This week, we started Selichos. My father used to wake me up once I was in first grade to take me to shul at midnight. Therefore, I have been doing that with my sons. I feel that it’s great chinuch but my wife doesn’t agree. As we read your emails every week, we agreed to let you decide.
When your father took you to shul at midnight when you were seven years old, did you enjoy it? It’s always a good idea to utilize effective parenting techniques that your parents used if, of course, you gained from them as a kid.
My father used to take us to Selichos, and he was the chazzan. It was a 35-minute drive, and I remember loving it. I’m pretty sure I only davened Ashrei — and some years probably not even that. Nonetheless, it got me in the Yomim Noraim mood. The haunting tune of Kaddish, the 13 Middos being cried out together, the kittels being worn — it was so inspiring. I felt like an adult, and it was such a special experience that my siblings and I didn’t even fight that much on the drive back. Granted, it was in the middle of the night, so we were probably a bit tired.
However, just because my father took me doesn’t mean I have to take my children. My wife and I discussed it years ago, and we decided to let the kids decide. We wake up each of the boys about 30 minutes before Selichos and ask if they want to come. Surprisingly, they almost always want to come with me. It could be they are also excited. Possibly it gives them bragging rights in yeshiva the next day. Most likely it’s the fact that we go to Dunkin’ Donuts afterward.
During Selichos, my older boys are obviously more involved in the davening than the younger ones. After davening, we head to Dunkin’ Donuts. Although going to Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t evoke the spiritual awareness that’s appropriate for this time of year, it definitely motivates the younger boys to join us at midnight. The older boys and I don’t really eat very much there, but it’s exciting for the younger kids.
As parents, we need to make sure that our kids love Yiddishkeit, and if it means a 2 a.m. trip to Dunkin’, count me in. (Actually, I don’t have a monopoly on the idea, as there are many dads making the trip with their kids. It’s pretty comical as a gaggle of bleary-eyed men and boys stagger into the store and order doughnuts, lattes, and bagels.) Most of the food gets saved for the morning, and, baruch Hashem, most of the yeshivos have a late start the next day.
Now let’s discuss your son. Does he have to go? What if he wants to sleep? Do you also make sure his finger is on the place the whole time? It’s a slippery slope. Anytime you’re forcing your children to do something, it already gets “iffy.” I’m not saying you need to join me at Dunkin at two in the morning, but there are many ways to make it a special event.
- You can write a special note to his rebbe explaining how amazing it is that he came with you.
- You can take him to breakfast in the morning as a “thank you” for joining you.
- It can be as simple as making a big deal out of it. Slap him five and tell him how proud you are of him.
The other side of this question is how your wife deals with this. There are many times that people want to ensure their children aren’t being pressured, and, therefore, they inadvertently push the other way. Here’s an example. Let’s pretend that a father successfully convinced his third- and fifth-graders to stay up until midnight learning on Shavuos. They’re all excited. Along comes the mother who really means well and says, “Kids, you really don’t have to stay up if you don’t want to. There’s no halachah that you need to, and I don’t want you acting tired on yom tov.”
While she meant well, that particular mother is pushing too hard the other way. A better response would be, “I’m so impressed that you guys are staying up at night! It shows how mature you are, and we’re so proud of you. Just remember, if you get tired at all, please ask Daddy to walk you home. We won’t be upset at all, and whatever you do is a huge mitzvah.” This way you’re not taking away from the excitement, but you’re giving them a way out.
Getting back to your question, if your kids are excited to go with you, by all means take them and make it into a positive experience. If they’re on the fence, see if you can motivate them. They might sleep through Selichos, and if they do, don’t make any snide comments. It’s all a positive experience. One comment like, “Well, if you would’ve been awake you might have enjoyed it more” might convince them not to come anymore. If they don’t want to come, that’s also fine. I would even venture to say that if they’ll daven better with you in the morning, you should also wait until the morning to say Selichos! (Always ask your rav before making these decisions.)
Your wife should be on the same page as you. She should tell them how excited she is for them and how special it is. However, if they don’t want to wake up, tell them it’s fine and they can try again next year. Sometimes only one or two of the boys might want to come, and that’s also fine. They can always say Selichos in the morning if they want.
Wishing your whole family a kesivah v’chasimah tovah.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.