Splitting bar mitzvah responsibilities

Divide and conquer

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Dear Cantor Matt,

How can I get my kid to take more responsibility of his bar mitzvah lessons? Isn’t that what this whole thing is supposed to be about?

— Mom’s Doing It All

Dear Mom,

Yes! Why, when I was that age, I walked to bar mitzvah lessons through two-feet of snow, fighting off grizzly bears. Today’s kids have it way too easy.

Well, there is a little bit of truth in that. Parents do tend to look for ways to make things a little easier for their overworked and over-programmed kids. The average kid is already carefully balancing the constant demands of homework, sports, and other after-school activities that keep him busy all day. Add in the extra time and effort required for lessons and practicing, and that could be enough to tip the balance. What parent wouldn’t try to ease that stress as much as possible?

But Mom, you still have the right idea. The goal of becoming bar mitzvah isn’t memorizing a bunch of prayers and melodies that will be soon forgotten. Instead, it should mark a time when a young person starts thinking — even a little bit — about taking on more responsibility for his own actions and decisions. So, how can you help him do that without wiping your hands together and saying: “Ok, I’m done. It’s all on you now. Good luck with that.”

Here are some strategies you can try that will preserve your sanity and bolster your son’s sense of responsibility:

Divide and conquer

During the months leading up the big day, there’s a ton of work to get done. You have invitations, party planning, lessons, travel details, seating arrangements, practicing, clothes shopping … it just never seems to end! So take all those tasks and divide them up between parent and child. Decide right now that anything related to bar mitzvah lessons and practicing will be your son’s job. It’s on him to keep track of what he needs to practice and when his lessons are scheduled.

Lost and stay lost

As a cantor, I can’t begin to tell you how many students have come to lessons and told me: “I can’t find my folder.” Then, running a close second to that excuse is the number of times I’ve gotten a call from a parent telling me that Junior lost his materials and asking me to replace them.

I understand that things get misplaced and lost all the time. If something goes missing, and you’ve done everything you can to find it, it’s the kid’s job to call or email the cantor and ‘fess up before the next lesson.

That way it hasn’t become Mom’s problem, and your son will be able to pick up a new set of materials without wasting a lot of time.

That nagging feeling

This is the granddaddy of parent and kid issues. Parents feel like they have to nag their children to practice, while kids complain that their parents are nagging them all the time! The solution? No more nagging. It doesn’t work. It makes everyone miserable and stressed out. If you assume that all practicing and preparation is the bar mitzvah boy’s responsibility, then there’s no reason to get involved at all. Consider it another piece of homework that your child has. He will get it done, just possibly not on the same timetable that you had in mind. Trust me that he’s perfectly well motivated to prepare very well. After all, he knows that he will be the one standing up there singing in front of everyone, not you.

Remember, the more you can sit back and let your kid take care of things without your involvement, the more prepared he will be to tackle the next major hurdle.

Isn’t that a lot better than stressing out over whether he’s ready for his next lesson?

Cantor Matt Axelrod (Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ) is the author of “Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide.” He’s always happy to hear from you and he might answer your question in a future column. You can email him at cantormatt@mattaxelrod.com.

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