Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review Feb. 8, 2001 / 15 Shevat 5761

Bar/bat mitzvah blues, homework he-l, from potty to potty-mouth

By Wendy Belzberg -- My son turned thirteen this year. Every weekend he attends the bar or bat mitzvah of one of his classmates. What kind of gift would a thirteen year-old boy or girl like, and what is considered an appropriate amount of money to spend? (When I was growing up people spent $50; I recently mentioned that amount to another mother and she suggested I get with the times.)

Personally, I think the ritual of gift giving should be abolished. Parents should sit down with their child and choose a charity where, in lieu of gifts, donations are made to honor the child on the occasion of his or her bar/bat mitzvah. No child needs the massive quantity of presents that pile up once family, friends and acquaintances are counted. I suggest parents find out what their children want (new watch, cd player and speakers, bike, or even all of the above) and ask family members and close friends to pitch in for those items. After which everyone else should be encouraged to spend his or her money more wisely while affording you the opportunity to teach your child that charity begins at home.

Oh and, about your question. Long gone are the days when an electric pencil sharpener was the number one gift of choice. Today, a gift certificate to an electronics store, music outlet, gym or clothing store would elicit an enthusiastic response. Or maybe a telescope for the boys and jewelry for the girls. If you aren't looking for the "generic gift, " call the child's parents and ask what their child would like. As for how much you should spend? The sky's the limit if your money is going to charity. Failing that, pick the number you feel comfortable with. Remember, it was not that long ago that the person you are shopping for still slept with a stuffed animal.

I finally succeeded in teaching my irascible six-year-old son to use his words instead of his hands. He no longer throws punches-or anything else-when he loses his temper. I believe whatever language he chooses to use to express his anger, including calling his brother or me names, is an acceptable and honest expression of his feelings. So I was shocked when a close friend of mine who recently witnessed one of my son's tantrums was horrified and told me that I should discipline my son for his outburst. Who's right?

Which of my answers do you find more digestible: you moron, you show the judgment of a simpleton and should be sentenced to parenting rehab before being allowed to conceive another child. Or, allowing your son to show such disrespect to another human being, much less his own mother, may send the wrong message. Both versions are honest expressions of how I feel.

You are wise to allow your son to express his anger; too many parents clamp down on their children at the smallest sign of defiance, which leaves too many strong feelings bottled up for later in life. There is a big difference, however, between allowing your son to say he is angry with you--very angry-and informing you that you're a stupid .. (I swiftly disciplined my son for trying out that line on me.)

By teaching your son that using violence is no way to resolve conflict you have begun to give him the tools he needs to live in a civilized society. Don't short-change him now. The concept remains the same; it all boils down to respect.

My son goes to a Jewish day school and so has double the workload of many children his age. He is nine-years-old. My problem is he does not want to do his homework. He has about an hour of work a day and from the minute he comes home from school I feel like we are engaged in battle. I encourage, push, prod, threaten and punish. Nothing seems to work. Do you have any suggestions?

Try doing nothing at all. Your tuition pays for your son to have a full-time teacher whose job it is to assign homework and to make sure it gets done. If he is not getting his work done, that is between him and the teacher who assigned it. And there is no better way to teach this particular lesson then to send your son to school unprepared. If he is not taught now that he is responsible for getting his own work done, the battle you are currently engaged in will turn into an all-out war when your son gets older. Meet with your son's teacher and describe in detail what goes on in your house surrounding homework. Then take advantage of a moment when you don't need to police or interfere. For most mothers, moments like these don't present themselves very often.

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11/08/00: OY VEY! my son wants to become Orthodox; kiddies should avoid family therapy
11/08/00: Rabbi v. therapist, grandparents bearing gifts, I want my son's teacher for a sister-in-law
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10/03/00: I'm not Jewish --- not that there's anything wrong with it; mezuza machlokes; when granddad has cancer
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08/21/00: When one spouse becomes more religious than the other; "But the cleaning lady is part of the family!"; Why He invented 9-month gestation periods
08/21/00: 'Fessing up to granny about abandoning one's people, non-kosher sis-in-law, and 'my niece is marrying a loser'
08/14/00: Marrying 'in' for questionable motivations; Should a do-gooder be reimbursed?
08/07/00: Communing with the clouds, betrothal, and banishing bosses
07/28/00: Small-city guys, self-centered siblings
07/21/00: When a child takes religion seriously, marriage obsession, and guests who just don't get it
07/14/00: Divorcing brother-in-law, uncampy kids, and a dot.comer who makes it big time
07/07/00: Hypocrites, reality checks, and the 'real estate challenged'


© 2001, Wendy Belzberg