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Jumpstarting Your Child’s Life
Parenting an At-Risk Teen
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: The Jewish Press

  Rated by 15 users   |   Viewed 14376 times since 8/16/07   |   31 Comments
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8/16/07

Dear Readers:

With a heart filled with gratitude to Hashem, it is my pleasure to inform you that my wife Udi and I became grandparents (for the first time) this past Tuesday night when our children Shlomie and Kaila Horowitz had a baby boy. Mazel tov to our mechutanim Ovadiah and Rochel Kranz; to our parents Shlomo and Beile Nutovic and Leibel and Bracha Berger.

Should you wish to share mazel tov wishes with us, please email my wife at udi528@aol.com. She is incredibly gracious and understanding about sharing me with the klal, and I am sure that she will be pleased to hear from you.

May we always share besuros tovos with each other.

Yakov Horowitz

--------------------------------------

Imagine going for a walk one winter morning and finding your neighbor sitting in his car vigorously turning the steering wheel – while the engine is shut off. When you ask him why he doesn’t start the car, he responds that his battery died, and he will soon get jumper cables to ‘give it a boost’. However, before he does that, he would like to

turn the front wheels away from the curb so that he can instantly be able to pull out of the parking space once his automobile starts. You may walk away wondering why he is exerting so much energy turning the wheel of a stalled car, instead of waiting until the engine starts and the power steering kicks in.

This analogy reflects my thinking of how parents can be most helpful in assisting their at-risk teens get back on track. Very often, and understandably so, parents start helping their struggling kids by addressing the antisocial behaviors (partying or drug/alcohol abuse) or the rejection of Torah values (not keeping Shabbos or inappropriate attire). I have found, however, that the most effective thing that parents can do to really help their child is to assist him/her in getting his/her life in order. Once that is accomplished, it is far, far easier to help him/her with the other matters.

You see, as long as your teen is unhappy and/or unproductive, it is as if his/her life is on hold – as the vehicle of his/her life is stalled. The ‘power steering’ that enables positive change to occur and a sense of spirituality to develop can only kick in when the engine of accomplishment is turned on. You can exert a great deal of force turning the wheel while the engine is off, but you will be draining your energy, shredding the tires and digging trenches in your driveway while this is going on. It is much wiser to work on helping him/her achieve success first. The rest will follow, with the help of Hashem.

I often tell parents of at-risk teens to follow the sage advice of the Kotzker Rebbe (Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, 1787-1859) who noted that the Torah informs us (Shmos 22:30) "V'anshei kodesh te'heyu li – people of holiness shall you be to Me.” The rebbi pointed out that the Torah places the word anshei before kodesh, in effect telling us to be a ‘mentch’ before attempting to achieve spirituality (his exact works in Yiddish were, “kodem a mench un nach dem heilig – first [become] a [refined] human being, and only then [strive to become more] holy).

While the rebbi did not express these thoughts in terms of at-risk teens, I feel that this concept represents the most effective way for parents to chart a course for the lives of their at-risk kids. Help them become ‘mentchen’ – functioning, productive young adults who have a reason to wake up in the morning, who feel that each day is a gift that ought to be unwrapped as the treasure that it is – before you work on the at-risk symptoms. For once they become happier and more productive; you will find it so much easier to ‘turn the wheel.’

In a very practical sense, it means to help him/her get a GED, or better yet help him/her resume schooling in a mainstream high school, yeshiva or college setting. Send him/her for career counseling and get him/her a job. Tell your child that you are in this together and you will always love him/her forever (you may get a roll of the eyes, but I can assure you that your child will be eternally grateful for this). Get your child into therapy if there are ‘issues’ that need to be resolved. Show leadership and express your love for your child by going for counseling yourself to help you effectively parent your child through this challenging stage in his/her life.

