Mothers share the best parenting advice they ever received, motherhood moments that moved them, the advice they wish they hadn’t followed — and the advice they wish they had
What was the best piece of mothering advice you ever received?
Bina, Caterer, Yerushalayim
My grandmother a”h used to say, “Zug ah kind az er iz gut, vert er besser — Tell a child he’s good, and he’ll become better.” A mother can’t underestimate the value of positivity. Our children are intrinsically good. They may mess up or do certain things we wish they didn’t (at any age) but letting them know that we love them, and that they are good, is crucial.
Also, the most important thing you can give your children is your time. I listened to that and used to take out one child once a week — either for pizza, or to the bakery, etc. It was our time together just to talk and enjoy each other’s company. Doing this at night made it even more special. I did it from about age six. The child picked the place he or she wanted to go and felt like a million dollars!
Sit with your child and play a game, read a book. Don’t get bogged down by what you have to do — like dishes, laundry, etc. That can wait, and the children grow up so quickly, you can’t turn the clock back. My married kids still talk about how I used to read them books and act out the characters.
Tzipi Caton, Author, Brooklyn
Your kids will not go to bed happy with you each day, and that’s okay. Parenting is not a popularity contest. Although saying no and setting healthy boundaries doesn’t always feel good, it’s part of what your children need in order to become healthy and stable adults. Be your own cheerleader for now. They’ll thank you later.
Also, talk to your kids the way you want to be spoken to. Honor their intelligence and emotions. Listen to them the way you would like to be listened to. Pay attention to their wisdom; they have so much to teach.
Sivan Rahav Meir, Journalist, Yerushalayim
My mother-in-law, Rabbanit Ziva Meir, is a parenting expert in Israel. When I attended her weekly shiur, I gained this incredible tip: We usually speak to our kids either with a question mark — “Do you want to eat something?” and “Maybe you want to sit down for supper?” or an exclamation mark —”Get off the table!” and “Clean your room, now!” My mother-in-law suggested that both of these should be replaced by simple, authoritative sentences, ending with a period. “Go to bed.” “Clean your room.” This works like magic. When you have calm authority, it gives you power, and your kids will listen.
Dana, Mechaneches, Brooklyn
As a mother, you’ll always have another load of laundry to wash, more dishes in the sink, and the next meal to cook. But these are signs of life and health — you can be grateful that you have a family to cook for, food to eat, clothing to wear, seforim on the table. Take a break when you need one, but know that your workload is a symptom of your blessings.
Sara, Stay-at-Home-Mom, Monsey
Accept your child for who he/she is. Don’t try to make them more like you, or your husband, or whoever else you think your child should be like. Just help them and guide them along their path.
Tsippi Gross, Executive Coach, Detroit
The best piece of mothering advice I’ve received came from Sarah Chana Radcliffe’s books. She stresses that we must become educated “parenters.” Many areas of parenting are very counterintuitive, so we cannot just rely on our gut to parent properly. For instance, we intuitively want to reassure a nervous or anxious child, saying things like, “Don’t worry, honey, you’ll do great,” which actually leads to more nervousness and doesn’t help them at all! We may never know that our kind and loving words are causing the opposite of what we intend, perpetuating nervous feelings — this is when knowledge and learned tools can help us to help our children.
Zehava, Saleswoman, Yerushalayim
When you have a lot of children, you’re so busy with myriad details both in and out of the house, you don’t have time for yourself. It’s important to take care of yourself. Carve out some time to go to exercise, take a class, or go to a shiur. This will help you give to your children from an “overflowing cup” and not from a “squeezed-out tube of toothpaste.”
Chaia Frishman, Recipe developer and FT columnist, New York
I remember when one of my children repeatedly hit another child. He was all of two-and-a-half years old and each time he smacked the kid, I went over and softly explained why he shouldn’t hit. My friend Etti watched and said, “Can I show you?” She looked my kid in the eye and in a firm voice said, “We don’t hit.” It worked. I learned that less is more and you need to match the tone to the message you want to convey.
Linda, Physiotherapist, New York
When my girls were maturing, I called a chashuve rebbetzin to ask her advice about what messages I needed to convey. She told me as follows, “There’s so much information and misinformation out there. The main thing you want your children to know is that their mother can be trusted to have the full, right, information, the lines of communication are always open, and they should always come back to you.”
Lisa Elefant, Director, AdoptAShadchan, Brooklyn
Thirty years ago, as a young mother, I wondered why there were no instructional manuals on how to be a good mother. Looking back, I realize why that would be practically impossible. My mother a”h always told me that each child has their own unique handle-with-care instructions. She said that if I ever felt unsure if I was doing the right thing with a particular kid, I could daven to the One who entrusted him to me for siyata diShmaya and not be afraid to speak to more experienced people.
