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The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: A Book Review

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. is not your ordinary parenting book. It is unique, not only for its Jewish insight but for the author’s brilliant perspective and powerful writing voice. Using her background in psychotherapy and the transformational evolution of the manner in which she helped her clients, Wendy Mogel provides a practical and real contribution to parenting.

Unlike other parenting books which provide instructions and methods for dealing with “problems” such as children who won’t sleep, how to use time out effectively , or how to manage disrespectful children, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee identifies Jewish values crucial to raising children.

Within these values come profound lessons for parenting by teaching children skills, honor, perspective, gratitude, and awe for something greater than oneself. I believe Mogel’s attitude is captured in a single statement in her book: “The purpose of having children,” she writes, “and raising them to be self-reliant, compassionate, ethical adults is to ensure that there will be people here to honor G-d after we’re gone.” (p.26)

Each of the chapters in The Blessing of a Skinned Knee offers insight and wisdom based on a merit inherent in Judaism. In the chapter which explores the blessing of acceptance, for example, Mogel explains how our misguided expectations have led us to place inappropriate demands and a value for perfection on our children. The author encourages us to get to know our children – what his or her particular temperament is, what his or her specific needs are, and who he or she truly is. Mogel goes on to remark that just as we are to “learn Torah lishma” (for its own sake), we, also, must love our children for their own sake.

As a mother who often despises the mundane tasks I endure, I found the chapter on work – “finding the holy sparks in ordinary chores” quite intriguing. Mogel emphasizes the importance of involving children in doing tasks but stresses that they should be encouraged to do them in their own way, not necessarily the way we do them. Mundane chores are an “honorable and inevitable part of our lives”, according to Mogel, and she provides a step by step plan for introducing chores to children and helping them become daily habits they can take pride in.

Mogel also includes something every parent would appreciate more information on – teaching children self-discipline. Following suit to the rest of the book, this is not your typical chapter on discipline, and it happens to be my favorite one in the book. A child’s greatest strength lies within his worst quality, Mogel tells us. In Judaism, this is known as yetzer hara, the evil inclination. It is our job as parent to guide our children through barriers toward the constructive expression of their yetzer hara. When a child’s behavior does require discipline, Judaism is very clear on how and how not to carry it out. The rest of this chapter identifies the three levels of “sin” and how to respond to your child within each level of misbehavior.

Wendy Mogel includes many more chapters in her book. Additional topics cover honoring parents, avoiding overprotection, teaching children gratitude, a chapter on food, the value of time and overcoming the fear of spirituality and G-d in order to bring faith and tradition to your family.

This is a must-read for any Jewish parent – and, actually – any Jewish individual who wants to examine life through a Jewish lens.

I purchased this book at a local book store and have since heard the author speak at a local engagement.

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