Lawrence Kelemen, the author of To Kindle A Soul, was drawn into observant Judaism after hearing a great sage speak to a group of men regarding child rearing. The author – with years of involvement in American secular education – had never witnessed such a large group of men come together to learn how to be good fathers. This talk and many talks that occurred after inspired Kelemen’s own book.
To Kindle A Soul is filled with statistics that may overwhelm or bore its readers. But, Kelemen ties this empirical research to the ancient traditions and codes in Judaism. Kelemen speaks of a tradition first shared at Mount Sinai – “G-d taught that all creation proceeds in two stages. First, potential must be brought into existence. Second, it must be realized. Both stages are necessary – this is the law of spiritual physics.”
This is the premise from which Kelemen’s perspective on child raising stems from. His book is not necessarily a “how to” book, though there are many suggestions for a variety of issues such as sleep, attention, food and exercise. He also focuses on building self-esteem and resilience, developing altruism and empathy and transmitting our values to our children.
The book is intended to grow better parents as much as it is to build “whole” children. It introduces concepts from which a parent can create a parenting style that will model appropriate values, set firm limits and develop firm boundaries.
One of the first notions that Kelemen introduces is that of ‘planting and building’. Planting seeds, an essential component of child rearing, does not render immediate effects. The slow, natural growth occurs over time – sprouting, extending and growing. Building, however, yields immediate results. Unlike planting seeds, building is somewhat limiting in that it does not give way to future crops. Nevertheless, the two are both important for successful child-raising.
Parents who witness the blooming buds from their seed sowing gather those moments to write down in the baby books. They smile with an “aha” as they observe something they “taught” finally sinking in. A child who steps in to stand up for another child who is being bullied or a child grasping the concept of Tzedakah and caring for others are examples from a seed-planting harvest. Parents providing structure for the nighttime routine or a suitable environment for studying are “building” proper structures for their children.
The remainder of Kelemen’s book applies the concepts of planting and building to all areas of childrearing. He concludes with the charge that human existence is based upon the drive to continuously better ourselves and that engaging consciously in this process allows us to plant and build the proper foundation from which the souls of our children can be ignited.
I purchased this book upon recommendation from my Rabbi.