What Defines Israeli Parenting?

A journalist for an American magazine sent me questions for an article on parenting styles around the world. I know Israeli parents are not homogeneous, but please help me out.

How are Israeli parents different from parents in other countries? What makes them unique? I already plan to mention Bamba.

You can see the article here at Parents Magazine: Global Guide to Bringing Up Baby on p. 66.

Related:

In Defense of Israeli “Rudeness.”

A Parenting Dilemma

Between Two and Four


Check out the 2016 fashions at Hydrochic modest swimwear.

Comments

  1. What an interesting question. The things that spring to mind for me are the early push for “socialization” that sees most Israeli children in full-time, full-day preschool by age 1.5 to 2, giving children higher levels of independence (later on, not at age two of course) than are seen in the US these days – my US friends are fairly horrified that my third grader walks to and from school with his friends while my Israeli friends would be shocked if he didn’t, less coddling – the idea that children learn to “survive” by being thrown into large boisterous classrooms at a young age, the idea that larger families are better – if you stop at two nearly everyone you bump into finds it acceptable and even desirable to ask you when you plan to get with the program and have the third already…

    Those are the ones that really jump out at me, I’ll have to give it some more thought.

  2. mominisrael says:

    Robin, really good answers! Thanks.

  3. My 9-year-old son’s experience may shed some light. We saw some kids fooling around. I said, “What they are doing is not good.” He said, “You should say something to them.” “No, I am not their mother. It is not my place.” “What are you talking about? Everyone is responsible for everyone else. Their mother would tell me what to do.”

    Everyone in Israel is involved in everyone else’s business–for good and for bad. Asaf Ramon and Gilad Shalit are our sons as well.

  4. First as an addition to what Judi said, in Israel the children are everyone’s children, since we are a people, not just a bunch of humans randomly thrown together. This translates into mothers and grandmothers commenting about any child’s lack of warm clothing or socks, or reprimanding a mother for not watching her child carefully enough next to a busy street.
    (This happened to a friend who i was with just the other day)

    What I really wanted to add to this discussion is the fact that Israeli life is very intense. Parents have the role of preparing their children for this intensity while atthe same time making sure that they will grow up to be adults with compassion and strong sense of human kindness. I think that in the world in general, where there is intensity and strife the people tend to be cold and heartless. Happily, that is NOT the case in Israel!

  5. The first thought that came to my mind is that Israeli parents give their kids MUCH MORE independece.

    I think there are several reasons for this (two-working-parent households mean kids have to be more independent. Also parents are more indulgent because once the kids goes to the army “who knows….”)

    But I constantly tell my kids they can’t do things their Israeli friends are all doing, even though these friends Israeli parents really are letting them do those things….

    I am amazed by what RELIGIOUS Israeli parents allow their kids to do on their own. My non-religious American mom would never let me do half those things!! (like 15 year old kids spending two days (including one night!) at the Kinneret (beach) with boys and girls together, UNSUPERVISED)

  6. what Robin said 🙂

  7. It’s the independance, as others have noted, for sure. Kids cross the street earlier, take the bus and train, earlier, go backpacking with peers earlier. They GO PLACES on their own. They make their own arrangements for chugim and such here. In America you’re a taxi-driver until your kids go to college and you take care of it all for them.

    I think Israelis have adapted some American ways that are not necessarily positive: big birthday parties, over scheduling chugim and extra-curricular activities. I can’t say for sure, but I think things used to be much more laid-back than they are now.

  8. I noticed that while Israeli parents will indulge pacifiers for years, they kick them out of strollers very early, compared to America. Not ver deep, but an observation notheless!

  9. Hi there, my first comment here. As an Israeli living in the US (not for much longer I hope) with a young child, the differences between my basic assumptions and those of American parents jump out at me all the time. I think both groups truly want to do what is best for the children, but do it in different ways.