Please print this line and affix it to your desk or refrigerator. It is one of my favorites and I tell it to parents every time that I lecture on parenting at-risk teens. “No One Ever Changed the Oil in a Rented Car.” That means that the more ownership your teen feels in his/her life, the more likely he/she will be to avoid reckless and life-threatening behaviors. Giving them the keys to their lives will give them the ‘boost’ they need.

I would also suggest that you carefully study the theory of Abraham Maslow on “The Hierarchy of Needs.” (Click here) He suggests that there are five sequential ‘needs’ aligned like a pyramid. Once the more basic needs are met – safety, security, and belonging – a person can begin to work on achieving success and self-actualizing. In plain simple English, that means that if you lecture an unhappy, unfulfilled teenager about his davening or lack thereof, it is unlikely that your efforts will meet with much success. As with all theories, you need not agree with it in its entirety (I don’t), but there are profound lessons to be learned from his thoughts.

I will close this column with a final thought and plea. Please, please ignore your neighbors and societal pressure and l’maan Hashem do what is right for your child. Our patriarch Yaakov Avinu had the wisdom and fortitude to acknowledge the diversity of his children’s natures and abilities in his final blessings to them (see Bereshis 49). He celebrated their individuality, did not try to force one into the other’s shoes – and was rewarded by having all his children follow his path of serving Hashem. Parents who ignore the sage advice of his living example often pay a horrific price. Over the years, I have seen far too many children sacrificed on the altar of “what will the neighbors say?” when out-of-the-box children are forced into settings that do not match their natures. Keep your eye on doing what is right for your child. That’s all that really matters.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Next Week: What to do if you suspect that your child is experimenting with drugs or abusing alcohol.



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1.     8/17/07 - 12:41 PM
Anonymous

So much wisdom wrapped up in one posting. As a parent with hindsight, I can say there is much sage advice here, and I can attest to the danger of ignoring it. We must, somehow, fortify ourselves to ignore the communal pressures and do the right thing for our children. And it is best if the help to straighten out their lives comes from within the fold, not from outside, so that they might eventually acknowledge that help and return.


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2. Problem opening your site on Safari (running on a Mac)     8/17/07 - 2:05 PM
Mac user - Los Angeles, CA

My wife's comment about the website on Safari browser:

R. Horowitz' whole url crashes my browser (which is Safari 1.3.2 (v. 132.6) running on a Mac).


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3.     8/19/07 - 5:10 AM
MS - RBS

Rabbi Horowitz, Thank your for yet another outstanding article. Sometimes ignoring the neighbors means changing schools to more open-minded schools and this is not always easy when living in a close-knit heimishe community. However, always keep in mind that if chas vesholom a child slips off the path you will be "on your own!!!". Suddenly all the friendly neighbors that you were trying to please and impress will avoid you and sometimes even start a petition to have you move out of the neighborhood. Better to put up with a few comments or even losing some "friends" but give your child what he needs. Reb Akiva was 40 when he started learning. His wife advised him to join a cheder at his level to learn the basics. He felt too embarrased to sit with kids. She made him take a donkey into the marketplace with grass growing on its back. The first day everyone came and looked and questioned, the second day much less and by the 3rd day no-one noticed anymore. The message was: get over the initial embarrassment and no one will pay anymore attention. This is what we all need to do. Forget about the comments from the neighbors/parents/in-laws. You know what your kid needs most and DO IT!!! The results will usually be generations of yiddishe nachas.


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4. Unhappy teenagers - W Glasser     8/19/07 - 10:06 AM
AK

Rabbi, Thanks for an inspiring article. Here is a review/summary of the book Unhappy Teenagers which a friend was recommended by a Rov who works with families.http://www.explosivekids.org/dcforum/DCForumID2/158.html We are dealing with the nefesh of the child and this only true educators, parents can relate too. Instead of Ahavas Yisroel , people are being judgmental. Parents of challenging kids need support.

