Gemilut Chasadim -Bestowing Kindness…even to myself

There is a jewish saying “Charity awaits the cry of distress. Benevolence anticipates the cry of distress.” Gemilut Chasadim is a mitzvoth…a commandment… in the Jewish tradition. It is a call to act with benevolence toward any and everyone. A call to kindness.

Here are some great images of folks anticipating cries of distress and doing what they can to be kind:

Giving drink to the thirsty, shelter to weary, comfort to the stranger, companionship to the lonely, safety to the endangered. This is just the sort of phrase that I love. All the great religious traditions call on their communities to something similar. Lots of us work on the call to gemilut chasadim…even thought we don’t use those words.

Parenting pulls out lots and lots of opportunities for bestowing kindness. Anticipating cries of distress and meeting them with benevolance is the name of the game for years and years of guiding little beings safely through their stages of development.

My kids here me say to ‘Err on the side of kindness and then you will never make a mistake’ more often than they would like. This is subjective, of course. From my perspective, enforcing bedtimes, limiting screen-time, requiring chores,  brokering peace, teaching manners, etc are all acts of kindness. I am anticipating the cries of distress which would come from young adults who don’t know how to share, can’t get along with others, who have not been set up for success in life.  My kids’ perspective can easily pin these same acts as acts of unkindness. Usually, the line between kindness and unkindness is pretty clear to me. Today was not one of those days.

Two of my kids are technically adults. They can dip in and out of my world as they please. They are self sufficient, responsible, full-functioning members of society and that affords them the freedom to live out of their own perspective. I have spent 22 years honing my philosophy of parenting and raising my kids in that. My perspective (and my hubby’s even though he doesn’t always think he has as much influence as he might want) dictates rules, privileges, responsibilities…all the in’s and out’s of my kids’ world. My-way is the highway, so to speak. That can’t go on forever.

It is an interesting process that I am going through now, as I unhook from always driving things with these two adult women that I birthed. I have to shift into a passenger-seat. 22 years of habits and reflexes and gut-reactions have to be slowed down and examined. I have to remind myself that I am not the only adult in the room when I am with them. My-way was rooted in kindness (in its best moments) but it really is not so kind any more. I don’t necessarily know if they are thirsty, tired, in danger,  making the right choice, doing the right thing…I can’t anticipate with as much certainty.

It is hard. It is wonderful. It is gratifying. It is challenging. Some days, I really suck at it.

Today, I hit all the marks of a newbie-mom-0f-adult-chilren.

  • Spent money I shouldn’t have to try to please
  • Put aside things I needed to be doing which would bite me in the butt later
  • Tried too hard
  • Stuffed my feelings instead of unhooking from them
  • Felt really sure that I was doing all the wrong things
  • Felt really sure that I was doing all the right things
  • Got resentful
  • Fell apart in the end because of all the straining and stuffing and trying and resenting…

Poor child #2 did not know what hit her. She apologized…and yeah, she was a little snappy and less-than-effusive and a little self-focused…but my meltdown was definitely not her fault.

Someone needs to have mommy-and-me classes for the 20-somethings and us middle-aged mamas. I remember learning about startle-responses, tongue-thrusts, swaddling, burping….all the quirky things that infants bring as a part of their being that young-mamas and dads don’t always expect.

Where is the class that will clue me into the doings of a typical well-launched-kid? How can I balance wanting to help and support them without telling them what to do and prying more than I really should into their choices? How can I name that I miss seeing them in the every-day without making them feel guilty for having their own life?  Where is the line between respect for me as an elder and squashing their rights to their own opinions? How do I keep them safe and give them room to make their own mistakes?

I guess that this is a spot in life where I need to offer some benevolence to myself. I need to anticipate my own distress as I have some growing pains and treat myself kindly. I want to do this at the same time as anticipating where they (the new adults in my life) may encounter some distress and offering them kindnesses along the way. Erring on the side of kindness needs to go both ways.

Whew! This growing up thing is hard at 45….its a different kind of hard than it was when I was 20…still, it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks…not that I am old…just sort of set in some of my ways.  I need buckets of grace!

Here is a shot of those amazing women that are helping me to grow up. They are pretty fabulous. Maybe I am biased….no…they just are….





7 steps to ensure that you win the chore battle with your kids every time.

7 steps to ensure that you win the chore battle with your kids every time.

Wondering if you are alone in feelings of helplessness when it comes to getting your kids to pitch in around the house? You’re not.

Just look at the parenting section of any bookstore and you will see that this is a prime topic for all the experts. Skip putting another book on your shelf and follow these doable steps at home…

  1. Stop calling them “chores.”

First things first. Rebrand.

Every marketing executive knows that naming your product is the most important step for attracting buyers (well…that along with packaging, market research, etc…). Nobody wants to buy colon-scrubbing pellets but Grape Nuts sound pretty good!  

So let’s talk about our terms first and foremost. I have never met the adult, let alone the child, who is itching to do a chore.This word is heavy with negative connotations. The mere saying of it is laborious!

So if not “chores,” what do we call them?

Think of your audience — what are the ages and interests of the demographic you’re trying to “sell” chores to? — and find a name for their participation that is more palatable. We used to call them random acts of kindness in our house, when we were being especially communally-focused. 

