“Jew-tachment Parenting” - The Shabbat Meal
Ever since my wife and I became parents just over 10 years ago, we decided we were going to adopt the model of “Attachment Parenting”. The best description I have for attachment parenting is a parenting model where the family functions as one organic unit, and keeps kids and parents together, in a healthy way, as an ideal not just out of necessity.
The model my wife and I adopted involves us supporting long term breastfeeding, holding our kids with slings, ergos and the good ol’-fashioned holding them in your arms, co-sleeping and spending a lot of time together. Some families who believe in attachment parenting go a step further and implement home-school as well. Attachment parenting is the antithesis of leaving your child at 3 - 6 months to go to work, while leaving your child at an infantry, or ma’on. Our belief is that a kid can start attending a framework outside of the family setting, whether it be a school, infantry, camp or other, when they are ready emotionally and psychologically to spend significant time outside of the home.
In short, the focus of attachment parenting is to parent focused on the child’s own development and not according to the parent’s personal convenience. This model has many challenges, specifically when there are conflicts between the values of attachment parenting to keeping Halacha.
Whether you agree with this model or do not, is not the focus of this article, nor is this article’s purpose to criticize other parenting models. To each his/her own! Rather, the question that my wife and I have always grappled with is how can we keep Halacha appropriately while still maintaining the values of attachment parenting? What sacrifices do we need to make, on either end, in order to maintain our family balance, impart educational values on our children, and still keep Halacha authentically?
Challenge #1: The Shabbat Meal
Bedtime. It is the greatest blessing and the greatest curse of parenting! What parent doesn’t have “War stories” about their kids’ bedtime? Whether it be incessant back-and-forth struggle to put kids to bed, how to get kids to sleep in THEIR OWN BEDS, night waking, teeth brushing, how many (if at all) bedime stories to tell, and the list goes on. The most critical aspect of bedtime is the timing of it. Generally, in most North American families who are strict about bedtime, children under the age of 7 are usually asleep by 7pm. Assuming this is the general time kids are asleep, this presents a unique challenge for Shabbat meal - specifically on Friday night. How can a family have a meaningful Shabbat meal, creating a long-lasting positive memory for the children while still respecting the bedtime routine? What needs to be sacrificed? How can a family achieve all three goals?
We will present the three values and break them down, what the conflicts between the values are, if parents try to achieve all three of them, and suggest some potential solutions.
First goal: Establishing a consistent the bedtime routine. Children need routines. Children thrive on routines. Just ask any teacher, parent or any expert in child rearing and they will tell you the same. Bedtime is a staple for all routines, and sets the tone for the children’s wellbeing and sets them up for success. If the bedtime routine is consistent, then the children wake up well rested, and are healthier for the coming day, whereas if bedtime is inconsistent and gets pushed off the children will be tired for the coming day and will be challenged to function normally.
Recently, studies have been taking a factual look into the effect bedtime has on children’t behavior. Here is one study’s conclusion:
After tracking the sleep habits and daytime behaviors of children ages 3, 5, and 7, and checking in with families, researchers found that when children's bedtimes were inconsistent, behavior suffered. And the more variable children's bedtime patterns were, the worse the children's behavior became.
Going to bed late was an especially big problem. Children who went to bed after 9pm had more behavioral problems than those who had earlier lights out.
The researchers believe the behavior problems may occur because irregular bedtimes interrupt a child's normal, 24-hour circadian patterns and therefore disrupt a child's physical and mental functioning.
Sleep is also important for the maturation of parts of the brain that are involved in the regulation of behavior. Children who have inconsistent bedtimes often also get less and lower quality sleep, which can interfere with brain development, creating effects that can last into later life.
Second goal: Creating a positive experience for children around the Shabbat table. Beyond the halachic obligations of the Shabbat meal, there is a focus on creating positive memories by engaging the children in a positive Shabbat atmosphere. Do we want our children to be falling asleep or alternatively acting out because of lack of sleep? Or do you want your children to remember the Shabbat meal as an amazing time they spent with their family?
Shabbat is an opportune time to create a positive family environment, sing Shabbat songs, give blessings to our children, talk about the Parasha and share your favorite moments of the week. The meal is where relationships are forged and where memories are cemented. The experience at the Shabbat table can define the child’s level of connection to Shabbat for years to come.