    I notice here (USA) parents are very active in managing and disciplining their children. Schedules and rules are important – children must behave like adults very early, it seems to me. For instance, if my son wanders into a neighbor’s yard here I feel uncomfortable – at the very least I’ll have to explain what we’re doing there. Ba-aretz I wouldn’t think anything of it.

    Also related to scheduling, meeting other parents and getting together with the kids is very formal here. I feel like there are a lot of “silent rules” about what is and isn’t okay to talk about, too. I am very aware talking to other moms what they might feel is a judgment, or that they might judge me negatively if I talk about a difficulty. (Although, people are very open here about medical issues, their own and their kids’ – that is certainly different.) In general, parenting here feels a little lonelier and more formal than it needs to be, to me.

  10. Stacey- I was going to mention the pacifiers and you’re right about the stroller! (uh, guilty as charged on the pacifier, though I keep it in the house now.)

    Tamar- thanks for the inverted perspective, it’s very enlightening.

    I think the park culture is much different here than in America (at least my impression). The widespread existence of neighborhood parks and the whole “park ironi” phenom (at least here in the Sharon- Park Ranaana, Park Kfar Sabab, Park Herziliya, Park Petach Tikvah, etc) is very different than the US. At least from my own memories of growing up, going the the park was a rarity- we spent most of the time in the back yard, we had a swing set and so did everyone else. Here, when you want your kids to be able to climb and swing, you have to go to the park and it’s more of a social event. And just the fact that so many municipalities invest so much in making a “central park” with a heavy emphasis on children’s climbing structures says a lot about our society’s attitude towards kids.

  11. Wouldn’t there be some differences between kids in chareidi neighborhoods and in others? For example, I have relatives in a chareidi environment which bans girls from riding bikes. I would think that is not the same for all girls in the country, though.

  12. Excellent question, and great answers.

    At the risk of generalizing, I’ll add that another issue is that the SAHM vs. working mom divide doesn’t really exist here. First, it’s much rarer to find full-time SAHM’s. Also, it’s not really binary; it’s more of a spectrum – some women work more hours, and some work less. Finally, in the vast majority of cases, even women with full-time professional careers – doctors, lawyers, university professors – are not embarrassed to say that they’re mothers first. For instance, no one thinks twice if a mother (and sometimes even a father) leaves early to go attend their child’s gan party or whatever.

  13. I find that Israelis are much more indulgent in general as parents. More sugar/treats/putting up with tantrums, etc. I guess I was raised pretty strictly, but if I ever told my mom “no” I got a spanking. Here people think it’s kind of cute, at least that’s what I gather.
    Also very few kids say thank you without being prompted. I work sometimes as a balloon twister and only one out of a hundred kids says thank you when I give them a balloon (although some do come thank me later).
    Israeli kids also don’t do lines, and their parents reinforce this by also pushing them to the front. wait your turn is not something they get, although they often do sharing better than US kids (like make one thing for the whole family to share or a kid who waits 30-45 mins. for a balloon for their sibling instead of for themselves).

  14. In Israel as soon as my (young) children have a slight temperature I take them to the doctor to be checked out and always get a samne day appontment. In England and Sweden where my family live everyone seems to wait until their kids are really ill.
    In England/US kids are weaned off bottles around age 1,in Israel age 2 is more common. Also, form what I read on the web, potty training seems to have different ages. Standard here is age 2-3, perhaps others can say what is usual abroad.

    • mominisrael says:

      Thank you for all the comments. The journalist saw them and asked me a few follow-up questions.
      This discussion about intensity reminds me of of a conversation I had with an Israeli in her 60’s. She said that her generation, born around the time of Israeli independence in 1948, suffered from poor parenting. The parents were either involved in the War of Independence, were Holocaust survivors, or both. She claimed that this was a reason for a lack of leadership among the current generation. The immigrants from Arab countries who arrived in the 50’s also had serious problems to contend with as a concerted effort was made to prevent parents from passing down their culture to their children. So perhaps this generation of Jews, especially Israeli Jews, is rebuilding its parenting skills. And those of us who are immigrants are constantly reexamining the way that we were raised to decide whether it is right for our Israeli children.

