By Jennifer Wolff P’22
When psychologist Wendy Mogel speaks to RSS parents on Wednesday, February 7th, she will face an audience strikingly similar to her own family, and to the clients she has counseled for more than four decades. Having raised two daughters while building a flourishing practice in her Los Angeles office overlooking both the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills, Mogel understands what it means to be successful, yet still want more; to feel head-locked in attempting to achieve the modern ideal of accomplished children while also making sure they are well-adjusted and happy.
“I felt burdened,” Mogel wrote in her New York Times bestseller, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. Mogel provided her kids with every opportunity for success and fulfillment, and she wanted the same for herself – setting personal goals of reading a book a week, tending her garden, and even learning the saxophone. “There was no time for anyone to waste,” she writes.
And yet, like so many of her clients, Mogel felt anxious and unfulfilled – a malaise that wasn’t defined in any diagnostic manual. Like in her own family, her patients didn’t appear to be “suffering any kind of real psychopathology,” she wrote. “Instead, parents and children seemed to be off course, unmoored, and chronically unhappy. My training was failing me.”
Thus began a decade-long spiritual trek into Judaism that inspired The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, and her second book, The Blessings of a B- At one point she closed her practice to fully immerse into Jewish culture. After studying with Reform Jews, the Hassids, and just about every stripe of Jewish faith, she emerged with a newly refined set of precepts with which to counsel clients, and a firm belief that within Jewish teaching lay “invaluable wisdom to help parents with the great task of raising their children.”
“Judaism shows us that we don’t have to be swallowed up by our frenzied, materialistic world,” she wrote. “We can take what is valuable without being wholly consumed.” By valuing the mundane and celebrating the ordinary, children – all children – have the chance to shine, be appreciated, and to grow into adulthood with integrity and confidence.
Dr. Mogel’s third book, Voice Lessons for Parents: What to Say, How to Say it, and When to Listen, turns our attention to how to speak to children. Indeed, Voice Lessons was inspired by actual voice lessons, but not the singing kind. When Mogel’s clients struggle to communicate with their kids, she teaches them how even the slightest shift in tone, tempo, and body language can turn a stand-off into a conversation. The book is also a guide on how to speak about your children – to teachers, coaches, caretakers, and family members including exes, grandparents, siblings and stepparents. Sourcing neuroscience, anthropology, and even fairy tales, Mogel helps parents build a bridge to deeper connection and trust.
And just as language changes at every stage of development, so does a child’s use of and preoccupation with electronic devices. Mogel addresses this fracturing issue throughout the book, helping parents determine when technology is helpful, and when it becomes an impediment to any communication whatsoever.
Mogel’s message throughout all of her books is simple: we need to let our kids be who they are rather than coddling, tutoring, or coaching them into becoming who we want them to be. Otherwise, “they learn very quickly that they are not to show too much unhappiness, frustration, and disappointment,” she wrote in Skinned Knee. We cannot truly listen to them unless we are willing to accept what they have to say, which may include things we do not want to hear. They are their own reflections, not ours. And if we just let go – let them go, a bit – we will be amazed.
“Children will lead you on an incredible journey,” Dr. Mogel says. “If they trust you. If you make the time, and if you are willing to follow.”
There are still spots available for February 7th. Due to limited space, seating is reserved for members of the RSS community and RSVP is required. Please click here to RSVP.