Experts say it's typical for parents with an ODD child to feel isolated. "You don't know anything about kids like this until you have one," says Ross Greene, PhD, director of a cognitive behavioral psychology program at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of The Explosive Child (HarperCollins). "Until people have been in your shoes they have no idea."

The advice to parents is to discuss your challenging child with those who have been there or those who are supportive and non-judgmental. Unfortunately like the Rabbi said very few in the community can understand or relate to what you are going through


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5. The wisdom of Rabbi Horowitz     8/20/07 - 9:02 PM
Anonymous

This article is so deep in thought if you were to read rabbi horrowitz.com almost every aricle on the website you would see that everthing is in this one article this article represents RABBI HOROWITZ

and as a trobled teen im telling you all that this article should be hung in every shul and mailed to every jewish home


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6.     8/20/07 - 9:23 PM
Anonymous

"very few in the community can understand or relate to what you are going through"

I have been trying, unsuccessfully, for years to join or start a network of parents of struggling kids. I have spoken to organizations and individuals, but this simply does not get off the ground, despite many people saying they are interested to facilitate such a group. As for leadership, it would really have to be someone who can truly understand and relate, not just from a textbook perspective (via license to practice in mental health field) As for participants, it seems that people don't want to come forth and identify themselves as being in this "category". And I have never met school administration even willing to address the issue.

Perhaps now? Perhaps after the exposure to the situation in the Catskills, and the warnings that there is no end in sight?

Can we now acknowledge all of the contributing factors, and join forces in sincerity to attack the problem?


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7. Parent support forums     8/21/07 - 1:55 AM
AK

Hi

very few in the community can understand or relate to what you are going through

IMHO the way to go is to set up a parent/educators support forum , maybe through Frum -support , set up your own forum , maybe Rabbi Horowitz can help


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8. group     8/21/07 - 11:28 AM
Anonymous

MASK — Mothers Aligned Saving Kids

see this article:

http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=8512


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9. Email Address Doesn't Work!     8/21/07 - 5:25 PM
Anonymous

What's the use of having an email address if every email sent there doesn't work and bounces??!


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10. Phone Number?     8/21/07 - 5:26 PM
Anonymous

And when you call the Project Yes phone number, all you ever get is an answering machine!


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11. The Root Causes     8/21/07 - 5:29 PM
Anonymous

Why doesn't R. Yaakov get to the real root causes. Namely the despiritualization of Judaism? After all, the only things that concern religious leadership is making sure money is collected for favorite causes in the Zionist state of Israel, and blabbing all the time about how much in danger Jews are in the "Jewish State". Of course young people are going to rebel. R. Yaakov should understand these issues better than most, after all, he is a Breslover! And Breslov is all about truth and spirituality. Not politics and gesheften!


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12. Which email address?     8/22/07 - 10:38 AM
Admin - Brooklyn/NY - admin@rabbihorowitz.com

Which email address are you referring to?


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13. What about Nachal Charedi, Part Two?     8/22/07 - 10:50 AM
Anonymous

Gevalt.....how could any Jew with fear of Hashem in their heart ever allow their son to step into the army of the Zionists? Gevalt, a thousand times Gevalt. There is no refuah in the Nachal Charedi, only a one-way ticket to the Sheol Tachtiyos.....!!!


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14. Which Email Address?     8/22/07 - 10:51 AM
Anonymous

The one for Project Yes: pyes@projectyes.org or whatever appears on the website.....


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15. Email Fixed     8/22/07 - 11:55 AM
admin - Brooklyn/NY - admin@rabbihorowitz.com

Thanks for pointing out your trouble witht the email address. It has been fixed.