    • mominisrael says:

      Laura, the age for toilet training is very rigid: age 2 and after Pesach time. If the child turns 2 in the winter, you wait until after Pesach. With late summer/early fall birthdays you train a little earlier to avoid doing it in the winter. In some preschools they train them all at once.

  15. Re: manners, I feel like I am really going to be swimming upstream when I try to teach my now-Israeli preschoolers basic tenets of what I consider basic politeness (saying please & thank you & excuse me, waiting on line, being on time). But at the same time I feel like native Israelis can be extremely generous spirits–much moreso than the NY Jewish community we left–so I want them to pick that up too. (Generalizations all around, of course. But kernels of truth.)

  16. Israeli parents are hysterical about getting their kids out of diapers – before they are ready, in my opinion, but they let them suck on pacifiers until they are five….

  17. We had a sadna at work once, where an israeli spoke about her culture shock while living in america.

    Her kid got invited to a birthday party. To her it was natural to also bring along the younger brother – she did not have a baby sitter, since she was new in town.

    She is horrified to this day that the american insisted she take the younger brother home. The american explained that she had bought only a certain number of paper plates and favors, etc. The israeli still does not understand why the american could not see reason about this when she tried so hard to explain to her that there was no reason not to let the uninvited kid stay at the birthday party.

    I tried to explain the american point of view about this to her, and I soon had a room full of scandalized israelis mad at me ….

  18. MII,
    Going to disagree with the Holocaust as causative of poor or lax parenting skills. It isn’t born out by those Holocaust survivors who raised kids in the US in the 40s and 50s. The Boomer generation here, children of those Holocaust survivors, was brought up fairly strictly, in keeping with the society in general. They also were activists and rose to positions of leadership. They certainly had etiquette inculcated into them–almost the first words a child learns here are please and thank you. If you subtract the Holocaust as a cause for the difference in parenting between Israel and the US, or other Western countries, you would need to examine in more depth how the multiple wars might have affected parental standards in Israel.

    People like to say that the US is very “relaxed” and very much an informal place, but it was in Israel that I heard for the first time, and in more than one family, children calling their parents and grandparents by their first names. There are many in the generations younger than mine who are leaving off “aunt” and “uncle” in front of these people’s names (and my nieces and nephews know better than to try this with us, I don’t care how old they are), but I have yet to hear anyone in a frum community here allowing children to call their parents by their first names, or their grandparents by their first names unless “Bubi” and “Zayde” or some other honorarium is attached to the name.

    • mominisrael says:

      ProfK, my disjointed response:
      I have already quoted Rabbi Metzger, who claimed that there is no child abuse in haredi families because the children don’t call their teachers by their first names. I agree that it’s an indicator of something, but it doesn’t mean the world’s gone to hell in a handbasket. For the record, but I don’t know any children who call parents or grandparents by first name. Aunts and uncles, yes, but in some families they are practically like siblings to the nieces/nephews.
      Israeli readers, is calling parents by first name common?
      Saying please and thank you is not proof of good parenting.
      Strictness is not the definition of good parenting. Parents can be too strict, or strict about the wrong things.
      It’s possible that more of those who were affected the worst by the Holocaust, i.e. the dysfunctional ones, went to Israel, or that even if the population is similar the subsequent war took a great toll on these survivors and their children than the war alone.
      My father is a survivor, and despite my relatively young age (44) I had a few friends who were children of survivors. There is plenty to talk about. Success in careers and community life does not always translate into success in family life.
      I have also written before about how some survived because they were tenacious by nature, so perhaps it’s not surprising that so many were successful. But many were not and were never able to function well in society.

