Friday evening marks the start of Passover and I’m on my way to Florida. I’m excited that my daughter, son and daughter-by-marriage will be meeting us there. I’m even more thrilled that being away from home means that I don’t have to cook this year! But seriously, I’m most looking forward to sitting around the Seder table with blood representatives of four generations.
The Passover Seder, as most of us know, is a big event that includes lots of “stuff.” The “how to” guide comes in the form of the Haggadah that lays out the order of the Seder with all of its components. It is complete with blessings to recite; stories of slavery, bitterness, and plagues; breaks for snacks that serve as metaphors; questions for kids to ask; wine, food, and lots of singing. By design, it is a multigenerational experience whereby parents teach children the about the Jews’ exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land.
It should come as no surprise that, since my grandparents are ninety-five and nine-six, my family has had many Seders together over dozens of years. As I reflect back on them, I realize that, of all the Jewish observances and life cycle events, I feel most connected to my family and our heritage during the Passover Seder. It’s the only time in any given year that we actually sit around a table together – for three hours or more – where everybody participates in reading and singing; joins in talking and laughing; and enjoys drinking and eating. Every participant feels welcome (no formal invitations are necessary) and no one is in a rush to leave. I honestly think this is when the family is at its best.
* * *
A blog that I read this week in the Times of Israel made me start thinking about Passover and parenting.
Michael J. Salamon, in his piece called “The Four Parents: More Than Just A Passover Metaphor,” uses the Haggadah’s section about the Four Sons – the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one, and the one who does not know how to ask – as a way to draw an analogy to four possible parenting styles. The correlation came to him after reading a book about the ways in which religion is passed down across generations as a result of a thirty-five year longitudinal study.
The most noteworthy finding of the analysis is that “more than Jewish fathers, the Jewish mothers, who had a close bond with their children were more likely to have children who followed in their religious beliefs.” Moreover, Salamon writes, “Parental warmth is the key to successful transmission.” Parental warmth? Meaning that the way in which parents behave could end up determining a child’s choice of the religious path to or not to follow. (This made me wonder about the parenting styles of my grandparents’, my parents’, and my husband’s and mine.)
In line with this, four parenting styles were identified. The first is one of ambivalence, “where a parent may offer an unclear or mixed message or one parent is warm while the other is distant.” The second is one where parents are “preoccupied” or “distracted from their responsibilities toward their children either [due to] marital, financial or health problems.” The third reflects “authoritarian parents who are demanding or difficult.” And the “fourth is the style offered by warm, caring parents who build and maintain a close relationship with their children.”
In my opinion, how closely these parenting styles compare to the personalities of the Four Sons in the Haggadah is not important. What IS significant is the notion that parents who are nurturing, warm, and understanding are more likely to be role models that children want to emulate, especially when it comes to maintaining a family’s religious traditions. “A wise parent is more likely to raise a wise child. And, it is a wise parent that understands that children have to be loved and nurtured as he or she travel through their developmental challenges.”
* * *
This year, as we look around the Seder table and engage with our sons and daughters, may we project from within ourselves the warmth, patience, sensitivity, and wisdom that will keep drawing them back for many years to come.