Your child is normal. Your family life is fine. So why read a book about problems with raising children? A recent selection of Sewickley Academy's Lower School book club, child psychologist Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, may surprise you.
After 15 years of counseling affluent, privileged families in Los Angeles, Mogel realized that something was amiss in their lives. The children did not have traditional psychological problems—they were not sick. But they were not thriving. They complained often, or were overly resistant, or were unhappy when denied the latest gadget or outing. They argued against everything from dinner to homework. “It may sound as if these problems are mild, typical of normal friction … but the daily problems were unremitting,” Mogel writes.
Mogel found that parents, meanwhile, felt overburdened. She describes her own challenges while raising two young daughters: the exhaustion of running full speed from dawn until dropping catatonic into bed at night, the mental strain of managing countless academic and activity-related details, the lack of personal time. Overall, the children and their parents seemed chronically, well, unhappy. And psychiatry was not the answer.
Mogel’s book identifies a solution: nurturing the character of children by using Jewish teachings.
“The parents I counseled had fallen into a trap created out of their own good intentions,” Mogel writes. “Determined to give their children everything they needed to become ‘winners’ in this highly competitive culture, they missed out on God’s most sacred gift to us: the power and holiness of the present moment and of each child’s individuality.”
Over the course of thousands of years, Jewish culture has emphasized the development of qualities that may be even more elusive in this modern age: self-reliance; honor and respect for parents and friends; self-control; resilience; gratitude; investing meals with an attitude of moderation and sanctification; and many others.
These are universal values, of course, common to the world’s great faiths. But Mogel skillfully combines spiritual truths with her scientific training in a way that connects ancient lessons to modern circumstances. The result reveals the hidden costs of our parental ambition.
Mogel attributes much of privileged children’s negative behavior to heavy pressure from a competitive environment and unconscious pushback against high parental expectations. Her book is full of strategies on how to strike that elusive balance between homework and home life, discipline and space. Her advice covers so much ground, it offers something that pertains to almost every child.
Stripped to their spiritual essence, all of the world’s major religions deliver a consistent message from God. So no matter what your faith, and regardless of your child’s situation, there is something for all parents in the Skinned Knee.
This post originally appeared on Sewickley Academy's Private School Blog and was written by current Sewickley Academy parent Jesse Washington, a writer for The Associated Press.