How to Not Strangle the Bar Mitzvah Boy

Working with preteens is challenging, but living with them all the more so!

That’s right. Working with preteens is challenging, but living with them all the more so! Next week, we will celebrate our son becoming a bar mitzvah. We are filled with pride, excitement… and stress. The children still have regular school responsibilities. My husband and I are working full time, managing our home and moderating the daily sibling bickering in the house. And, there’s the bar mitzvah day that is quickly approaching. Tension, irritation, and frustration are mounting and I feel like we need a little help!

Thanks to our sages who have the wisdom to share for just this moment. Two teachings, in particular, guide me. The first is a story.

Rav Kook was known as a wise, knowledgeable man to whom many came for advice. One day, a man came to him for counsel regarding his son. “Rabbi,” the man began, “I gave my son a good Jewish education. We were always observant in our home. But, now my son is drifting away and no longer identifies as a Jew! What am I to do? I do not recognize him and the choices he is making any more!” Rav Kook listened to the man and then asked, “Did you love him when he was religious?” The father replied, “Of course, I did!” “Now, then,” responded Rav Kook, “Love him even more.”

Love him even more. When my son is throwing a fit because he doesn’t want to clean his room or sit down and do his homework or study for his upcoming big day, I am reminded of this story. Don’t get me wrong. We discipline him and emphasize respect for parents and responsibilities. Yet, I have learned my son is hardwired differently than I am. While I plan and organize and like to complete tasks early, my son is often disorganized and challenged to stay on task. When I feel a chasm developing between us, I think “love him even more.” And, I do. It’s really that simple. After I stop yelling, of course. But, I do love him and his uniqueness. And, when I am feeling tense and frustrated, this is the only reminder I need. After all, what other choice is there?

And so, as we prepare for this liminal moment in my son’s life, I am reminded of another teaching, the Jewish virtue savlanut, patience. The Hebrew root of the word is saval, meaning to carry a load or burden. We learn from this that true patience isn’t simply acting calmly. It is acknowledging the challenge and having the strength to move forward, even when things do not go the way we want.

So, I will try to exercise savlanut. I will try to recognize my feelings and not get agitated or act out in response because of my frustrations. I will try to remember that my child doesn’t need to behave like I do in all situations and at all times, that he has the right to his own feelings. And, I will do this while loving my son even more.

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