Extreme Parenting, Jewish Style

From 'eco-kashrut' to the withholding of breakfast, two Jewish families' parenting styles make for juicy reality TV fodder.

08/18/14
Staff Writer
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Meet the eco-kosher Adlers, of Westchester. Via BravoTV.com
Meet the eco-kosher Adlers, of Westchester. Via BravoTV.com

Molly Goldberg they ain’t.

The Yiddishe mamas on Bravo’s new reality show, “Extreme Guide to Parenting,” are hardly anything like Molly, the archetypal Jewish mother on “The Goldbergs,” a black and white series of television’s early days. They ain’t even Beverly Goldberg, the bighearted, boundary-less matriarch on the contemporary series of the same name.

Shira Adler, for example, one of the mothers on Bravo’s new show, believes she was a monk, a nun and a rabbi in her previous lifetimes.

“I’m sure that has something to do with my religious confusion today!” said Adler, laughing, who works as a past-life regressionist and considers herself a “reconservaform” Jew (some blend of Reconstructionist, Conservative and Reform).

“Extreme Guide to Parenting,” which runs on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m., explores the strange lives of American parents with radical approaches to child-rearing. Two out of the nine families featured on the show are proudly Jewish.

And of the many, colorful Jewish-mother stereotypes that exist, the matriarchs of these two families leave those clichés in the dust.

Adler, the mother of Emma, 13 and Yonah, 11, defines her parenting method as “eco-kosher, shamanistic.” She refers to herself as the “all-natural diva-mama” and uses specialty aromatherapy sprays, crystals and homeopathy to deal with her son’s ADHD (she does not believe in using medical treatment). She considers Yonah, who struggles with angry outbursts, to be an “Indigo,” someone with extra-sensory capabilities.

 

 

“It’s like a sixth sense,” explained Adler, 45, whose family lives in Westchester. “Yonah can sense things and see people that other people cannot. He’s beyond the spectrum.”

Marisa Silver-Eisenberg, who considers herself “120% Jewish,” is a chiropractor, personal trainer and fitness junkie from Jericho, N.Y who calls her style “push-parenting.” She wakes her five-year-old son up every morning, quizzing him on U.S presidents and withholding breakfast until he practices writing his name on a white board.

Both mothers say their strong Jewish identity has influenced their parenting techniques. 

Silver-Eisenberg’s mother is a first-generation American; her grandparents fled Europe before the Second World War and both were the only survivors from their families. Arriving in American with nothing, Silver-Eisenberg’s grandparents adopted the rigorous work ethic that she now implements with her son, Austen.

“In my family, education and hard work were never a question,” said Silver-Eisenberg in a phone interview. “I’m teaching my son that he has to give 100 percent, just like his grandparents did.”

Attending synagogue remains a part of the Silver-Eisenberg family routine. Austen attended preschool at North Shore Synagogue on Long Island and, aside from services, Marisa and Austen participated in several Mommy and Me workshops.

“The synagogue is where I met my strongest network of friends,” said Silver-Eisenberg. “They are my cheerleaders, and they’ve supported my decision to go on the show.”

While Silver-Eisenberg came from a strong culturally Jewish background, Adler grew up attending Orthodox institutions in Philadelphia. Her father is the former dean of Yeshiva University, Norman Adler. Adler attended Orthodox schools through eighth grade.

“I come from highly intellectual and a highly religious background,” said Adler. “Though I’m definitely not Orthodox anymore, my parenting method is rooted in Jewish tradition.”

Today, Adler works during the high holidays as the assistant cantor for Congregation Kol Ami of White Plains, a large Reform congregation. She also performs interfaith ceremonies as a non-denominational minister and studies kabbalah, the Jewish study of mysticism.

“My eco-conscious lifestyle comes from the Jewish principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world),” she explained.

Both mothers have come under serious criticism since the show aired on August 7th. Articles have accused them of being irresponsible, mentally unstable, cruel and unfit to be parents.

However, the criticism hasn’t fazed either of them.

“Anytime you present yourself in a public forum, you are going to be judged,” said Silver-Eisenberg, who said that Austen was excited to be on TV. “It can’t be helped. But I’m confident in my parenting method and in my family. My son has been flourishing, in school, in sports, in relationships, so if people want to hate, they’re going to hate. It won’t stop me.”

She added that her appearance on the show has motivated many of her patients and clients. “I expect my son to give his all, so I give my all,” she said.

“It is not my job to respond to the world’s negativity,” said Adler. “People have nothing better to do than hate on me for how I’m living my life, instead of living their own lives.”

She said both Emma and Yonah “really enjoy” being seen in the public eye. “This was healthy and helpful for them — they were able to be themselves,” she said.

Despite both women’s conviction that their children are enjoying the attention, child psychology expert Wendy Mogel, Ph.D, feels differently. Mogel, author of the best-selling parenting book “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” pointed out the serious problem of airing sensitive family moments, without the child’s consent.

“This is a very advanced form of stage-parenting,” she said in a phone interview. “The child never agreed, and now there is a permanent public record, whether they want it or not.”

She referenced the two young boys from the viral YouTube video, “Charlie bit my finger.” The video, which became an international phenomenon, has since received over 750 million views.

“Like it or not, these two boys have grown up in the shadow of that video,” said Mogel. “There’s something very uncomfortable and unfair about that.”

Mogel noted that reality TV shows feed off of extreme and emotionally unhealthy behavior.

“The more unusual, eccentric or aggressive the behavior, the more likely it will make the cut in the editing room,” she said. When it comes to healthy parenting, the drive to grab viewers ends in disaster.