  19. The things about survivors is from what I know in Israel, it was not allowed to be talked about.
    I do not know if it is a lack of parenting skills but an entirely different approach.
    We had a lecture from someone who told us that her parents had this only girl, after losing children already and they were extremely protective of her. today, things are not the same
    Another example, people told us of growing up with no extended family at all.
    Being a smaller country than the US, maybe there were more in Israel like that, than in the US.
    Maybe parents today are trying a contra to how they were brought up, e.g. communicating more, when there parents did not talk about anything, emphasis of family when they did not have, not being protective, after being smothered???

    What follow up questions were asked?

  20. Kayza Zajac says:

    “I tried to explain the american point of view about this to her, and I soon had a room full of scandalized israelis mad at me ….”

    I can’t say I blame them. While I would not bring an uninvited child to a birthday party, including the siblings of an invited child, the hostess was incredibly rude. She was also pretty stupid, if you ask me – I NEVER made a party where there were EXACT amounts of anything, because stuff happens.

    • mominisrael says:

      Regarding siblings at parties and extra crafts, is it so terrible if the sibling doesn’t have a shirt to decorate? Hopefully his brother will let him work on his, or the mother can find a toy for him to play with instead. I’m wondering whether the mothers were invited, and why the mother in question couldn’t leave with her toddler during the party. Did she have a transportation problem? I don’t follow the scenario. Did the older child want her to stay with him?

  21. Re: Holocaust survivor parents in the U.S. versus Israel. It may be that Holocaust survivors with different personalities/traumas/support/means were attracted to each place, and also that the culture and reality in each place influenced Holocaust survivors’ parenting skills. Life in Israel was less stable and less affluent than life in America post WWII. It seems ridiculous to think that living in a fledgling country with all of the political and military turmoil that Israel had during that time wouldn’t have some impact on child rearing, especially to shell shocked Holocaust survivors.

    That being said, I think it’s a mistake to generalize and say that American Holocaust survivor parents were generally good parents. I think it’s more realistic to say they they were a mixed bag. The stories of American children of survivors who felt emotionally detached from their parents are too common to dismiss as exceptions. I’m not besmirching American Holocaust survivors. I personally know of a woman who was one of “Schindler’s Jews” who seemed to be an excellent mother. But I think we need to be realistic and admit that the amount of trauma Holocaust survivors went through was bound to interfere with the parenting abilities of a good number of survivors, regardless of where they emigrated after the Holocaust.

  22. Interesting blog, and interesting question.
    A few random thoughts (from someone who has spent her entire adult life in Israel)-
    I too am aghast at the birthday party fiasco. It is a given in Israeli birthdays that you buy extra bags, extra plates, etc, because siblings will show up, or neighbours, or whatever. Always be generous,have enough on hand for all.

    When siblings come to pick up their younger brothers/sisters after a party, they are always offered cake and pizza, even if there are not enough ‘loot bags’.

    One more thing- in kindergarden and elementary school, kids are expected to invite the ENTIRE class to each party. Classes often have 40 kids. I can appreciate the collective sense, the desire not to leave anyone out – but it makes for very hectic birthdays.

    I can’t say a lot about army service, since my oldest is only 14 and I am not looking forward to it.

    As a high school teacher (in a secular school), I have observed that kids are certainly given a lot more independance than I was in Canada – I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or because of the culture. Most of the kids went to Eilat during the summer, staying in hotels, in mixed groups. We’re talking about kids in grade 10. I think it’s also more accepted to ‘sleep’ over at your boyfriend’s, with your parent’s OK, although this is not an issue in the dati community (which I am a part of. Whatever is done there doesn’t get a parental OK!)

    Pacifiers – definitely common to use till age 2 or 3. People will only start raising their eyebrows once kids hit four.

    Breakfast – Israelis are not hysterical about it. Nobody expects their kids to digest anything more than a cup of tea or glass of water in the morning. Perhaps this is because schools have their main break at 9:30 or 10 am, when kids eat a sandwich and fruit.
    On the whole though, I think Israelis eat healthier than North Americans, most cook from scratch, and eat more fruits and veggies.

