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Change Our Children Can Believe In

Last week, in an effort to woo my 9-year-old] daughter from the comfort of her bed, I offered to bring her clothes to her. Contrary to her assurances the night before, nothing had been laid out. So I began searching through the array of possibilities. Shirt after shirt came out of the drawer and each time the response was the same, “No, too small, definitely too small — give it away.” Her conclusion: “I need some new things!”

As a matter of course I go through the drawers with my children every few months to see what is ready to be passed on to another kid or tossed. All the shirts my daughter discarded last week were one or two sizes two small; a few dated back as many as four years. Only a few weeks back I had touched these same garments and asked if they should be put aside, only to be assured “They FIT!” On a recent trip to the mall, I had suggested looking at t-shirts, only to be rebuffed. “No thanks, I don’t need anything,” my daughter told me then.

Before I began to roll my eyes or raise my voice in frustration, I took a deep breath in and remembered the old light bulb joke: “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change.”

This time of year, we are hit with all the ads and promotions for health clubs and diet plans. The New Year has started; NOW is the time to make changes. For Jews living in America, this is our second call to action; a second chance in case you missed out at Rosh Hashana. But experience tells us that making resolutions is very different from keeping them. Often the passing of these dates can feel like yet another failure to live up the promise and potential that we and others hope for us.

Last year, I began a program of intensive spiritual training for rabbis that encouraged us to take on yoga and meditation as a regular practice. In between retreats, I would check in with our teachers and my study partners who would gently ask about my commitments to these modes of practice. But as much as I loved the retreats, I was in no hurry to make a real change in my life. It took a year of kind encouragement and three retreats before I truly made the commitment to myself to make the changes.

As a parent, I am often in the position of demanding that my children change their behaviors. Almost as often, I am met with strong resistance. This can be infuriating when the change is something I know will benefit them, like having clothes that fit. It can be hard to remember, when we are once again searching for boots or homework, that change is more than a matter of raising your voice and insisting on it.

When it came to the clothing, I was able to step back along the way and remind myself that no harm would come from snug shirts or too-short pants. I was able to recognize that having moved three times in four years, my daughter might have strong attachments to these pieces of cloth — tactile reminders of the places she had lived and the people she loves.

Admittedly I don’t always have the luxury of allowing things to move at their own pace. The immediate goal on any given day may be compliance but the lifelong goal is real change, the internalization of the understanding of the benefit of change, the desire and the openness to change. As parents, we can’t make that happen, but we can enable it with continued encouragement — and more than a modicum of patience.

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