,” she said.

Hirshman believes this is a hidden social problem in America, a problem that no one is willing to talk about. She says that jobs wouldn’t be all-consuming and all-demanding if men were not freed up by their wives to take them. She also believes that women are not more naturally fitted to be nurturing parents or that it’s a more noble life to be taking care of children than to be president of General Electric.

“If it’s so noble, why aren’t men doing it?” she asked.

There’s no conclusive scientific data on whether women are superior, innate caregivers, clinical psychologist Dr. Jody Kussin said. What is clear, she added, is that in dual-parent families, whether heterosexual or homosexual, one parent tends to be more involved in the day-to-day nurturing of children.

Kussin contended, however, that people are asking the wrong question.

“The question isn’t whether a woman should work or not work,” she said, “but rather what does a woman do with her adulthood?”

For some women, the answer is to forgo having children in favor of a career. Others need to be engaged full time in childrearing. The rest need to carve out their own individual and often intricate niches along the work/family continuum, invariably necessitating compromise and sacrifice.

“What amazes me are the lengths to which women go to figure out what works for them,” said Kimberly Krug, who has worked a flexible but mostly full-time schedule as a travel agent while raising her son, now 15. “There’s no glory in this.”

“There are no role models,” added Leslie Cohen, a partner at Liner, Yankelevitz in Westwood and the mother of 9-year-old twins and a 13-year-old. Cohen, who wanted to be a lawyer since she was 14, has made it her mission to prove that a woman can have a great career as well as great kids that she enjoys.

“I squeeze and I compromise and I accommodate every day,” she said. She is also incredibly judicious about priorities.

“I take my kids to school every single solitary day,” she said, even occasionally asking judges to reschedule hearings.

But she also delegates other tasks to nannies and family members. Her mother, for example, arrives on weekday mornings “to make oatmeal and ponytails.” And she devotes nights and weekends after the kids are asleep to doing work.

But for Siobhan Rudnick, mother of two children, ages 12 and 7, relying on nannies would never happen. Last June, when her husband’s job required more traveling, she voluntarily quit her 30-hour-a-week job as a hair stylist.

“For me, my priority has always been to raise my kids myself,” she said.

And while she misses the adult interaction of work, she found a way to do hair in her home, on her terms, as well as to volunteer more frequently in her children’s schools. She also finds time for hobbies. She still feels always busy, though not as exhausted, and still feels she spends too much time in her car.

“I wish there was a way to do both,” she mused. “But my life isn’t really about me right now. It’s about my kids. I’m happy to be home.”

For public-interest lawyer Audrey Kraus, however, the mother of a 6-year-old, 3-year-old and an infant, work is nondiscretionary. After having her first child, she managed a four-day-a-week litigation job, but as the other kids came along she had to compromise further.

For last four years, Kraus has worked a contained 20-hour-a-week job at the Western Law Center for Disability Rights in Los Angeles, coordinating pro bono cases with other law firms. She sacrificed a career growth path, but she’s working with a population she cares about in a supportive office. And she feels the gains for her family have been immeasurable.

Yet her life still seems divided, with a lot not getting done.

“It feels like we live a chaotic existence between work, Sabbath observance, the children’s care and our community activities,” she said. “That’s pretty much all there is. But it’s a good life, a very rich life.”

Of course, there’s another issue besides adult fulfillment: the well-being of children.

“What’s best for children, and science backs this up, is to have healthy, happy parents who, whether they work or stay home, can put their children’s needs at the forefront,” said Kussin, who teaches and directs a doctoral program at Phillips Graduate Institute in Encino and is the mother of three children, ages 17, 15 and 13.

“Here’s what we know about kids,” she added. “They’re very resilient and they need only two things to have a strong sense of self — a sense of mastery that comes from such activities as doing their own homework or learning to ride a bike and the knowledge that they’re loved and valued.”

Kussin maintained that women don’t have to stay home full time for kids to get those two things, although many policy-makers as well as lay and religious leaders still cling to the “June Cleaver” model of mothering.

“I think society is behind in creating the kinds of opportunities that allow women to take their training and ambitions and reconcile them with their personal lives,” said Kraus, the public-interest lawyer.

And so, 30 years after the second wave of the Feminist Revolution, the challenge of accommodating career and family remains unresolved.

Author Hirshman calls it a “harsh picture.”

Koral, the head of the non-profit, views the matter pragmatically: “This is just a huge issue that everybody has to work through somehow. There is no perfect answer.”

Additional Resources

“The Third Shift: Managing Hard Choices in Our Careers, Homes and Lives as Women” by Michele Bolton (Jossey-Bass 2000).

“Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives” by Anna Fels (Pantheon, 2004).

“Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett (Miramax Books, 2002).

“The Second Shift” by Arlie Russell Hochschild and Anne Machung (Penguin Books, 2003).

“Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” by Judith Warner (Riverhead Books, 2005).

“Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It” by Joan Williams (Oxford University Press, 2001).

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