    • mominisrael says:

      Tammy, thanks for your visit and comment. I have a friend who tutored a 9th or 10th-grade girl in a secular school. The mother told my friend that she complained about the attitude in a sex-ed class that everyone was doing it. The teacher told this mother that if her daughter wasn’t sexually active yet, surely she would be the following year.

  23. No one mentioned the army. Surely that comes into play in Israel, when preparing your children for adulthood. I know it did here. Life is built around the inevitable draft, in my opinion. Children, at least in the past, were instructed to do “xyz” so they could be good soldiers when the time came. Who in the U.S. is busy preparing their children to be good soldiers?
    Another issue in parenting here is religion. Since the holidays are national, religion (for better or worse) plays a major part in the life-line of our children.

    • mominisrael says:

      Tamiri, yes the army was mentioned as a reason for letting kids have more freedom. It’s hard to say no to a teen who wants to go to Eilat when he could be, God forbid, in a combat situation in a short time. And your point about holidays–I think the main effect is that family celebrations/get-togethers are very frequent.

  24. I’ve noticed since my aliyah in March this year that fathers seem far more involved with childcare, it’s more common to see fathers out and about with their children and doing gan drop off and pick up than in the UK, where I moved from.

    I have also noticed more parents smoking around their children, and where I live there seem to be a lot of moms who leave their children to cry themselves to sleep, day and night, or maybe I just notice it more, since we live in an apartment.

    • mominisrael says:

      Miriam, thanks for your thoughts. In the last week I saw people light up in the schoolyard and in the playground.

  25. I have often heard the greater leniency of Israeli parents explained as a result of the children’s impending army service.

    “Let them enjoy life now, because who knows what will happen when they join the army….”

  26. “That being said, I think it’s a mistake to generalize and say that American Holocaust survivor parents were generally good parents.”

    Agree wholeheartedly. My Bubby suffered from severe depression until she died of a stroke. She left a lot to be desired in the parenting department.

  27. Sorry, forgot to mention that my Bubby was also an Auschwitz survivor and my Zayde survived labor camps.

  28. We spent our sabbatical year in Israel in 07-08. It was a fabulous experience. I agree with most of the observations/comments above. For me, the most striking thing was the bad behaviour of the children AND the adults who had obviously been parented in a similar manner. Don’t get me wrong. My children also misbehave, but the difference is that, when they do, I notice, I care and I act. Many Israeli parents do not notice, care or act. They are raising another generation of rude, spoiled children. I had visited Israel 3 times before our sabbatical year and, of course, I noticed and experienced the rude behaviour of both adults and children. However, over the course of the year, this aspect of Israeli culture REALLY began to wear on me. It was embarrassing, as a Jew, to imagine what non-Jewish tourists thought of “us” as Jews. They are not just seeing rude Israelis, they are seeing rude Jews. Many of the Israelis that I spent time with while in Israel were also embarrassed by the behaviour of their fellow Israelis and their children. The difference, in almost every case, was that the people I spent time with – family and friends – had themselves lived in Canada or the US.

    I should state again, because this reads as very negative. We loved our time in Israel and look forward to future vacations there. And to be sure, there are things that Israeli parents probably do a better job of than North American parents.

    • Hi Trudy,
      Thanks for visiting. You do have a point about Israeli parents. I am not sure, though, that the main problem is how the tourists look at Israelis and Jews. As Jew in North America, is that your main concern when disciplining your children or making other choices?

  29. Trudy’s comments about Israeli behavior are unfortunately accurate. By American/Canadian lights, there is no culture of politeness here – no customer service – lots of confrontation.

    On the other hand, it’s necessary not to care what outsiders might think if Israel is to survive in an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel world.

    My Canadian sister almost dies of embarrassment when I respond to confrontation from people on the street(I’ve lived here 33 years. She would much rather that I backed down, answered softly to defuse the situation. She covers her face and shakes her head when I answer back.

    My sis comes from a country with secure borders. A country whose citizens don’t experience the daily, hourly personal and national stress that we have. With a larger middle class used to more leisure and more material comfort, consideration and politeness come easier, maybe.

