Raising tough kids not easy for parent with fretting instinct

There are so many new parenting books on the market dispensing advice about how to raise strong, resilient and independent kids. I’m sure they’re great, but I won’t be buying any of them.

I read Wendy Mogel’s “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” when my kids were toddlers. I haven’t needed to read another parenting book since.

Mogel’s no-nonsense approach to child rearing speaks to me. I relate to her Jewish values that serve as the backdrop to her views on raising children. Like Wendy, I also think it’s OK for my kids to have skinned knees.

And though I never met her, she was a mentor to me when my children were younger and I was trying to figure out what kind of parent I should be. “What would Wendy do?” I thought to myself at least a half-dozen times a day. I still think about what she would do, even though my kids are teenagers.

When my kids were preschool age and it was raining, sometimes they put up a fuss because they didn’t want to wear their raincoats or carry an umbrella. I didn’t force the issue. I let them get wet instead. Maybe next time they’d learn to wear sensible rain shoes. Maybe not. I knew Mogel would be OK with either.

Now that my kids are older, I don’t call or email their teachers even if I feel they’ve been treated unfairly. I don’t help them with their homework. My kids try out for things they sometimes don’t get. But I don’t work behind the scenes to fix things. It’s not easy to let them figure things out for themselves. I have to stop myself, bite my tongue and walk away.

Mogel believes that children should find their path in life. “If they stay carefully protected in the nest of the family,” she states, “children will become weak and fearful or feel too comfortable and never want to leave.” Many parents, she feels, are too busy “fretting and fixing” every problem when it comes to their children.

I want my kids to learn about grit and resilience. I want them to learn that the world is not waiting for them with tissues or a sweater. When they get knocked down, I want them to learn how to get back up.

But deep down, I’m desperate to spoil my children — to fix and to fret, to tell them they are perfect and special.

So here’s how I channel all these pent-up and pushed-down feelings: I spoil my kids with food.

You fell? I won’t react. I’ll be calm. But have a lollipop.

You’ve had a hard day? I made your favorite: grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Got a cold? Matzah ball soup with egg noodles made just the way you like it — more broth and more noodles. Fewer carrots and celery.

Frankly, I’m excited when I see a new recipe in my inbox from The Kitchn when it’s something I know my kids will love. And I can’t wait to try out a new dish from Joyce Goldstein’s latest cookbook.

This parenting business has gotten so serious. Raising self-reliant children. Raising my daughter to be a feminist. Raising my son to learn how to share his feelings. Mogel is a Jewish mother, too — wouldn’t she understand my need to have a parenting realm where I can wholeheartedly indulge my kids? I’m sure she’d get the whole food-love connection.

Food is not a vehicle for me to control my kids. Rather it’s a vehicle for me to indulge them. Eating and enjoying food together — whether it’s a hot fudge sundae or fresh fruit from the farmers market — is not only one of the life’s simple pleasures, but one that should be left alone to enjoy for no other reason than that it’s yummy and it feels good to eat it.

I love my kids like crazy. I wonder what their day was like today. Maybe I’ll make their favorite roast chicken for dinner.


Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.