Parenting a Teenager: 101


Today is the last day of Chanukah. Historically, it is called the festival of lights for many reasons. My light this year was the fact that some of my children were able to come home for a visit from school. My daughter Tilly is 15 and in the 10th grade. Because of our life-style choices, coupled with where we live, we have to send our kids away for high school, so Tilly is spending much of the year in Florida. For all our children, going away at a young age has been a challenge in of itself, and for me, their mother, equally so.

Raising a teenager is difficult in the best circumstances and I have been mindful of keeping our lines of communication open. I have made it clear that, if she is not happy in her present school, we will find another one. I am also mindful of the fact that she is a young teenager finding her independence and inner strength.

Tilly’s and my relationship has been a bit rocky this past year. I have been the safe person on whom she can vent her emotions. There have been times that if I blink wrong she takes it the wrong way.  A word here or there is often misunderstood, though Tilly and I have been lucky in the fact that there are others, her father and her brothers and sisters, who can shed light on any misunderstandings that come up. Of course, I am aware that, as her parent, I should not take any of it personally.

This morning, my husband brought home a case of bananas for me to dehydrate.  If you have never had a dried banana, I highly recommend it. It’s a rare treat, sweet and chewy all in one bite.  My dehydrator was dirty from the last batch of fruit I dried, so I had to take the time to clean it before using it again. My husband says, “If you are doing it right, it does not have to be forced,” so I took care to soak the trays first.  After a 30 minute soak, everything gently came off easily. It took longer than if I had forced it, but the end result was better.

Tilly’s Chanukah break was very short. She could have stayed in Florida where it is 80 degrees, but she said she really wanted to come home (even to the cold). That statement told me a lot. I heard what was not being said; I heard she needed her parents and, if I may indulge a bit, her mother. She arrived Thursday afternoon and left Monday morning, a short but sweet time. Her visit was amazing. We played cards together; we cooked together. She went to the mall with her brothers, skating with her sisters.  Monday morning, I jokingly said, “Maybe you and I should have gotten into a few arguments, because I’m so sad to see you leave now.” She laughed, I laughed too and I asked her “Are you okay with going back?” She answered with a definite yes. She admits that dorm life can be challenging but she’s happy there. As her mother, that was a great thing to hear.

In many way, parenting is a lot like fishing.  When you have a fish on the line and the line is too tight, you can loose it, too loose, you can damage it. In August, I wrote an article about my daughter Tzofia called Courage.  Like Tzofia, Tilly knows that we are there for her 24/7. Having a lifeline available allows children to step out of their comfort zones and venture forth into the unknown. Tilly called me last night about a problem she was having with one of her friends. I told her that one of you has to be the adult and break the ice, and if not her, who? She called me back later and told me I was right. STOP RIGHT THERE! I…was…right. What an amazing thing for a parent of a teenager to hear. I recalled my husband’s words, spoken about something very different but perfect for many situations, most particularly parenting a teen: “If you are doing it right, it does not have to be forced.”  Wow, I think we just had a breakthrough.

Why We Need A Mentor

Every person needs a mentor. And that mentor needs a mentor. And that mentor as well–nobody pulls himself up by tugging at his own hair.

Go out and find yourself someone you can rely on for advice and counsel, someone who understands you and whom you can trust and respect. If that person turns you down, insist and persist.

Don’t wait to become a student. Be proactive and make someone into your teacher.

Tzvi Friedman:

How to Respond When Someone is Taking Their Frustrations Out On You

The other night, I witnessed a woman yelling at a man I know, on the street, next to a building I was coming out of. She was standing next to her car; he was a good 20 feet from her; and she was angry. I won’t go into the details of what she said, but the general theme was how incompetent he was, how people were depending on him and on how he didn’t live up to that expectation. He took it with a smile, said thank you, told her to have a good day, and she drove off.

He happens to be a man that I recently did a project for. In fact, I had handed it to him that day. I have done the same project for him twice a year the same way, with good results. Rarely have I received a thank you, but also never a complaint.  As I casually walked by him, he stopped me, all red in the face and yelled (yes, yelled) that we needed to have a meeting because he wasn’t happy with what I gave him, that it was too last minute, not organized enough, etc.–and he… was… angry.  As he spoke, his voice got higher and louder and he got more and more agitated.  My first reaction was to defend myself and make excuses: “I’ve had a busy week. You didn’t get the information to me on time. You changed some of the information in the middle of the project. I’m not a machine,” etc. He continued, as if I had said nothing, yelled that the current way of doing this project wasn’t working, said that all the information would be better communicated online than in hard copy, and yelled that if I wasn’t capable of doing it how he wanted, he would find someone else.

During this confrontation, I looked over at my husband and back at this man yelling angrily at me: time just stopped.  I thought, “Why isn’t my husband eliciting any emotion and saying anything to this guy who is showing so much disrespect?” That’s when I saw it in my husband’s eyes. My husband understood that this man was “venting.”  He was humiliated by being yelled at by someone else in such a public manner, and, instead of responding to the person who made him feel ashamed, he was taking his frustrations out on me. I was still personally insulted, but when I realized what my husband realized, my heart went out to him, so I shut my mouth and let him continue.

