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Strategies for Harmonious Family Chagim

Harmonious or Stressful Family  Chagim

Are you looking forward to spending quality family time over the upcoming Chagim, or are you feeling stressed and anxious?

Rabbi Zev Leff tells the story about a man who had a medical issue which made it prohibitive for him to fast on Yom Kippur. As an observant Jew, he asked his rabbi if he should eat on Yom Kippur. He simply could not fathom such a reality. His rabbi told him that if he does fast, he would actually NOT be worshipping G-d but rather serving a god named Yom Kippur.

While this anecdote may sound extreme, it reflects many of the expectations that we often have of ourselves and our families during the time of the Chagim. These expectations can be harmful to the spiritual high and emotional well-being that we all want to achieve. Just as physical health conditions should be discussed with a doctor and mental health issues with a mental health provider, we should also consult our rabbi to make certain that our expectations are reasonable. For example, children with social anxiety may not be able to manage in a large Rosh Hashanah minyan or being with strangers as guests at the dinner table. Those with ADHD will probably have difficulty sitting quietly for a five hour Schacharis . Parents suffering from depression may be challenged to provide the festive atmosphere we expect during this time. It is vital to be aware of limitations and needs in the family and to plan accordingly.


Here are some suggestions for planning our holiday observance to minimize the stress and maximize the inspiration:

  1. Have realistic expectations and plan ahead. Think about your needs and the needs of each family member before the start of the chagim. Then make a plan that best suits those needs including a back-up plan if Plan A doesn’t work. Share the plans with family members to bring everyone on board so they will be more willing to help find solutions. Both children and adults are less stressed when they have an ‘exit strategy’ in place. For example, give a shy child permission to retreat to her room if the multitude of guests becomes overwhelming.

  1. Modelling is a parent’s most powerful teaching tool. Children mimic what we do, not what we say. If we want our children to be quiet during davening, we shouldn’t talk to our neighbor. If want our children to value their Yiddishkeit, we have to model behavior that brings joy into our holiday preparations and observances.

  1. Know that our children are separate human beings. When we respect our children by recognizing that their behavior is more under their control than ours, we can be less emotionally reactive to the things they do that might otherwise disturb or embarrass us. Ironically, in the long run, this enables us to be more effective when we do communicate our wishes.

  1. Be aware of your own needs. Schedule down time for yourself if only for just five minutes. Take a nap, read a story or go for a walk. The best time to work on self-control is before you lose it!

  1. Have guests or don’t have them. Guests can enhance your holiday celebration or create unnecessary and unwelcome tension. Do what works best for your family. Remember, your family members are your most important guests.

  1. Plan for medication or other treatment needs. If you or your children are on medication or have a regular treatment schedule, plan ahead on how you will satisfy those needs during the holiday season.

Every family is unique, with special needs and expectations. You know yourself and your family best. You can make this holiday season the best ever by honoring that uniqueness and doing not what is expected but rather what you need for yourself and your family.

Shana Tova,  and best wishes for a Happy Holiday season.

Sima Gordon, Mentoring Programs Supervisor

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