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16. Interesting website     8/23/07 - 1:53 AM
Goldy

I came across a website that discusses what happens when children under three years old are not given the emotional connections that they need. I will quote just one part: "..Today there is a rising tide of emotionally insecure people whose relationships fail, who are depressed, who live outside society's normal boundaries and for whom financial independence cannot be acheived. We need to address why this is happening and we believe the reasons are so often to be found in the way babies and small children are treated in their early years." See the following website for the complete material:

http://www.jbaassoc.demon.co.uk/watch/sjc%20presentation%20sept20.pdf

Another thought also occurred to me today. We have a tremendous number of babies/toddlers who need early intervention..occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, etc. Could it possibly be traced to the fact that more and more babies are being cared for by babysitters/day care workers who are not able to give the proper attention to all of their charges? So the babies are just lying in their cribs all day/ placed into highchairs, etc. without enough human/emotional interaction to develop normally? Think about the irony...could it be that women today are working as therapists to help babies in need, while their own babies are being left at the babysitter/day care center so that in turn their children can be helped by other babies' mothers who are therapists!


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17. Different Website     8/23/07 - 10:18 AM
Goldy

The website link that I posted may not work properly. Here is another link with an article that has similar information: http://socialbaby.blogspot.com/2007/04/richard-bowlby-stress-in-daycare.html If you feel it has merit, consider sending it to anyone that you know "in authority" who is encouraging young mothers with babies to go out and work to support their families because their husbands are learning full time. (yes, and also send to those mothers with babies who are working full time and do not need the money to survive) - both cases are sad, but in the former case there is no choice, and in the latter case there is)


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18. Toddlers     8/23/07 - 1:40 PM
AK

Thanks Goldy for sharing the article. I think it was very much in touch with reality giving advice that working parents can live with. I think parents need to be made aware of the importance of attachment , also with secondary caregivers. The community can help with providing adequate day care and citizens can encourage legislation like that in the UK. I have started asking around here how many caregivers are there to each child.


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19.     8/23/07 - 8:44 PM
Goldy

AK, great! I think mothers who need to work have to start demanding accountability from the caregivers. If a babysitting service has too many babies, then think twice about adding your baby to the list. Same thing goes for day care and play groups..find out the ratio of caretaker to children and use your sechel. However, try to do whatever you can to keep your babies home with you at least for the first few months or so.


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20. $     8/24/07 - 9:42 AM
M

You pay less money if there are more babies per caregiver. Of course any mother would prefer having a babysitter in her own home for her infant, but they can't afford it. When you can solve the money problem, they will seek out a babysitter to watch their child exclusively, or will find a place with a lower ratio of babies to caregiver. Until then ...


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21. it's not only numbers that counts for daycare     8/24/07 - 10:51 AM
Nechama

Warmth and skills, space and lots of child friendly toys are more important, if she is managing well with large numbers (less than 10).

Also an ability to tolerate the kids making a mess,and so allowing them out of strollers and into the playing floor. Enough cribs for them to nap in. Preferably a balcony or similar outdoor space.


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22.     8/24/07 - 1:19 PM
tb

Why would a woman need to work full-time if her husband is? I know wonderful frum women whose husbands did not go to college and do not make a lot of money (barely enough) who stay home with their children. It means a frugal lifestyle, possible government help for some things (wic) and living in modest accomodations. Some women I know have left New York to be able to afford housing and stay at home. Again, if the husband is working full-time even in a menial job, why must the wife work? If the husband is not working and the learning of Gemara takes precedence over the Chinuch and Tipul of the children in the home, why would that be acceptable? If the mother needs to live in an expensive area like New York and must work to help supplement the income because the father is working menial jobs that do not pay enough, then why does she have to work full-time? If she works part time, could she work in her children's school to defray tuition as many women do? Could she then have her infants be taken care of by an in-home babysitter? If it is not cost-effective, why not go back to the first choice which is being employed by many frum women all over. It is the best choice. Tati works (B'Zayas Apecha...) and Mommy bears and takes care of the children (Chevlei Layda). It is actually being done all over by Chasidish and Yeshivish women. It is not as common in the Yeshivish world, but it is a possibility if both parents acknowledge its importance.


