Wendy Mogel, noted parenting author, visits Temple Emanu-El

Jan 18, 2023 / 25 Tevet, 5783

Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and best-selling author, has made a career of understanding and communicating the challenges of modern parenting and family life. She’ll be visiting Temple Emanu-El at 7 p.m. on Jan. 19 to speak to parents of young children. Register here to purchase your $18 ticket.

The Window caught up with her before her visit to learn more about her career path and her wisdom for modern parents.

We are so looking forward to your visit at Temple. Can you tell us about what led you to your profession?
In high school, I wrote and performed puppet shows for children’s birthday parties. Before the party, I would meet with the parents and learn about the child’s favorite things such as TV shows, games, and the name of their pet and then work these details into the show. When I got to college, I worked every summer at a Jewish summer camp for children aged 5-10 with emotional challenges. This camp doubled as a training ground for future therapists, and counselors were also taught how to write psychological test reports. I can singlehandedly say that the children I met at this camp were the most interesting people I have ever met in my life; some talked in rhymes, some would randomly shout out words like “onion,” and some slept standing up to imitate what horses do. I had to find the words, tone and subject matter that would reach and engage these children.

You have shared how you delved more deeply into Judaism after you had children. How has your practice informed your professional life?
I wasn’t raised religious, so when I started to learn about our ancient traditions, I uncovered incredible wisdom for modern parents. I decided to start teaching a class for parents called “Homework, Food, Sex, Death and the Holy: Using Jewish Wisdom to Raise Self-Reliant Children,” and soon after, a book editor contacted me and asked me if I was interested in writing a book. I happily agreed and wrote “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.” I never expected the number of people to love this book and treat it like a classic. I then wrote two more books and started to give hundreds of lectures and I am honored to be where I am today.

The theme of your talk at Temple Emanu-El is communicating with children. Of course, it’s important all the time, but why now especially, post-pandemic?
After spending so much time in isolation, the newest generation is sophisticated yet immature. I am seeing parents give in to their child’s demands with words like “No, no, no… okay go ahead.” It is excruciatingly important for parents to make rules and hold to those rules no matter the circumstances. Children are both spiritual guides and brilliant attorneys with excellent arguing skills. Parents spend too much time negotiating with their kids, when instead they should be setting rules and making sure all members of the family adhere to those rules.

How can reframing questions be a powerful parenting tool?
Even “how was school?” is a loaded question. What the children hear is “How did you do on the math test” or “Did you get your grade back for that science project you did at the last minute?” Instead, parents should try “I thought about you today when …” and end the sentence with something that has been lighting the child up lately. It doesn’t need to be something deep and educational to spark a connection with children after a hard day at school. It is telling them that you are holding them in mind when you are not together, which is immensely more special and beneficial toward their development. Beyond simple conversation, music and nature are crucial after the isolation we have been in. We need to worship, dance and sing together and cherish the time we have together so that we can all grow as God’s children.

Help us understand the effect that our digital devices have on our young children.
During the pandemic, we defaulted to working from home and the children had to do school from devices at home. Now we are trying to find a way to retrace our steps. One of the phenomena I have discovered is that when parents walk around the house talking on the phone in front of the children or other people, it is very distressing to the human brain because the other people in the room cannot complete the other half of the conversation. My number one piece of advice to parents is to please not beat yourself up but also look at the example you are setting for your children.