Esky Cook, Artist/Photographer, Baltimore
It wasn’t actual advice in words. I just followed what my mother did for me, because I loved her style: giving compliments and only pointing out the good things she saw in everything and everyone. That brought out the best in me and everyone else! She’s my number-one role model.
Michali, Caterer, Ramat Beit Shemesh
Savor every stage and don’t wish it away. Nothing lasts: not being up a few times a night with your baby, nor the challenges of your children’s teens.
What was a mothering moment that deeply inspired you?
I had the privilege of taking a parenting course from someone I respected immensely. She mentioned that she woke up at 5:30 a.m. to put her son’s shirt in the dryer so that when she woke him for minyan at 5:45, he’d have a warm shirt to put on. I remember thinking this was totally unrelatable. I could never do that.
When I asked her how in the world she had the motivation to do that, when she went to bed well past 1 a.m., she looked at me, kind of confused, and said, “I just love my son so much!” It was all about her child. That stayed with me.
Another inspiration came from my OT friend. She had a bunch of rowdy boys who would get really wild in the afternoons. Rather than discipline them, make rules, and punish, she would take them outside every day, and have them run up and down the hill near her home until they got their energy out. When they came back in, they were out of breath, laughing, calm, and happy to play nicely.
She told me she also made sure to have a major tickle party with them in the morning, or have them jump on the trampoline before they went to school so that by the time they got on the bus, they were stimulated and calm, and able to learn well!
My daughter and my nieces were discussing a weight-loss contest and they asked us (their mothers) if we would take them on a trip if they lost x amount of weight. My sister wisely replied that she doesn’t have to reward that, showing the child that motivation needs to come from within. We lose out on developing our kids’ intrinsic self-motivation if we incentivize everything. I took that on board.
Right before my daughter’s wedding, we were walking home from a Friday night seudah, and my three kids, all in their twenties, were walking ahead of us. Watching them talk animatedly and enjoy each other’s company was a huge moment for me. I felt it embodied what we’re supposed to do — raise them, then let them go off, and pick up speed on their own.
At one point, I was feeling really low about my mothering, that I’m way too negative and that my speech and tone are too rough and critical and bossy. As I picked up messages on my house phone one day, there was a clip of me that was recorded during bath time by mistake. I was so surprised to hear this sweet, fun, positive mother talking patiently. It felt like a reminder from Above that I’m doing better than I think.
I remember watching a dear friend, a rebbetzin, sit with my then six-year-old daughter, look her in the eye, and give her undivided attention for 30 minutes. This rebbetzin has so many people scrambling for her attention at all times and yet when she was with my young daughter, she treated her as someone valuable, intelligent, and worthy of attention. I learned so much from observing that encounter.
I was once in a fitting room with my daughter who was two years old. She was my first child, so everything she did seemed so mature and special. After trying on a new outfit, I looked in the mirror and asked my daughter Rochelle what she thought of it. She said she loved it, so I decided to buy it. When we came out of the fitting room, a lady stepped out from the next fitting room and said, “I can’t believe you asked your kid for her opinion. She’s just a kid. What would she know!?” I was happy I could see more in her than that lady did.
I watched my daughter go through a divorce. I was told, “You can’t fix this; this is her journey.” That was difficult to absorb, but also empowering and inspiring. At a certain stage, we have to step back and Hashem carries out His plans for our children. Stand on the sidelines, be supportive, and daven.
It’s not one moment; it’s all the endless efforts of all the amazing moms I come into contact with every day. I honestly believe that each of my friends and the moms of my students want to do the best that they can. And just that intention is inspiring.
One of my children was a year out of seminary when a very wealthy friend of hers got engaged. She was chatting to another friend, who commented, “I can’t wait to get engaged, and I hope I’ll also get one of those top-of-the-range sheitels.”
I heard my daughter tell her, “What do you need that for? Don’t look up above you; look down at those who have less — you’ll always find people there and you’ll always be happy.”
Sivan Rahav Meir
It was inspiring to see, during the COVID crisis, how happy my kids were that we were home with them all day. They didn’t mind that there was little work, no weddings, and no events, because having their parents and being home with each other was a big treat. I was shocked by how little they needed.
My mother was my role model. Growing up, my home was not the fanciest or biggest, by far. Yet my friends always wanted to hang out there. My mother’s genuine care made everyone feel like a million dollars. As a teacher, she noticed that one of her students was withdrawn. She invited her to our home for Shabbos, and the girl never left until she baruch Hashem, got married. One of the middos my husband and I try to ingrain into our children is empathy for others. It’s not enough to talk about it — what are you going to do about it? That encapsulated my mom and that inspires me till today.