I left with the understanding that we would meet and discuss this issue. Since then, I’ve had a few days to think our conversation over. As I said, at first I was angry and personally insulted. The longer I think about it, though, the more I realize that there is nothing personal involved. Yes, he had a right not to be happy with the project I gave him, but no, he had no right to vent his anger on me.  It wasn’t fair to say negative things about my work or say them in that way out of anger at something that had nothing to do with me.  Since I have been able to separate the two, I have been able to come to a positive conclusion.

As I thought about it with the distance of a little time, my heart went out to him. My heart went out to me. His yelling at me brought home my memories of inadequacy. Because I could empathize with his pain, I was able to let go and not take his anger at me personally. Was he wrong to vent at me? Yes! But we are human, and being human allows us to make mistakes. Recognizing the humanity in ourselves and others allows us to understand other’s mistakes and let go of our own hurt.  Doing so not only gives others the benefit of our understanding; it also does us the favor of freeing ourselves from the burden of hurt and angry feelings.

I have also been reminded by this experience not to get too attached other people’s opinions of what I do. Some people will like my work (or gifts or ways of doing things) and some won’t. The only thing that I must do is my best.

What Do We Do When Our Plans Change?

I am very comfortable being a wife and a mother, a career I conscienciously chose and am grateful for. The year my youngest was old enough to go to school for the whole day put me in a whole new mindset. After the first initial “shock” of our being apart, I was in heaven. At least for the first couple of weeks. So much ME time! It got me thinking though. What do I do with my time now and who am I really? For years my being was defined solely by what I did. I was my husband’s wife, my children’s mother. The me was still there but I was in the background. My needs were secondary to everyone elses and of course that was okay.

Let’s fast forward to the present. Having all my children in school has given me more time to pursue my dream of being a life coach. In the process I’m making some great new friends  and learning a lot along the way. I am learning to make goals for myself. I am learning how to forgive myself when I don’t progress the way I think I should. I am learning to cherish each day and be happy with the outcome even when the outcome is not how I planned.

As important as it is to make goals for ourselves, it is equally important to allow ourselves the flexiblity of changing those goals or extending them. I spent the last month with my children and grandchildren in California. My goal was to keep to my daily schedule of working on my business, in addition to being present for everyone!… Okay…got it. There were too many other things to do and too many little people wanting my hugs and kisses. So I did what any good mother would do, I freely gave those hugs and kisses and let go of everything else.

It’s not that my goals changed, it’s that my real goals made themselves known. I left for California thinking that my goal for the month was to work daily on my coaching, but the true goal had been to enjoy my children and grandchildren. As soon as I “saw” that, everything fell into place and became easy. I let go of the struggle and embraced everything.

There are many times in your life when “things” seemingly get in the way. You’re given a new project at work, even though you’re not finished with the one you’re working on, your child came down with a cold and you have to cancel your plans in order to stay home with them, you go away on a trip and none of your carefully made plans work out…what do you do? You allow yourself to change with the circumstances and know that at the right time and with a bit of organization, you succeed in whatever it is you truly want.

The Truth Within

Tonight begins a fast day for me; Yom Kippur. For the Jewish people, it is the holiest day in the year. We fast on Yom Kippur to transcend ourselves to the level of angels. This is a day where we truly tap into our true selves, our souls. The fast is 26 hours; most of that time is spent in prayer, connecting ourselves to G-dliness and…well, ourselves. For 26 hours, we give up a part of our physical in order to hone into our true selves.

Tapping into the essence of who we are, is an important component of discovering what is important in our lives. Truth resonates and when we hear it, we know. Having a guide helps us to open our own pathway to the truth within. It’s not so hard to do, once we get rid of all the mental clutter.

How do you do it? Start with taking a deep breath, smile (even if you don’t feel like it), get out a paper and write a list…from there it’s easy. One step at a time is all it takes, and believe me, you WILL reach your goal.

In Remembrance

Today on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, I am celebrating the Yahrtzeit (death anniversary) of my dear father Zallia Shalom ben Shlomo Michal HaKohen, better known as Charlie. He passed away unexpectedly in his sleep 30 years ago today… I remember it like it was yesterday. I was expecting my first child then and my parents were leaving that morning to come visit.

Why celebrate? I celebrate my father, his life, his legacy. His was a difficult life. His father passed away when he was twelve. They had to move from their home to an apartment in a tough section of town, where being Jewish, he was constantly tormented. At eighteen he moved to New York City, worked in the garment business for a bit then enlisted in the Army, fought in WWII as a Captain, was wounded,  came home, met and married my mother and began a new life. Over the years, his old life tried to encroach on the happiness he had made for himself. During the war, the doctors had given him morphine for his wounds. It worked, but by working, created a whole new monster. He became dependent on drugs and, in turn, alcohol, all the while, raising three daughters and running two successful businesses. In his forties he overcame the drug and alcohol abuse, went to AA meetings regularly and totally turned his life around for the good. At fifty-five he retired. For me, that was a happy time. He and I were always close and when he retired, he relaxed. We used to go on daily walks together. I cherish those memories. There was a quiet strength to my father. Wherever he went, his smile lit up a room. He was also a poet.

