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Help! Our 6-Year-Old Son Is More Observant Than We Are

Dear Ayelet,

My husband and I send our 6-year-old son to a private, Jewish school that is significantly more traditionally observant than we are. It is important to us that our son have a good Jewish foundation, and he loves the school he attends. However, now he’s coming home wanting to do things that we are not interested in doing — like saying blessings over every snack and meal that we eat.

How do we tell our son that this is not something we do (or plan to do) in our house, without dampening his excitement for Judaism or confusing him?

PUZZLED CLASS MOM

Dear Puzzled,

When I was a kid my father once told me that he’d sit shiva for me if I ever became frum. Was he serious? I doubt it. He’s such a deeply committed atheist that he probably wouldn’t sit shiva for me if I died. But the sentiment is clear. My father is from a generation of Jews that was (and still is) deeply suspicious of religious practice. The idea of having to deal with a child’s keeping kosher or refusing to drive on Shabbos made his blood boil. So I recognize your pain (although it sounds like you suffer from a significantly less dogmatic version of it than he). Those of us who like our religious practice in moderation can get a little impatient with other people’s piousness. Witness my near-annual fury at having to eat a kosher, antibiotic-stuffed Thanksgiving turkey “allegedly” slaughtered, plucked and packed by child laborers thousands of miles away— please don’t get me started on the Rubashkins — rather than a fresh, organic, free-range bird, hand-raised on a bucolic farm 10 miles from my house.

But the way I look at it is this: Those of us without strong religious beliefs have to defer to those who have them (unless, of course, those beliefs hurt others). My sister-in-law is a cantor who is committed to the rules of kashrut. My devotion to all things organic, while bordering on the pious (and, if truth be told, the sanctimonious), doesn’t rise to the same level.

Your child feels, for the moment, like he wants to engage in these religious practices, and after all, you made this bed by sending him to a school that taught him to value them. That’s not to say that you yourself have to pray before every snack. You just have to give him the space to do so.

Little kids are notorious for developing manias. You should hear my kindergartner on the subject of Dr. Who. But these manias almost always pass. And until they do, you might even consider closing your eyes and taking 10 seconds of silence before each meal to contemplate the bounty before you, and the pleasure you take in your boy. Who knows, you might be the one who insists that the practice continue long after he loses interest.


Ayelet Waldman is the author of the novels “Daughter’s Keeper” and “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.” She also penned seven installments of the “Mommy-Track Mystery” series. Her non-fiction book “Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace” will be published in May by Doubleday. Her Web site is www.ayeletwaldman.com.

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