We’ve all been there. You step into the shower listening to your kids bickering. By the time you step out, the house is silent. In a panic, you leave wet tracks down your hallway, fighting to cover your mom butt with a damp towel. In the living room, you find your youngest child sitting on the floor cutting holes in his brand new shirt.
What do you do?
If you’re like me, your angry screams echo off the walls and your child later recounts this episode as one of the reasons why they are now in therapy. That’s what most people do.
It took flying all the way to Israel and spending a day with an incredible artist for me to learn that there might be a better solution.
Last month I boarded a plane to Israel for a journey of discovery. I thought I was going to learn about Israel, its people and its culture, and I did. But I also learned some things about how I can be a better mom along the way. Over the course of a week, I hopped from one side of the small nation to the other, stepping into people’s homes to find out what it means to parent like an Israeli. Here’s what I learned:
How to Parent Like an Israeli
Your door is always open.
In the age of playdates and coffee dates and promposals and girls’ night out, when was the last time you showed up at someone’s house with no warning just so you could hang out? As a kid, I’d go out into the street and play with whatever neighborhood kid I found. My parents’ besties had a key to our back door. Someone other than Jehovah’s Witnesses rang our front doorbell.
Sometime in the last 30 years, we stopped being impromptu and I have no idea why…and apparently nobody told the Israelis. In an Israeli kibbutz neighborhood, their doors are always open. Kids ride bikes in the streets, parents feed whoever shows up for dinner and everyone stops to chat at the end of the driveway. Phone numbers aren’t saved as Jill Timsmom. People know each other, they talk to one another and when there is a problem, they prop each other up. When one person has a success, they all celebrate. Imagine that!
Your plate is never empty
In Israel, your plate is literally never empty. People sit for hours at the table, pacing themselves through course after course of incredibly tasty, but also healthy food. You eat, you savour and you enjoy. That is the rule. But this mentality doesn’t stop at the dinner table. Life is full. People work, have kids and spend their days juggling the two. You find something you love and you throw yourself into it, then you come home at night and surround yourself with family. It isn’t a struggle between the two, it’s a total immersion into things you passionately love.
Israelis take pride in their families. They take their kids to restaurants and museums and strollers clog up the sidewalks. Everyone we met showed us pictures of their children, bragging about their accomplishments and skills. Then they switched over to talk business. It was effortless for them to go from one part of their full life plate to another. I couldn’t help but compare it to my own efforts to cut back – less food, less work stress, less kids activities. In Israel, when your plate and bellies are full, you sit back and digest until you are ready to take more on. You don’t restrict yourself, you have patience and wait so you can take the most enjoyment from all life has to offer.
Necessity really is the mother of all invention.
That phone app you can’t live without, the TV show you watch religiously, chances are they got their start in Israel. Surrounded by hostile states and arid lands, with little access to fresh water, the Israeli people quickly figured out that if they wanted to survive and thrive, they needed to invent a way to do so. Children in Israel are taught from an early age that they must always examine the problem and question the status quo solution. They are encouraged to have opinions and to think for themselves, skills that are mission critical when you need to raise a generation of people who will think outside of the box and invent the next technology or product or service that will allow your country to survive.
Nowadays it seems like just asking intelligent questions is wrong. It’s all fake truth and alternate facts and we’re not supposed to look for differing opinions on the latest news. While this mentality obviously stifles learning, I wonder if we’ve really thought about how it will impact the next generation of inventors. If we can’t see outside the box, how can we find the next great thing – whatever it might be? If we hand our children everything they could ever want or need on a silver platter, they won’t have the drive or the necessity to push us beyond the solutions we have today.
There is always beauty in the mess, you have to be willing to look hard enough to find it.
One of my favorite Hebrew words is balagan. It means a complete and utter chaotic mess. The Israelis I met took great pride in pointing out their balagan. “It is a mess, but it is our mess!” they’d explain. As we wandered through markets with one stall after another, competing voices shouting for attention, the only word to describe it was a balagan. One table would have mounds of dried fruit, the next colorful scarves and the one afterwards displayed cheap cellphone cases. There was no order or plan, just enthusiasm and a riot of sights, sounds and colors that competed for our attention. It was beautiful and we took photo after photo to remind ourselves later.
When your kid cuts holes in their new shirt, in Israel you have two options: you get mad or you can see the beauty in the mess. This is what renowned Israeli artist Tal Tenne told us about the time she found her son cutting up his shirt. They were already running late and her freshly showered hair dripped down the back of her neck. Instead of shouting, she sat down beside him and asked why he had cut the holes. “I wanted to see what it would look like,” he answered, as though that were reason enough to justify the piles of circular fabric floating around him. He wasn’t being destructive, he was being curious. He was trialing (and erroring), but Tal knew that his future success depended on his willingness to try and fail his way into it. She took off her parenting lens and put herself into his shoes.
“What would happen if you cut some holes in your shorts, too?” she asked, and handed him back the scissors.
Israelis have more PhDs, MDs and advanced degrees than any other country. The people we met are well-traveled, multilingual adventurists who challenge their children to go even further. They know that life is a chaotic mess, but it is a beautiful chaos and it is theirs to embrace. If we can open our doors and our hearts, take time to enjoy and digest all that life offers, give our children space to need to learn and think for themselves, maybe we’ll start to see the beauty in the balagan and start to reap the benefits.
(My trip to Israel was funded and organized by Vibe Israel. Their mission is to create conversations – the topics and the choice of story angles is entirely my own. You can find out more about the artist Tal Tenne and her work on her website. Photo credit to Shani Sadicario)