Three days after my father passed away, my first daughter was born; bittersweet. Here I had just lost my dear father and my precious baby was born. When I had told him I was expecting, he cried. He was so lost for words that all he could say was that he was as happy as a fuzzy peach.  He couldn’t wait for this grandchild, his first. It’s not for me to question why he had to leave before meeting her, but I can say that I truly felt his presence in the delivery room. He was there, as he still is, thirty years later. I know in my heart that he has been present for each of my children’s births, that though not here physically, he is here.

He lives on through my life and the lessons I learned from him, he lives on through my children, his grandchildren, and he will live on through the generations. I wish he were physically here with me now, I’d like to give him a hug and say only, “I love you Daddy.”

Two poems by my father Charles Sumner Zalkind (1917-1980):


I look upon a leaf and see
Not a leaf, not yet a tree
But something greater in its majesty
The secret of eternity.

As winter fades to warming Spring
The wonder of it fills my heart
How wonderful the opportunity
To watch the eternal cycle start.

From a seed a tree is born
And it gives me pause to know
The beauty filled with mystery
A good G-d doth bestow.

For this gift like every other
We accept without a thought
Unthinking, oft unseeing
The miracles He hath wrought.

MOTHER’S DAY – (this was written for my mother)

This is the eve of Mother’s Day
I search my soul and heart
For words to tell you what I feel
I cannot even start.

For only you and I can know
How I wandered year on year
And only you and I can know
How much cost every tear.

So for Mother’s Day I give to you
A gift for G-d to see
Finally, finally the skies have cleared
And I can give you me.

Going Beyond

It’s the middle of the night in Minnesota and I’m wide awake. I’ve alot on my mind; too many things to do and maybe I’m a bit nervous. Rosh Hashana is coming next week, the start of the Jewish New Year. I am leaving with my kids to California, and will be very busy packing, traveling, settling in, and then cooking for 100 plus students; another challenge, another hurdle…

My life has been full of challenges and hurdles these past few months. It’s been amazing to experience and also scary. Over the last year, I’ve quit a job, gone back to school, gotten a degree, started a business…and the list goes on. Last week I tested for my red belt in martial arts. I’m really proud of that. I’m another step closer to my black belt. I am not alone though. I have the support of my friends and family. It’s important that we utilize those around us for both support and butt kicking.

Why am I doing these things? I’m at a point in my life where I need to let go of the fear that’s holding me back from living my life to its fullest. As I mentioned in my last blog, Courage, I am not a very adventurous type. I realized though, that by doing the opposite of what I thought was my nature, I could gain more self confidence and feel more fulfilled. Is it an easy thing I do? Not at all. I still have some self-doubt, but the difference is that I am using my self-doubt as a catalyst to move myself forward into the place I want to be, by turning it around and by taking one step at a time. I use “tools” that move me in the direction I have chosen to go. I am learning to declutter my physical and mental surroundings, I am purposely speaking in a more positive way, thus changing my thought patterns, and most importantly, I am allowing myself to trust ME. I am moving towards a more authentic ME.

At some point in our lives, we have to allow ourselves to take chances, to go beyond our comfort zone. If we don’t, how can we ever grow emotionally and spiritually, and then in turn, discover who we really are? Every new experience starts with a first step. That’s all it takes.


This morning my daughter called me from New York City all excited about the progress she has been making with settling in. It’s no small feat for a 19 year old to organize her schooling, find an apartment and learn her way around the city. I’m really proud of her and, to be honest, amazed that she can handle it all so gracefully and with a smile. Yes, I offered to go with her but she felt I’d be in the way, so I backed off; hard for any mother to do but especially for this mother. Raising 10 children has changed my personality into one I like to call “the general”. Am I a control freak? Possibly. Do I always succeed? Definitely NO!

I don’t like to admit it, but I’m not the most adventurous type. I don’t like roller coasters, I don’t like fast cars and I don’t like New York City. So to put it in her words (kindly said), “my coming to help is akin to babysitting”. I could have gotten really insulted by her remark but before I reacted, I thought for a moment and realized, “yes, she’s right. I don’t know my way around and she’d have one more thing to worry about.” So I let go. That being said, my “mother” instincts are stronger than my fears, so if she needs me, I will come.

How many times have we talked and talked and not been heard? As mothers we tend to see the world differently. “If only they would listen, they’d avoid a lot of pain and be happy.” We want to make everyone feel better, especially those we love. There are days that I wish my kids were still little and their troubles could be taken care of by a band aid, a kiss and a candy. “All better now.”

As our children grow we need to learn to let go. We need to talk less and do less. In this way, we will be heard more. We need to trust that we raised them to be independent responsible adults. We need to trust ourselves enough to know that they, our children, will be okay — they will survive. And most importantly, we need to give ourselves permission to let go. When our children know we are there for them, on the sidelines, ready to give a hand when needed, whether it is a band aid, a kiss, a candy, a word or just an ear, it gives them the courage to go out into the world and begin their lives. Less talk, less doing for — less noise — is more powerful a teacher than anything said.