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23.     8/25/07 - 9:32 PM
Goldy

Nechama, please read the articles that I posted. Newborn babies up till age two or so have different needs ...and the things you mentioned will not be helpful to fulfill these needs. M, sometimes parents will have to pay the price later on for not spending extra on appropriate caregiving when their babies were newborn until the age of two or so. Please read the articles and you will understand what I am referring to.


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24. Bonding is too broad     8/26/07 - 5:20 AM
Nechama

Goldy,

I think the ideas about a child being given to a babysitter from 3 months, and being unable to bond with either their mother or their caregiver, are too broad. I repeat that I have never sent a child out this young, but I still disagree with the 'inability to bond' premise. I personally have seen many babies who do bond very nicely with their mothers despite being with a caregiver for the morning hours.

The problem arises when studies are done in that sometimes details are not taken into account. In the present case, the type of mother who regularly gives her child into caregiving is also the type of mother who doesn't recognize the child's need for warmth, attention, one-on-one time, gestural communication, etc. So if you do a correlation study you may find that many kids in childcare are also going to be those that are unable to bond. But the childcare is not the source of the problem, nor is banning it the solution.

Inasmuch as for some people, childcare is going to continue, I was just offering advice as to what to look for in a caregiver. I would add to my above list that it is also important to find out how easy/difficult it is to reach the caregiver's house. It makes a difference to the mood of the parent when picking up their child if they then have to walk a long distance in the pouring rain or blistering heat.

Finally, the money should be the least important consideration in choosing a caregiver. Or rather, it should be the most important consideration to find a good caregiver (if you have decided to send your child to one), and one should be prepared to pay a higher price if necessary. It's an investment in your child's emotional health.


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25. Daycare     8/26/07 - 6:25 AM
Nechama

I'm sorry I hadn't read the article Goldy quoted before replying.

Now I have read the article, and it is very enlightening. The caregiving I was recommending was for a woman who takes in children to her house for the morning hours, and so would be better than the "Childcare centers" described in the article, because they provide a secondary attachment figure.

The caregivers I know usually like to have all the children of similar ages, because they feel they can better address their needs that way. Nobody takes only three children. It isn't financially feasible.

Goldy, I think that the main problem nowadays is with society, non-Jewish and Jewish, in which a womman's work, be it housework or childcare is taken for granted, and is paid for in pittances. Similarly, childcare. Society (except for the quoted article perhaps which recommends three children per caregiver) expects that a caregiver can watch 8 kids. She will be harrassed. Now a good caregiver may keep the feeling of franticness for herself and her family, and the babies will still be well paid for. But when wages do not reflect that a woman working should have enough money to engage a nanny for each three kids. It is at least doubling the price of daycare. And what about Rebbes? They are greatly underpaid too - and women teachers even more so. But we don't want to have to spend so much more on chinnuch for the children. Tuition is high enough.

However, in the past classes were never so huge. 30 kids is considered normal nowadays for 8 year olds.

How about if we petition parents to find out if they would really prefer a low teacher to student ratio or all these arts and crafts supplies, fancy buildings, expensive sports equipments, etc. What do parents want? I'd prefer the lower ratio.


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26. we had 5 kids in the class     8/26/07 - 6:54 AM
Nechama

I come from an out of town community, and until the age of 6 we had 5 kids in the class. Then, perhaps it got too expensive to fund, we joined together with the class above with 7 kids, and we had 12 kids together. From what I remember, we were *all* smart. How come? Perhaps we had smart genes, but I suggest that it was also likely because of the low teacher to student ratio.


