t’s time to think about what you’re going to tell your daughter before she leaves for seminary. Don’t worry, it’s not like you only have one chance to get this right: Your daughter will be phoning home a lot. Especially at the beginning. I overheard a girl on the phone ask her mother — who had never seen the seminary — “Where should I put my shoes?”
As your daughter’s eim bayit, I’ll tell her the things you forgot to tell her. She and I may develop a close relationship, and she might take what I say to heart. But she respects your opinion more than mine, and what you tell her will reverberate in her mind and in her heart forever. So let me suggest some discussion topics you might not have thought of.
The first thing to tell her is not to call home too often. She’ll have unlimited phone service, which makes it tempting to phone home frequently. But both of you want her to develop independence, and limiting phone time is a good way to start.
Almost everyone can use guidance about being a good roommate. Emphasize the value of being considerate and giving. She may also need you to teach her some life skills — like how to keep her room neat and how to do laundry — but there are harder skills she’ll need too, like when to consult with the staff, and not a classmate, about a friend’s problems.
Sometimes, a good roommate has to do things her friend won’t like. The staff is experienced and capable, and it’s not lashon hara to let us know about a possible problem. One student mentioned that her roommate kept leaving the table to throw up. If she’d told me when she first noticed it, we may have been able to help the girl. But by the time she told us, her roommate had to go home to get the help she needed.
Budgeting is a skill. Girls want to spend carefully; most of them earned their own spending money, because they’re aware that their year here is costing you a lot. They want to begin standing on their own two feet. But few realize how expensive daily life can be.
Teach your daughter to keep track of her spending by writing down expenses and keeping receipts. And remind her that some months — Tishrei, Kislev, and Nissan — are going to be more expensive than others. As will be the last month, when she’s buying gifts for everyone back home.
Weight gain is a sensitive topic. Homesickness can play havoc with willpower. Remind your daughter not to undo the good habits of a lifetime; if she doesn’t turn to food to alleviate tension at home, she shouldn’t do it in seminary. Tell your daughter that maintaining her weight will be a challenge, and that sticking to a schedule for meals and sleeping is the easiest way to keep from gaining weight.
Keeping a schedule will also help her stay healthy, and that’s crucial to ensure she has a great year in seminary. Seminary classes are academically rigorous, interesting, and thought-provoking. They provide ruchniyus fuel for years to come. It would be a shame for her to shortchange herself by getting run down.
If you have an older daughter spending shanah rishonah in Eretz Yisrael,
she may welcome little sis’s company. But good fences make good neighbors. Make it clear to your daughter that shanah rishonah couples have to limit their after-supper visitors. And remind her to be considerate of older siblings with kids, too. Fresh chocolate chip cookies are good, but being left with a dirty kitchen is not. And if a family does her laundry, the best way she can say “thank you” is by helping with some other household chore.
Prepare your daughter to be a good guest. She’ll gain a lot from inspiring Shabbos families if she makes herself at home by helping with the meals. Also, tell her that even if a hostess says that hosting her was no trouble at all and she didn’t go to any extra effort… it’s not true. Women put themselves out to impress guests, so your daughter should put herself out to return the favor. Great Shabbos guests help keep the kids entertained.
She’ll probably want to have some exciting Shabbosim, and that’s okay — but she can’t just go anywhere in the name of a “chavayah”; she needs to go to people the seminary has vetted. I remember when a group of girls decided they wanted to spend Shabbos in the Old City. Rather than asking the sem for help, they started calling all the numbers in the phone book that had the digits of an Old City phone number, saying, “You don’t know us, but we’re nice sem girls who’d like to invite ourselves for Shabbos. We’ll help cook and clean up, and we’ll bring our own sheets. Can we come?”
One person who answered the phone asked, “Do you know who you’re calling?”
“No, but we’re really nice. And we’ll help with your kids.”
“You’ve phoned the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.”
Eretz Yisrael is a civilized country, and seminaries are in densely populated neighborhoods. That means that a seminary girl is never far from someone who’s trying to sleep, or putting their kids to bed. Remind your daughter that no matter who gets engaged or has a baby, shrill cries of joy after 10 p.m. are pas nisht, and 2 a.m. birthday parties in the dorms don’t have to involve the neighbors.
Encourage your daughter to connect to a teacher she respects. The chance to get close to someone she admires may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Her teachers are there for her and she shouldn’t be shy about approaching them; earlier in the year is better than later.
Reassure your daughter that this is the perfect time to form new friendships. She might be more comfortable clinging to the friends she already has, but seminary provides the perfect chance to widen her comfort zone. At first, students are so nervous that they tend to cling to the first person who smiles at them. Let your daughter know that she can take her time choosing new friends. It’s better than getting saddled with someone who’s not really her type.
This is the year young adults think long and hard about the ruchniyus-gashmiyus balance that works for them. Seminary’s focus on ruchniyus adds heft to the ruchniyus side of the equation, especially in Eretz Yisrael, where the gashmiyus isn’t as readily available. Explain to your daughter that she’ll gain more from seminary if she takes time every week to focus on why she’s spending the year there. Going to the Kosel each week is a good way to make that happen.
She’s ready for this step. So speak to her like an adult. Talk to her as if she were the wisest, kindest, most beautiful of women, because what she believes about herself is what she will become.
After your daughter speaks to you, it takes her a while to settle down, and she can’t fall asleep. Before she leaves for Eretz Yisrael, set sensible times for phone calls that will work for both of you. It’s not good for her to stay up until 3 a.m. so you can touch base after Shabbos.
Make your daughter panic about gaining weight. I remember a mother who didn’t want her daughter to come home for Pesach because she was afraid of how she’d look, and she wasn’t going to let her go to shul until she’d lost her seminary bulge. I told her that her daughter was beautiful even when she was a little heavier than usual. (Also remember that, at her age, it’ll be pretty easy to take off extra weight.)
Clean Room, Clear Mind
Get organized. She should organize her days, her weeks, and her room.
The most important message to give your daughter
That you believe in her. At the departure gate, give her a goodbye kiss and tell her, “I love you! You’ll do great!”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 657)