Monday, February 14, 2011

How I daven with three young children at home

Bribes. Bribes deserve a post of their own. Here is how I use bribes to get some praying done Shabbat morning. Unlike the rest of the week, when my kids are at nursery school or babysitting, on Shabbat they are all around in their lively glory, and it can be quite challenging to pray.

Wait, first let me tell you what I do NOT do. I do not try to engage in solemn communion with my Creator with the child cyclone swirling around me. I tried this briefly the other week—snatching a quick mincha while the kids ate dinner so very nicely. My darling A.N. promptly starting using her fork to drum on the pine dining table, so instead of thinking about prayer I was thinking “Gouge gouge gouge. Gouge gouge gouge.”

Pine is a soft wood.

What I try to do instead is strike a balance between spirited communal prayer and getting them all to leave me alone for some solitary one-on-One. This is the same balance that the architects of the liturgy attempted, so I find that the Shabbat morning prayer lends itself to this system quite well.

 My son is 19 months, young enough to play independently and happily as long as his sisters don’t attack him when he knocks over their block towers or what have you. The girls are 3.5 and getting them to mind themselves for a bit is more challenging.

I break the davening up into segments. These days, those segments look like this:

- Brachot
- Pesukei dezimra (or some of them)
- Ahava rabba and Shema
- Shacharit Amida
- Ashrei
- Mussaf Amida

So we say brachot together. I say, “Okay, who is going to say AMEN to Ima’s brachot?” And then after each bracha, I look expectantly at them, wait for their “AMEN” and then give a little English translation of the bracha in vocabulary they can understand. Baruch Atah Hashem Zokef Kefufim – AMEN! Thank you Hashem that we can stand up so straight.

Then we sing Pesukei Dezimra together. I let the kids climb all over me, snuggle on my lap. We sing together. Sometimes we dance. Sometimes they call out words they recognize and translate them.

Okay, now for the bribes. For davening that is better done in silence, such as the Shema, I sequester the girls in a part of the apartment with quiet toys, and bribe them to stay there for a short period of time. We call this a “davening mission,” for which I promise them a small treat of their choice—a rubber band bracelet, a marshmallow, etc. My goal is to keep each “mission” short and doable, and to present this as a fun opportunity for them. The result is that they beg me to daven more, which is good for all of us!

I leave them alone and go into a separate zone in the apartment to pray. Each time we do a mission, we review the rules. The girls get the prize if they play quietly without fighting, calling for me, or leaving the designated zone until I come back with their prize. When I give them the prize, I make a huge deal about how nicely they are behaving, and what a zechut it is to help Ima talk to Hashem, and also share a bit about how much it meant to me to connect to Hashem and how much I appreciate their efforts. I walk in with their prize singing a song, which they now know and sing along. The tune is a stadium cheer, and we sing “Na na na giborim (heroes), HEY.” Then they get their prize.

(More on the giborim thing another time.)

Then we repeat the process.

After the first Amida, we pause for “Ashrei snuggles,” where someone gets to sit on my lap while we sing Ashrei together.

They didn’t catch on to the system immediately, and we’ve had setbacks. But we’ve been going strong like this for several months, and now the girls include their brother in their play as well. I hope I am giving them a sense of the importance of davening, as well as sneaking a few minutes for my own spiritual growth.


Rafi Daugherty said...

Wow Chaya! I really appreciated reading this even though I don't daven and don't have kids yet!!! :) I like your method!!!! Rafi

Chaya said...

Thanks Rafi!

Perela said...

i dont know who you are, but this is beautiful!! i'm definitely going to try this with my kids! i find that shabbos morning is the hardest time to daven.

Kira said...


Glad Hatter said...

Amazing! I have just been living off the hope that all the extra davening I got when I was single is filtering into these years and keeping my average up. I run tot shabbat, but this should hopefully get me a little yom tov davening! IYH it'll keep working for you!

faith/emuna said...

wow! very clever, great balance.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating post!

Pamela said...

I love the idea of a quiet zone. At Casa, it was the BBB place. Book, Bear, Blanket. Only silence occurred there. It was a sacred place for the children.

Anonymous said...

I somehow stumbled upon your blog through the JWRP facebook page. I am so happy that I landed here. What a gr8 way to daven and bring your kids into it. Thanks for the inspiration and thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Please don't bribe your kids. You will teach them that what they are doing is all about a prize, not doing a good thing.
Love True

Elana K said...

Thanks so much for this! I have an 18 month old and 5 month old, and never have time to daven. Even though the 18 month old can play by herself, I have to always be on guard that she doesn't tackle her sister. I'm going to keep your method in mind for when they get a bit older. (If you have any advice on how to daven with kids this age, I would appreciate it!)

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