Parent-Child Dynamics Shift Before Bar/Bat Mitzvah

A family educator offers words of advice to the family.

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One of the tasks of the "parent of the bar mitzvah" is to create a balance among all those worlds and needs. How can everyone get what they need out of this event? Are there ways to create win/win situations, rather than win/lose situations? The process of decision making is crucial. Can family members be made to feel that their thoughts and feelings are important and are taken into consideration, even if alternate decisions are made? As parents approach the bar/bat mitzvah, a key aspect of this is to be sensitive to everyone's intense feelings.

Parents' Expectations

Often, during a brit or baby naming, someone says, "well, we'll meet again at the bar/bat mitzvah." Everyone laughs and continues celebrating the birth of this child. And yet, somehow, everyone also knows that it is true. Many of these same people will be together again in 13 years for the next big event. Quickly, 11 or 12 of those years pass. One day a letter from the synagogue arrives and the bar/bat mitzvah planning begins in earnest. Into that planning goes a lifetime of expectations and fantasies. And baggage. Those who did and those who didn't have a bar/bat mitzvah have feelings about it. Sorting through those feelings, taking ownership of them, and separating the past from the present is a major aspect of bar/bat mitzvah planning.

In two-parent families, each spouse brings to the situation a unique set of expectations. Everyone grew up in different households, with different backgrounds, beliefs, and values. Parents must put aside the "my way is the only way" philosophy and negotiate a balance between separate worlds with separate histories.

In interfaith families, the emotional planning and expectations can seem overwhelming. The family member who was not raised as a Jew does not have history to rely on. It may be the first time that he or she has had to stand up before their own family of origin and assert their difference. Not having a history with Judaism, that person is creating something for his or her own children that he or she never experienced.

Children's Expectations

Children have their own set of expectations and feelings about a bar/bat mitzvah. They don't have the years of wisdom and experience to understand the intensity of the emotion for their parents. They can appreciate the importance of the bar/bat mitzvah in their own lives, but don't always comprehend how and why it is so important to those around them. They will learn about that in the years to come. We cannot expect them to understand it in the way we do. It is helpful for parents to attempt to view the experience through their eyes. Some aspects of the bar/bat mitzvah that may be important to the children include:

·        direct contact with the rabbi

·        becoming adults in the eyes of Judaism

·        having their friends and family with them

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Margie Bogdanow

Margie Bogdanow is a family educator at a synagogue in Lexington, Massachusetts.