Stress-management tips for parents and bar mitzvah students

Carefree is the way to be

for The Brooklyn Paper
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There’s nothing stressful about a bar mitzvah, right? Learn some stuff, slap some fancy clothes on a kid, sit through a service, and have a nice party. It’s a breeze … if that breeze was filled with bees!

A bar mitzvah can be an anxiety-filled event for the whole family. And the stress doesn’t just sting you on the day your boy becomes a man. It begins to faintly buzz months and weeks before the big day.

This is supposed to be an event as sweet as honey — so why is everyone on edge? And what can you do to alleviate the tension?

I can’t sit here from the safety of my computer keyboard, and claim that there’s nothing you should be concerned about. However, I can tell you that you and your child are probably stressing out over the wrong things.

Does that mean that you should be worried about the right things?

Of course!

I like to say that stress is contagious. It gets passed around the house like the flu. But let’s look at some ways you can immunize yourself so no one else in your household comes down with a bad case.

The best way to avoid a stressful situation is when kids and parents focus on their own responsibilities and don’t interfere with each other’s bar mitzvah preparation.

Kids should be concerned with all aspects of their bar mitzvah ceremony. This includes practicing, time management, keeping track of their progress, remembering where their materials are, and learning how read and sing in a completely foreign language. That is a pretty hefty burden for the average 13-year-old. Parents, what should you be worried about? Everything else! Planning for the party, hiring an event coordinator, coming up with a theme, ordering invitations, booking a venue, hiring a DJ and photographer, assembling the guest list and seating chart, buying suits and dresses … wow! Oh, and I forgot the most important item — paying for the whole thing. That’s a pretty long list you’ve got yourself. I got stressed out just writing about it.

Considering your meaty to-do list, don’t concern yourself with your kid’s concerns. For instance, the thing that inspires a bar mitzvah student to practice is not you nagging but the realization that they’re going to have to stand up on the bimah and sing in front of their nearest and dearest for a couple hours. This factor alone, I have found, motivates kids to do their best — even if their timetable for preparation doesn’t match your own.

By the same token, kids shouldn’t be dragged into the inevitable family dramas that play out during these types of events. It’s not fair to burden a bar mitzvah student with the petty minutiae of finances or trivial family feuds between Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Norman and how they shouldn’t be seated anywhere near one another.

I’ve had kids in my office on the verge of a meltdown because their parents are constantly complaining about how much everything costs. The kids were nervous that their families couldn’t afford their receptions, which is an aspect they shouldn’t be concerned with — even if it’s valid and you have to alter and be creative with your budget.

Even if you’ve done a good job at keeping the stress level down during the prep period, it’s unrealistic to think that on the day of the bar mitzvah service things will be completely relaxed.

So this next piece of advice is just for the kids: On the morning of your bar mitzvah, stay as far removed from the action as possible. Wake up on your own. Set your own alarm (in fact, set two). Have every piece of clothing (yes, underwear too) set out the night before, including your tallit and folders. If you want to know the world’s easiest way to avoid stress on the morning of your bar mitzvah, here it is: be sitting on the couch, dressed, fed, and completely ready to go ten minutes before it’s time to leave. Relax and watch your parents yell at your little brother instead.

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