    My life experience is different. I’ve sat in buses wondering if I’ll make it to my destination, or if my destiny will be to get blown up by a suicide bomber in the next few minutes. My children have attended funerals of kids their own ages, victims of terror. I look at my precious little grandchildren and pray that peace will come before they reach army age.

    If there’s one thing rude Israeli culture has taught me, it’s that it takes assertiveness to survive.

    So yes, Israelis are missing an essential element in that which lubricates social relations. It hurts us here and abroad. I’m perfectly willing to own that many of us need to be educated in manners, consideration, trust and trustworthiness.

    But that hard, assertive core keeps us alive. No apologies for that.

  30. Perhaps another reason why children are more independent is because both parents work and the children are left without any adult supervision for many hours of the day. In the city municipality daycare there are only 2 adults to manage 36 three year olds. The young children learn very quickly to become independent. Most of the friends I know don’t depend on their extended family, such as grandparents to help watch the children on a daily basis.

  31. Sarah, many people justify early daycare (as opposed to a nanny) because they claim it will make kids more independent. I don’t think the independence is because of starting gan earlier I think it’s more of a general cultural difference and despite the Jewish mothering thing Israeli children are less supervised. It feels safer and people worry less, for some of the reasons mentioned above.

  32. claire rabin says:

    I would like to hear from people whose adult children have decided to live abroad while parents stay on here. I myself made ayliah 36 years ago and some of my kids have chosen to be here and some back there. I would like to be in touch with parents either born in israel or not, who are coping with keeping family together at a distance. I also would be very happy if someone out there knows of written material on this topic. thanks
    claire

  33. fascinating post! as an israeli raising kids in america i’m constantly “weaving” values and standards. i really appreciate all of the thoughts here. thanks for gathering them!

  34. connie Tobar USA says:

    It does not matter in what country you are raising your children, what matters is the structure of the family. For instance, my mother raised me in a religious environment, yes private school, bible teachings the whole works. My high school years i became independent,without leaving home of course, nevertheless rebellious, i was too smart, i knew everything. Now i have my own family, and i just give my kids the option of going to college and doing something with their lives or face the consequences, whatever they may be, but as far as being disrespectful, that i will not tolerate. In united states, mexico, or israel, children are children, and would do and act by our example. And as far as the party with the american woman, i hope she learns a lesson and buy extra plates and a bigger cake next time. Better yet, attend a mexican party, we never run out of food.

  35. My husband is Israeli and I’m Canadian. We live in Canada but visit Israel often. At first, I found the Israeli parenting quiet shocking but once I spent more time around my relatives and neighbours, I found there style to be freeing. Children are more independent and free in the neighbourhood where everyone watches out for each others children. I find that this attitude makes for great grownups who continue to watch out for each other.
    I found also, that mums tend to not judge as much as we do here in North America. I liked that I was able to talk about my trials and tribulations without worring about being talked about later on 😉
    It has been a little difficult at times, between my husband and I, in the parenting department because of our cultural differences. We’re both Jewish but at times we’re thousands of miles apart! I must say, that I do find myself giving into his Israeli style of parenting. It just seems more sensible at times 🙂
    Loved reading all the comments here… very enlightening!

  36. IsraeliGood says:

    Most people think Israeli parenting is very laid back and kids can do whatever they want whenever they want, but that’s not necessarily true.

    For example, I wasn’t allowed to play on the monkey bars until a rather late age.

    I had a discussion with an American friend about this (after she made a comment of All-Israeli-Parents-Are-SOOO-Laid-Back because the parents of an Israeli friend of hers let the American borrow their motorcycle)

    Later she amended her thinking to

    Light (Ashkenazi) Parents= Strict
    Dark (Sephardi) Parents= Relaxed

    I’m Ashkenazi and Israeli Friend is Sephardi

  37. James Anderson says:

    I find this approach to parenting, a refreshing change. Britain really does have a culture which molly coddles children.

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