Giving Our Children the Attention They Need and Deserve

I was recently sent this very brief video (please open the link, scroll down and watch the video), which depicts the often ugly and irreversible ramifications of children not getting adequate attention from their parents. I have personally witnessed too many such cases in both the Jewish and non-Jewish world, and I therefore feel a strong obligation to share this video and its critically important message.

Some people might have the impression that since Orthodox life centers heavily on family, kids will pretty much automatically receive the attention they need. This is of course not true, as without concerted effort, children very easily fall between the cracks.

The Shabbos table is among the best illustrations of this principle. Although family meals are definitely one of the best ways to bond, our Shabbos tables often become busier than Grand Central Station, with multiple conversations occurring simultaneously, people struggling to get in a word, and guests whose interests readily become the primary focus of discussion, to the exclusion of anything else. (This is a whole topic on its own, but I must emphasize that aside from the fact that parents should prioritize their children’s need for attention above that of guests (absent unusual circumstances), guests should respect the needs of a family’s children to communicate with their parents. I have witnessed guests at Shabbos meals interrupt children, monopolize conversations so that children and parents cannot speak, and even stop children in the middle of answering questions from their parsha sheets, as these guests took over and interjected with their own answers and “kashes”!) Guests should we welcomed, but it is critical to maintain a proper and healthy balance with family dynamics.

We must be extremely proactive and vigilant in ensuring that our children remain our primary focus. The results of failure in this regard are tragic, and they impact both children and parents forever.

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25 Responses

  1. Eli Julian says:

    There’s a great song about this: Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin…

  2. Joel rich says:

    Much better would be listening to “The cat’s in the cradle” by Harry Chapin.
    “ And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
    He’d grown up just like me
    My boy was just like me
    And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
    Little boy blue and the man in the moon
    “When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when”
    But we’ll get together then, dad
    We’re gonna have a good time then“

  3. dr. bill says:

    joel rich, I believe you are correct. In this area, hokhmah ba’goyim timtzeh is clearly applicable. If the message is universal, the underlying principles that motivate the message may be as well. Derech eretz kadmah le’Torah; the father’s behavior would not be tolerated in almost any setting.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    Chapin’s recording, plus lyrics:

  5. Shmuel says:

    Thanks for the link, Bob.

  6. Shades of Gray says:

    “parents should prioritize their children’s need for attention above that of guests (absent unusual circumstances)”

    Rabbi Pesach Krohn tells the story that Rav Reuvein Fenstein didn’t feel bad when R. Moshe missed the dinner celebrating his Bar Mitzvah on account of a rabbinic conference because he knew his father loved him. He explained this was because of three incidents, one of which was that “he always remained in his usual place at the table, next to his father except on the rare occasions when a visitor of the greatest stature had to be placed at his father’s side.”

    When I visited a friend in Israel a number of years ago for Shabbos, he sat one of his children next to him and me between his children. I initially felt slighted that his young child occupied a better place than me at the table. When I came across the above story about Rav Moshe I understood his intentions.

  7. Barry says:

    From Wikipedia: Chapin also said the song was about his own relationship with his son, Josh, admitting, “Frankly, this song scares me to death.”

  8. Gavriel M says:

    Great video. I learnt that if your wife is an invisible deaf-mute, you should look up from your phone when your child-prodigy artist child demonstrates to you that she has the swinging skills of a 5 year old.

    Anyway, there is an alternative view according to which child-centered parenting is responsible for the shocking rise of teenage depression and anxiety in recent decades:

  9. Shana says:

    Are we allowed to wonder if it is actually possible to give our children the attention they need and deserve if we have 10 or 12 of them?

    • Mark says:

      It’s fine to wonder, but as the fifth child in a 10-child family, I can attest with certainty that it’s possible. We didn’t have much money, but we all received plenty of attention and we’re all raising bla”h large families of our own.
      Even more interesting is that some of my more modern friends who came from 2-3 children families, felt that their parents were too busy with their social lives to pay much attention to them.
      I don’t believe it’s about the number of children you have – it’s about how high on your priority list giving your kids attention is.

  10. Shana says:

    Dear Mark
    I am yeshivish and have zero social life.
    But it is quite challething to find time for a shmooz with your teen when you have been up all night with a baby and you have a toddler throwing a tantrum and tests to grade for your students and two kids to take the dentist and another kid who needs homework help and dinner needs to be made…anyone who thinks smartphones are the only villian needs to rethink reality.

    • Yossi says:


      I grew up in a very large family, and have some siblings with large families, and some with small ones. What’s interesting is that we all agree that the yeshivish one with 12 kids is the most well adjusted. On the flip side, I see myself that when one or two of my kids are away, it feels more peaceful and possible to be a normal parent. So I guess, like in most things, there are two sides of the argument.

