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How do I deal with my tween’s resistance to having a bat mitzvah?

Dear Dawn: How do I encourage a do-nothing tween to want a bat mitzvah? At 11, my daughter doesn’t want to do anything except watch YouTube all day. Complains about going to Sunday school but has fun once there. I suspect as she sees friends doing their bar and bat ceremonies, she’s freaking out and doesn’t want to do the same. I don’t want to cave and “reward” her for whining. That’s not a good life lesson. So how do I make this rite of passage more appealing? A “want” not a “force”? My husband was raised Catholic and wonders just how important such a ceremony is. Is it worth putting that stress on her, on top of puberty and adjusting to being in middle school? Right now, it doesn’t seem important to her. Wondering Mom


Dear Wondering: Your concern is not uncommon. Granted, your husband’s Catholic upbringing may feel like an additional issue, but many Jewish dads don’t want to push, either.

Let’s start with your husband. Were there elements of his religious upbringing that he remembers negatively? Maybe he is projecting his feelings onto your daughter.

She is not the first person entering middle school and puberty with a bat mitzvah looming. But having a bat mitzvah at this age actually can be helpful. She will commit to a study schedule, have to think deeply about life while writing her drash, and will learn that she can accomplish an impressive feat. She will receive praise and admiration from adults, and will come away feeling proud and confident.

If you and your husband can get on the same page and see this as a meaningful, doable, life-enhancing experience you will be better prepared to talk to your daughter.

Many kids complain about going to Hebrew school. They also may complain about regular school, homework, chores, cleaning their rooms and bedtimes. But they know that those are non-negotiable. If having a bat mitzvah is presented as equal to those others, it will be clearer to her that this is simply a part of life.

What stimulates her whining? Remember, her body is going through a lot of changes and she’s going to act out. Having firm boundaries now will be good for her — consistency in a changing world. Does she tend to get too tired, hungry or thirsty? Be sure you are having fun family time together, when she could open up about social issues she is experiencing.

If you had a bat mitzvah, share with her the pride you still feel about what you did, the struggles of study time, and the skills it gave you for school and life. If not, try finding a female friend who did, or who an adult bat mitzvah. Take her out to lunch with your daughter and talk about what this means as a woman and a Jew.

Seeing her peers have b’nai mitzvahs should impress upon her that, as one child put it, “everyone does it so I will too.” Talk to her about why she is resisting.

Listen carefully. Do you find her concerns to be out of line with the regular life of a tween? Some parents let their child drop something (soccer or piano) if the child has learning issues and can’t deal with that many obligations.

If you decide the timing is bad, she could have a bat mitzvah at 15 or 16. Pick the date now, perhaps.

Does she have friends going through the process? Talk to their parents and see how their children are responding.

The fact that you know she enjoys Hebrew school once she gets there speaks volumes. Transitioning from school to home to shul is hard for some people. You could offer to have a snack waiting at home if she’s hungry. You could stop at Starbucks with her for one-on-one quiet time. There’s no harm in offering some perks.

Face that you may not get her to feel enthusiasm in the way you want her to. That may not happen until the party. It may not really kick in until she’s in college, realizing how important it was and that “all the other Jewish kids had one.”

As tweens, children want to be like their peers. Are there any other kids she can spend time with, study, commute to shul, go for a smoothie, before or after Hebrew school? Or regular school.

I hope this helps. Get in touch if you want to talk more.

Dawn Kepler

Dawn Kepler leads Building Jewish Bridges, a program of HaMaqom|The Place that embraces Bay Area interfaith families. “Mixed & Matched” offers advice for Jews in interfaith relationships and families. Send letters to dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org.