Maybe you call them tasks, opportunities, contributions, responsibilities, to-do’s… whatever strikes your fancy. Take some time to think of a term that encompasses the spirit that you hope these duties will be done in and the message that you want to communicate to your offspring.

OK, do you have your name picked out? Then let’s move on to choosing the jobs.

  1. What should this “not-chore” be?

Close your eyes. Imagine the job that you dread the most at home. What if I told you that it is the perfect one to outsource to the next generation? I know, it sounds too good to be true, but trust me, it works.

You will be ultra-motivated to teach your kids invaluable life lessons if your load is truly being lightened.

I shudder at piles of laundry. Hate this job. So this is the “not-chore” for my kids, because I will love passing this one on…forever.

You can outsource and offer life-training in one fell swoop. It is a win-win! Now how to make it actually work, that is the question…

3. Set them up for success

Remember the how-to speech that you had to write in grade school? This is what you need to do here. Make the task at hand as simple, straightforward, and systematic as possible.

Let’s stick with laundry as a good example. Every job can be broken into small, approachable mini-tasks. So dissect the overarching job into chunks…  

    • Gather the dirty laundry and bring it to the laundry room.
    • Separate the clothes into lights and darks.
    • Load the clothes into the washing machine.
    • Move the load from the washer to the dryer.
    • Fold the clean laundry.
    • Put it all away.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Once you’ve divided the chore into mini-chores, they need to be clearly explained. You can use pictorial instructions for the younger set. And even though it may not seem necessary, written instructions are a good idea even for the older child so that there is a clear understanding of what’s expected.

You want to set them up for success by teaching them carefully and by making even a multi-step job that might feel overwhelming at first seem like something they can accomplish. In the end, this gives them a real sense of self satisfaction and makes it possible for you to hold them accountable when steps are inevitably skipped. (They are only human, after all.)  

But even though they’re going to make mistakes, don’t think for a moment they can’t live up to your expectations…

  1. Don’t underestimate your kids’ abilities.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking little kids are incapable. Don’t let this happen to you!

Let’s keep looking at laundry as an example. Children as young as toddlers can gather dirty clothes and separate them into light and dark. And running the machines? That’s a perfect grade-school job.

Now, folding. Um…I’m not even good at this myself so I opt for hangers. But, again, it’s a perfect job for kids pre-school and older. And finally, putting it all away. You may have to join in on this with younger kids, but it’s something everyone can help with.  

The point is: Don’t overburden yourself because you’re unwilling to test your children’s ability to rise to the task. Test them. See what they’re capable of. You’ll be surprised…and maybe even more relaxed.

Now you are ready to set the tone…

  1. Have a catchphrase.

It’s impossible to keep kids constantly upbeat about working around the house, but it is possible to keep the reason we’re all doing this in mind as a motivator and a reminder. What phrase can you say over and over again to let them know why they are doing what they are doing?

If you came up with “Because I told you so,” stop and start over. It may be a tempting retort to their complaints, but it’s almost as distasteful to hear as it was when you were their age. Don’t go there.

Here’s a better example. My husband has a phrase that he says so often that it is certain to elicit eye-rolls and recitation in unison: “Families cooperate.”  

You will undoubtedly run into resistance — repeatedly — from your in-house workforce. The key is to have an answer to every argument that they throw at you. Keep it short. Sweet. And to the point.

Ok. Have your line ready? Let’s talk about compensation…

  1. Reward a job well done…carefully.

Of course your kids want to be paid. So now you have to choose a currency. Pick your dangling-carrot wisely.

For younger kids, marbles in a jar work well for marking completed tasks and working toward some sort of prize after a week of consistent effort. Even just stickers can be plenty of motivation for some eager beavers.

As you move into the school-aged set, you may want to offer something more tangible like an outing at the end of a productive week or even a modest allowance to  recognize their efforts. Middle school children will work best for some sort of extra privilege that reflects the level of responsibility that they are taking on.

Finally, high-schoolers. Kids at this age should be able to see that they are expected to contribute as the adults they nearly are and that the reward is the benefits that they gain by being a part of the family. Don’t get me started…

Whatever you pick, it is imperative that your carrot is clearly named and possible to take away if necessary without any sort of lecturing, voice-raising, or guilt-tripping. Keep it calm, people.

And when you do find yourself having to be the strict parent, taking a potential reward off the table, this does not mean that your child no longer has to complete the assigned task. Quite the contrary!

Finishing the job they were given is an absolute. The reward is the only variable — it’s only given if their attitude is good and the responsibility is taken on fully. The reward is an extra.

Ready for the closer?

  1. Live up to your own standards.

The last step is all about you.

To make this whole “not-chore” go well, your kids need to see you working with the same spirit that you want them to exhibit. Maybe whistling while you work is too much to ask, but keeping a positive attitude is essential. If you want to see it in them, they have to learn it from you.

Some of the best memories in a family are occasions when dishes are done side by side or the lawn is mowed and raked together or veggies are chopped by an assembly line of children at the kitchen counter.

Kids are eager to be a part of your world in any way that they can. Chores — or “not-chores” — are a great way to give them that and to give yourself a little help at the same time.  

You just need a strategy that works and some internal conviction. Remind yourself, you are the adult. This is winnable folks!