Are you an Israeli mama at heart? You might be and not even know it!
Sure, I’ve been parenting for 21 years (OMG!). But I’m still learning when it comes to raising kids here in Israel. Some of the lessons are harder than others to absorb, but here are 7 things that I have learned so far by watching the Israeli mamas around me.
Some of these might even help other mamas, outside of Israel, become better, more capable, kid-friendly parents. Maybe you’re already an Israeli mama?
1) Kids are outside
Israeli apartments are SMALL. That means the best place to play is outside. Smart Israeli mamas send their kids outside the second they get home from school, almost year round.
Just about every neighbourhood I've seen in this country has a decent playground, and most are far better than decent. Playgrounds here are simply more fun, and provide better activities for a wider range of ages.
In the summer, when outside can be dangerously hot all day long, kids play at night, often ridiculously late into the night. I call them the "Vampire Children," but everybody here seems to think it's normal, simply because kids belong outside.
2) Kids do real work
From running to the makolet (convenience store) to buy milk and flour to taking care of younger siblings, Israeli parents expect their kids to do real work just as a matter of course.
Older kids push strollers and walk younger siblings to gan on their way to school, then pick them up afterwards. The couple of times we've had Naomi Rivka, 10, pick GZ, 8, up from his school, it hasn't even raised an eyebrow, because for many families, this is the arrangement.
The first time I volunteered in Naomi Rivka's school, I was surprised to see kids sweeping the classroom floor during recess. This is just part of their rotating "toranut," responsibility for the classroom. Every kid gets a turn to empty the trash, sweep the floor, wipe the boards, and generally make the place liveable. In Canada, it was always some abstract janitor who did all that stuff.
As well, sending kids to the store to pick up a few things is considered routine beyond about the age of 4. But beware! The age to cross a street by yourself is 9. I'm not sure if this is law or custom, but it's taught in school and every single Israeli I've met knows this and takes it seriously.
That doesn't mean younger kids can't come and go on their own; they'll just have to wait for an adult or older kid to help them cross (maybe you!).
3) Kids have less stuff
Okay, this has been tough to get used to. Israelis in general have less stuff than us stuff-addicted North Americans. They have apartments that are shoebox-sized and they are NOT overflowing with junk.
Kids learn this early. Most kids we know here own exactly the right number of shoes, clothes, toys, etc., which is generally a pretty low number. Anything beyond this (oh, North America, I weep for you) is excess.
4) Kids are everybody's concern
Other people will correct your children when you're not around. Or if you are, they'll feel free to correct YOU in your parenting style. The first day I was ever in Israel, I was with Naomi Rivka (then 3) on a bus, and several people came up to me and told me she needed a haircut.
When GZ fell off his scooter on the sidewalk 2 years ago, he was bleeding and crying everywhere. Not just pedestrians, but drivers on the road beside us pulled their cars over to offer help when they saw a crying child. One woman just handed me a pack of baby wipes to help clean him up, and after making sure we were okay, took off. I know that if it had happened when I wasn’t there, he would have been just fine without me.
The downside of this is that everybody will give your kids candy, freezer pops, cookies, etc. The quaint North American custom of asking parents before offering sweets doesn't exist here. So if your kid has allergies or any other issue with food, you'll have to arm her to say no politely.
5) Parents are invisible
There are very few helicopter parents here in Israel. If you see a mother or father hanging around his or her kids in the park, chance are, they're olim or tourists.
Where are the parents? See above. They're around, as are every other pair of eyes in the neighbourhood. I honestly believe kids are safer this way in general, with a whole country full of grownups watching out for them than just the 2 they're descended from.
However, in terms of playground dynamics, it can be tough. Things get a little more rough-and-tumble and there's a lot less grownup intervention if kids are being nasty to one another.
6) Parents create less structure
I love this one. I'm a big fan of kids having time to themselves to work on their own activities, or just play & dream.
Yes, most neighbourhoods these days offer countless chugim, or after-school activities, and some schools have a "Moadonit," or after-school club which keeps kids there until parents finish work. There's also "Tzaharon," after-school daycare for all elementary ages.
However, in general, kids' lives are less structured here, and Israeli mamas don't feel obligated to program every moment of their kids' days.
One of the biggest ways this shows is in the difference in playdates. In Canada, parents would drop off their kid and tell me they'd be back in an hour or two. Here, people are more casual, but playdates are expected to last a few hours, at least.
"When do you want to come?" asked one mama, who seemed puzzled that I was even asking. Nobody ever seems to be in a hurry. Drop your kid off at 4, and you're in the clear until 7. They'll feed him and make sure he's okay, but won't offer any type of activity beyond that. The catch is that when the kids come to you they stay... and stay... and stay. All afternoon, if you let them, which you must.
However, since you're not obligated to entertain them, and bigger kids usually feed themselves, you don't have to do anything special as long as they're getting along all right.
7) Kids are indulged
This is the one I have the hardest time with. I know I said above that Israeli kids are expected to do real work, and that’s true. But they ALSO manage to get away with murder, at least from my perspective.
For one thing, they're casual almost to the point of rudeness. I'm like a dinosaur, with my insistence on calling parents by last names, but it's too late; Naomi Rivka knows and calls all her friends' mothers by their first names ("Did you call Michal yet?").
Parents also feed their kids constantly, and pretty junky stuff, too. If you don't do that, or you offer milk and fruit instead of petel (drink syrup) and cookies, you're seen as a pretty tough parent (me!). If you don't let your child do something, you can be sure their friends will stand there arguing with you until you change your mind.
One thing that has shocked me here is that despite the Torah's idea that young people should give up seats to older people, almost everybody on a bus will stand to give their seat to a child if they see one standing. I'm like, "What about me?" but they apparently don't care about me, only that my precious poppets might have to stand up for four minutes.
Somebody told me that Israeli kids are generally indulged because everybody knows that the army will whip them into shape when they turn 18. I don't know if that's true (either that the army whips anybody into shape or that that "whipping" ensures better lifelong habits), but whatever the case, children are generally seen as the country's most precious asset and that part, I agree with.
Have I missed any of the secrets? Have you noticed anything different about Israeli parents and their parenting style that you’d like to add here? Go ahead and share your thoughts in the Comments section!