I recall a scenario when we were in Canada at a family’s home for Shabbat and it got really late, even though it was winter and Shabbat comes in around 4pm. The father goes with his kids to Shul on Friday night, and it happened to be a Carlebach style Kaballat Shabbat. I came with my kids as well, even though they usually do not come to Shul Friday nights. We eventually returned to their home around 6:30pm, which is usually past dinner, and beginning of bedtime in our home. His kids were tired as well. The father, oblivious to the children’s level of fatigue, started to sing Shalom Aleichem in the slowest possible niggun. Initially, I thought he was cracking a joke, until I realized, halfway into the second verse, that this was how he was running the Shabbat table. The children, both his and mine, were becoming mischievous by the minute, starting to fight and their patented night-whining routine. I remember asking myself - “Why put our kids through this challenge? Why should they or I be in a situation where we need to constantly discipline them, especially when the kids have an unfair disadavantage? We need to stop and feed the kids!”. The meal was challenging, indeed, but could have been a positive experience if only we had focused on making it so!
Third goal: Keeping Halacha. For Orthodox, Traditional or any denomination there is always the anchor of Halacha to keep us grounded. I will not define Halacha in my blog series, and all I will present is the Halachot I keep as an Orthodox Jew.
There are several Halachic components to the meal:
These seven components are a staple at pretty much every Shabbat table I have participated in. Out of the seven, there are only a few critical criteria to a Shabbat meal - Kiddush, which is essentially accepting Shabbat, Hamotzi - the Lechem Mishneh, and Birkat HaMazon. The overarching mitzvah (which is not a custom, rather a requirement) is Oneg Shabbat - seeking pleasure on Shabbat. This is a positive commandment. Oneg Shabbat refers to the quality of the food, mainly, and general atmosphere around the Shabbat table - an atmosphere of enjoyment and fulfillment. Juggling these mitzvot given the two previous goals is not as easy as one expects, especially if a family wants to observe these Halachot as a family, and not reserve them for the father/parents exclusively.
The real issue as far as balancing bedtime with the meal is the timing of the Shabbat Meal. According to the Shulchan Aruch in two separate halachot - one may bring in the Shabbat from the time of pelag hamincha, which is approximately 72 minutes prior to the acceptable Shabbat time we follow throughout the year (which is itself 18 to 36 minutes before Sunset). In other words, the earliest time for bringing in Shabbat is up to an hour and 40 minutes before Sunset, which enables the flexibility for making the meal earlier. Moreover, one is allowed to make Kiddush from the moment Shabbat officially enters, even at its earliest point.
(שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן רמט, הלכה ד’ & סימן רסג הלכה ד)
The Balancing Act - Proposed solutions!
#1- Light & Eat
One of the solutions.my family incorporates is eating the Shabbat meal immediately after candle lighting, even in the wintertime some weeks. The Shulchan Aruch states that once one brings in Shabbat at pelag hamincha, approximately 1.25 sha’ot zemaniyot, or halachic hours, before Shabbat, one can eat immediately. The context of the halacha is the fact that many communities elected to daven while it was daytime in order to return to their home safely by foot. Making kiddush also constitutes accepting Shabbat.
Therefore, one can technically eat and then complete Tefilla of kabbalat Shabbat amd Maariv.after the.meal. (Mincha needs to be said before plag hamincha in this case).
The benefit of this model is primarily the timing of the Shabbat meal. A family can keep a consistent dinner time and bedtime routine, while.enjoying.the Shabbat.meal, having.meaningful.conversations and not having to rush things because the kids are.melting or acting out.
#2 - Late Shabbat Minyan
The extension of the first suggestion is having a parents minyan after the meal. What if a group can organize a minyan after bedtime, in order.to support a family friendly Shabbat meal as suggested above? What if Kaballat Shabbat would start 1 hour after Shabbat.arrives? This could be a creative solution to the having your meal.and daven too approach.
#3 - The Kid Meal (Before Shabbat)
When I was a teenager in Toronto, I visited a family I knew well on Friday right before Shabbat and experienced “The kid meal”. Music was.blasting, the father was feeding everyone food and there was a fun.pre-Shabbat environment.in.the house. The time: 630pm. It was summer and Shabbat only came in at 830pm. The kids had a blast, and the.parents.put them to.bed on time. After dark and shul, the adults sat down to a proper.Shabbat meal. A true win-win situation.
There are.definitely other solutions and creative ways to balance all three goals. What other.ways can your family facilitate a positive & halachic Shabbat environment?
As parents who.have a kid-first approach to child rearing, we have a drive to create positive, long-lasting memories for our kids. Those.impressions will stay with them forever. Will those memories be a tense, rushed meal, or a nurturing and fun Shabbat table? Attachment parenting is challenging in today’s busy world, but definitely attainable. What balance will you create in your home?
Ariel Tal is a Teacher at Machon Meir, the Marketing Director and has an independent Project - The Tefilla Project (www.thetefillaproject.com), enhancing Tefilla in schools and communities around the world.