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27.     8/26/07 - 8:12 AM
Goldy

Nechama, thanks for your responses. I agree that many parents would prefere lower tuition and less of those extras you mentioned. But somehow schools think they have to compete with the "best" and they don't nor won't give us parents the choice. Good point about the caretaker not getting paid enough so that she has to take in more kids than is probably good for the kids. As the articles state, it is the large caretaker to child ratio that is the cause of problems. If someone has a babysitter come to the house, or drops off their baby to a woman who has three children, and no more, the possiblity for bonding with them properly is feasible. But for those mothers who feel they have no choice and have to leave their kids in a large group setting - these are the ones who may be causing their child long term problems. It is very sad, indeed. The bottom line is that mothers and fathers have to try very hard to scrimp and save so that babies and toddlers can spend as few hours as possible in these kinds of settings. PS..I also grew up out of town and had about eight kids in my class!


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28.     8/30/07 - 12:41 AM
Shulo

to: 22 - tb

My husband works full time & it is an opened miracle that we can pay our bills each month.

And I have to find a job now, b/c the situation is getting worse.

Tuition + cost of tzniyus clothing is staggering. (I payed $100 for 2 uniform skirts & 1 uniform jamper - how ridiculous is this!!!!!?)


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29.     8/30/07 - 12:48 AM
Shuli

How could I forget?

MAZAL TOV!!!!!


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30. cost of clothes     8/30/07 - 12:13 PM
Anonymous

cost of tzniyus clothing is staggering

doesn't have to be you have to know how and where to shop no reason to pay "staggering" prices for modest clothing

(I payed $100 for 2 uniform skirts & 1 uniform jamper - how ridiculous is this!!!!!?)

what's ridiculous about it? it's not cheap @about $30-$35 each, but it's not outlandish either


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31. how     8/30/07 - 5:12 PM
tb

Shuli, You mention the cost of Tznius clothes and tuition. I hear you, but I guess my main purpose here is to put forth the notion that our infants and young children would be better off with their mothers as primary caretakers and that said, there are ways that many couples explore so that they can make this happen for as long as possible. This is not meant to criticize with a broad stroke a large group of women, but rather to say that many of us are doing this. Many are either staying at home with small children or working part time. As I mentioned, some of us work in our children's schools to help defray the costs of tuition and other school-related expenses. I think we frum women do not talk enough about finances to each other or to ourselves and sometimes to our mates. This is a taboo topic. We don't know what each other is doing to make ends meet. But, I feel the tide needs to change and we need to be helping each other brainstorm solutions to enable us to stay home as much as possible. For the women I know who have large families and make this choice, they do accept some government help and they are extremely careful with money. They do buy clothes second hand--no one can tell--or on sale. They are very cost-conscious when it comes to Yom Tov attire and shoes. Many frum families spend way too much on their children's Shabbos and Yom Tov clothes. It is unconsionable that people spend hundreds of dollars on clothes when their infants are being dumped in daycare. Many frugal moms are very careful about food purchases, use coupons, shop at bigger supermarkets, do not buy brand name food. Many do not opt for camp in the summer and if they do, they do so for short periods of time. They encourage their older children to get skills so they can work. A Chasidish woman I know who has a large family told me the other day that she is so happy she paid for her daughter to learn to lifeguard. Now her daughter can work in any camp she wants to and get paid plus enjoy the summer and on top of that she can do this as a married person and possibly get a month free at a bungalow colony for her future family. This is a woman who is thinking ahead. The people I know who are making things work do not lease cars. They drive used cars and do their best with them. They live in smaller homes and do not furnish them with "fancy" furniture and they cook in old kitchens--most do not rip out their kitchen and redo it. They make do. Now, eventually, some women do find they need to work, but, like I said, when that happens those women need to look at childcare options that are of maximum benefit to a young child. There are many personal choices women make every day to make this work. I think it would be helpful to hear from them here. No matter what people can or cannot do in their personal situations, one thing is certain. It can no longer be acceptable practice in frum homes for infants and young children to be dumped in day care, for mothers to work and raise large families, or for mothers of small families to work full time. Fathers must work. Mothers must mother. And people have to be more frugal. The whole perspective on this issue within the frum world from modern orthodox to super Yeshivish must change. Enough is enough.

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