    • Mark says:


      I’m not saying it’s easy, not is it something that everyone is capable of. Some are better at this than others. My point was “number of children” alone is not a criteria for deciding whether children will receive enough attention. There are plenty of large families where all kids are receiving proper attention and other where they’re not. The same is true for smaller families.
      It’s not about the number of kids usually. It’s about how high a priority it is, how capable the parents are of providing, etc…

  11. Shana says:

    Everyone in our community is afraid to discuss this, but why is it not fair to say that in general, kids in families of 9+ kids are far less likely to get the time and attention they need compared to families where there are “only” 5 or 6. Again, sometimes a parent can neglect an only child and some superwomen provide everything for 10 kids. But in general, why can’t we be honest?

    • Joshua Kahan says:

      Because you’re assuming the conclusion. Go get some evidence and some logic, and we can talk. Until then, you’re just asking us all to assume that you’re right.

  12. mark says:

    “but why is it not fair to say that in general, kids in families of 9+ kids are far less likely to get the time and attention they need compared to families where there are “only” 5 or 6″

    The reason it’s unfair is because it’s based on an assumption, and a shaky one at that. It may be easier to give attention to children when there are less children, but that doesn’t make it more likely. There are plenty of factors in play and number of children is only one of them.

    The fact is that many mothers of 10 children don’t work outside the home, whereas mothers of 3-6 children are more likely to work and thus, less time for attention.

    Furthermore, more kids may sometimes mean less attention, but not necessarily less “than they need.”

    One last point – one of the reason that children need so much attention from their parents is because they lack immediate access to other social outlets. Children in large families have their siblings to rely on. Our own home was always a party and with plenty of siblings to play and fight with, I rarely cared if my parents were paying attention to me. A healthy and lively home environment is every bit the equal of special mommy and daddy time.

  13. Chochom Bmahnishtaneh says:

    Have you seen this demonstrated, that children from large families get less attention?

    Not all attention has to be individual attention. There has to be individual attention also but attention in a family setting is also attention. I know this is anecdotal, but the families that I know that have more than a dozen children seem to be well adjusted and not lacking for attention. I haven’t noticed that family size itself has made a difference.

  14. Bob Miller says:

    Have we created a cost structure, division of labor, and set of social obligations in our communities that prevent mothers in general from being at home to raise children? For this discussion, let’s exclude kollel families who volunteered for their special vocation.

    • mycroft says:

      “Have we created a cost structure, division of labor, and set of social obligations in our communities that prevent mothers in general from being at home to raise children? ”

      Have we created a cost structure, and set of social obligations in our communities that prevent many from being part of our community

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Mycroft wrote in part:

        “Have we created a cost structure, and set of social obligations in our communities that prevent many from being part of our community”

        Such as ?

  15. Steve Brizel says:

    The Midwest Agudah Convention devoted a number of sessions to the detrimental effects of cell phones on Hasmada in Limud HaTorah, parenting and Shalom Bayis. The Chicago community held an Asifah on the issue which was marked by across the board attendance of all shuls, kollelim and yeshivos ranging from the MO to Litvishe to Chasidishe with respect to cell phones even with appropriate content being a source of detrimental affect. I would recommend listening to the sessions especially the addresses by R Y Elefant of Mir Yerushalayim and R Efraim Goldman from Chicago on the issue. R Elefant is a very astute , keen and superb observer of his community and recently discussed on Matzav the pluses of living in out of town communities such as in the Midwest where he observed communities , rabbanim, roshei Kollelim, and families who were succeeding in raising fine Bnei and Bnos Torah without the gashmius that one can find in major Torah communities on the East Coast and where parents actually engaged in parenting instead of relying on the community and yeshivos, etc to raise their children and where families thrive even without scores of restaurants and shopping that serves their needs as opposed to being on a gourmet level and where parents are expected to walk the walk and talk the talk because of the smaller numbers of Shomrei Torah Umitzvos.

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    The Midwest Agudah convention devoted a number of sessions on this theme and especially the havoc wrought by cellphones. Listen to R Yosef Elefant from Mir Yerushalayim and R Efraim Goldman on the subject and see what the entire Chicago Torah community has done in this way. R Elefant, who is a keen observer of the Yeshiva world has also praised the virtues of living out of town in smaller communities such as in the Midwest and stated that he has seen wonderful families and Bnei and Bnos Torah in the Midwest who are normal and Bnei Aliyah and whose way of life with less gashmiyus is very praiseworthy

  17. Bob Miller says:

    Our job on earth is to keep up with our spiritual role models and not so much with our Joneses. Brand new traditions that involve needless spending keep springing up. Some over-the-top expenses are associated with life cycle events, others with clothing, and others with travel. We don’t need to tell wealthy people to tone it down. We just need to buck trends.

  18. Steve Brizel says:

    Mycroft-Long time no see. How about some specifics ?

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    Mycroft-long time no see. How about some specifics re a “cost structure, and set of social obligations in our communities that prevent many from being part of our community

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