What mothering advice do you heartily wish you had not followed?
“He/she will outgrow it, it’s just a stage.” There were many times I had concerns, whether about my children’s educational progress or propensities toward something I wasn’t comfortable with, and I was offered platitudes brushing away my concerns as temporary. Sure, sometimes it’s nothing. But not all issues should be brushed away. If something keeps coming up in different iterations at different stages, it’s time to stop blaming nature and bring in more nurture to help that child.
Don’t listen to people who tell you to “make sure” your child does something, if it’s something that you can’t actually force him to do. I learned that the hard way. For example, you can’t physically force your child to eat something, so insisting that he does will only aggravate everyone.
“Accept the fact that you’ll be cranky and tired until your kids sleep through the night.” Today we know that self-care is important. An overtired mom may not make the wisest decisions, so don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about getting extra help if necessary, especially during the late afternoon when all the kids need attention.
“Teach kids how to be neat when they’re young or they’ll be slobs when they’re older.” This advice only created pressure for me and for my children. I’d rather have a messy house than have to keep track of reminders and routines and consequences. I think they’ll learn what they need to on their own, far better than if I stand over their backs. And my children surprised me beautifully by being the best, most meticulous helpers when we made Pesach with no cleaning lady last year!
“Let the kid cry it out,” and “Ignore them until they get over it.” Children may not think the way adults do, but they do feel. And their feelings are no less valid than ours. Children don’t deserve to be ignored until they “get over it.” They deserve kindness and presence, understanding, and gentle guidance.
Debbie, mechaneches and shadchan, New York
“Be as independent of your own parents as you can.” I wish I hadn’t tried to be totally independent and had involved the grandparents more. There’s nothing more beautiful than honoring parents. Now that my own children are grown, I wish more than ever that I had set for them that example of not being so full of yourself and asking advice from the more experienced.
“Your children are not your friends.” I think there’s something misleading about that. You don’t have to share everything with them, but you definitely want to spend time with them, have fun together, enjoy each other’s company, develop a great relationship. When I spent time with my kids during the corona lockdown, we enjoyed being together so much. I gained clarity and really got to enjoy their personalities.
Sivan Rahav Meir
“Ignore the kids when they fight.” I heard this from some very experienced mothers, but I disagree with it. Maybe sometimes you can just close your ears, but in general, I don’t recommend it. If a kid is crying, or they’re yelling at each other, or someone is hitting, you need to step in.
What advice didn’t you listen to that you wish you had?
“Sleep while the baby sleeps” and “Don’t be too busy to enjoy things.” I also wish I hadn’t gotten stressed trying to leave the house on time for events.
“Spend more time with them when they’re young and you’re still the number one person in their world.” That time passes too quickly.
When I was a young mom, I was always running. The bubbies in my building used to tell me how important it is to make time to take care of myself. I just rolled my eyes at them and thought I could exist forever with no self-care. I wish I would have spent more time developing my hobbies, getting out more without the kids, and learning things I enjoyed, without feeling guilty! I must say, I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now, and I have a lot more energy and insight as a mother!
“Don’t be a helicopter parent.” Your kids will make dumb decisions sometimes. Let them own it, even if you know they’ll be disappointed.
I wish I’d listened to people who said not to sweat the small stuff. I sweated a lot of small stuff, and I regret that. Although it doesn’t feel like it when we’re going through it, the time we have to build real lasting relationships with our kids is very short. Pick your battles wisely, keeping your relationship goals front and center at all times.
Leah, Receptionist, Yerushalayim
“If a child helps out, accept their efforts with praise and gratitude.” If your child washes dishes, you’ll notice the dirt left on the plates. If they help a younger child undress, you’ll see they put the pajama top on backward. But mentioning that will ensure that they don’t want to help out again, or will do it grudgingly. Closing your eyes to their errors would have been much better.
“Help young children name emotions.” It sounded like New Age psychobabble to me, but that’s actually the time to build emotional awareness. When the kids get older, it’s so much harder to get into their emotional reality.
“Be firm and consistent.” It’s advice that goes against my nature, but I should have done it.
Aliza, Saleswoman, New York
“Pick your battles.” You can’t say “no” to everything you don’t like the sound of. I should have said “yes” more, and left “no” for the really important things.
Sivan Rahav Meir
“Spend less time at work, more time at home.” I love my work for the Israeli media, but I’ll always be thinking that I should’ve spent less time covering some famous trial or the elections and more with my kids.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 730)
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