“The show violates several Jewish teachings,” she continued, listing lashon hara (gossip) and tziut (modesty). “Exposing the flaws and weaknesses of a family’s private relationships is just the opposite of modesty,” she said.

Asked if the show did have any saving grace, Mogel said other parents might be able to learn something from the show. “Many of the people watching might never read parenting books, or go to lectures,” she said. “The show can be instructive for parents who won’t reach this information through another portal.”

Learning what not to do as a parent can also be exceptionally valuable, she concluded.

hannah@jewishweek.org


 

Last Update:

08/31/2014 - 16:14

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In the episodes of these two moms mentioned in this article, what is so clear is that mothers with major emotional issues that need to be worked through with a therapist are guiding their parenting by the emotional issues rather than by the good advice of experts. Both women are extremely narcissistic, seeing themselves as knowing more than all those around them who would warn them of the danger of their style of parenting.

Shira Adler has a problem with viewing her son's problems to be worked on as instead due to his being superior, so he is not learning proper behavioral expectations that will make him someone who others will want to friend and later others will want to employ. I'm sure he is a wonderful child, but instead of trying medication and behavior management because of her own biases, she is spraying absolute worthless liquid around him. What is worse is that she completely ignores poor Emma who is seen feeling so neglected and who can't help but see how her mom favors her brother. That is a horrible way to help her feel good about herself and to foster future adult sibling relationships which are so important.

Marisa Eisenberg is shown crying to her brother about what they "missed out" on because of her parents' divorce, as if being raised in a divorced family is an excuse to torture your own child. Not allowing your 4 year old to eat breakfast until her writes his name perfectly is a form of abuse, even if not reportable. If she thinks she has regrets about her childhood, wait until her son grows up and she finds out what he remembers about his own childhood. She is going to raise a child who has unreasonable expectations of himself because no one can be the winner in everything and when he doesn't win a class election or a spelling bee or fails a test, she is raising him to be unable to cope both for how he knows his mother will react and what it will do to his own unrealistic image of himself that she has created. I raised my kids with a completely different motto than she does: "I don't care how well you do in school or how well you do in sports, if you are not nice to others, nothing matters." That is what Judaism teaches, not to succeed at all costs, even if it involves nastiness, lying, etc.... (She threatened the swim teacher who didn't want to push her son who is only 4 that she would switch him to a different teacher, and she would enroll him as being 5!) I am an Ivy League graduate, but I am not pushing my own children that they have to go to one. Both my kids are top students and have different interests and talents that they themselves have chosen to develop and so I nurture them, but I have read of too many college kids who jump off buildings from a fear of failure or letting their parents back home that they are having trouble This is what is important to avoid, not the fact that her child might be less than the best in every area.

The problem in both cases is that both women are so narcissistic that they can't take in any other opinions. At least Marisa's spouse tries to temper her poor parenting choices, although not at all as much as he should if he wants to avoid his son having major social/emotional problems as he enters school. Shira Adler seems so narcissistic that she believes that the world is all wrong and only she sees things the right way, so she discounts any and all recommendations about her children by true experts who have a full and unbiased view of her parenting. As I am concluding this comment, I just researched "indigo children" since I am in the field of education for decades and have never seen it mentioned in ANY professional materials. How appropriate that it is labeled a "pseudoscience" by parents who grab onto this to cover up their own narcissism and poor parenting. Sadly, I don't think Ms. Adler will realize until her children are adults, if even then, how destructive her parenting choices have been. If anything, maybe she can take in from my comments that her need to believe her son is an "indigo kid", which is term that is not accepted in the field of education or psychology, has caused her to anoint him as her prince and to ignore her daughter who appears in this episode to be starving for recognition and attention from her mother, but then again sadly doubt she is even capable of acknowledging this.

I, unlike Wendy Mogel, whose work I greatly respect, DID watch the whole Adler episode and was truly horrified by the complete lunacy of this household.

I so appreciate Hannah Dreyfus and The Jewish Week for sharing a non-stereotypical look at what it is to be an empowered, authentic and honestly flawed Jewish parent raising what I call "beyond-the-spectrum" children of today. My only criticism (if I can even call it that) is to question the reason for seeking the opinion of Wendy Mogel. Despite the fact that I've been a big fan of her for years, Wendy has not seen the full episodes, and did not take the time to speak with either me or Dr. Eisenberg - instead choosing to present a view based on limited information that is clearly nuanced and presented in an edited version for the sake of engaging an audience.

I am not saying what the viewer will see when they watch the episodes (my family was half of the debut episode which aired Aug. 7th) isn't truthful. However, I would think most viewers and the experts who wish to chime in, should possess a modicum of "sechel" (common sense/wisdom) and understand that a family's complex experience cannot be fully captured in the 22 min. we appear on the screen (in a shared episode, minus commercials).

Bravo's new series, Extreme Guide to Parenting, is a show that was created for a higher purpose - to begin a conversation - and that it did.

As a Cantor, certified past life regressionist and long term "Indigo-advocate" I have been out there, involved in this conversation through my blog (Diva-Mama.com), speaking and working with, and on, our unique and differently abled children for many years.

I am not what one might consider an "advanced stage mother" though as two of my former pulpits were in Malibu and Greenwich, CT, I assure you I know of whom Wendy Mogel speaks.

Rather, I am a mother who presented an honest perspective and unique options with regards to treatment modalities, educational options and nutritional approaches for my children understanding that as good as the ethics from our old-fashioned Yiddishe mamas were, they are not enough. Our children can no longer be raised with a homogenized parenting approach (or educational and nutritional approaches).

My involvement on this show was also not done to stand on my soapbox alone. Rather, I did so with the full consent and after heartfelt discussion with my children, spousal equivalent and our team of professional healers, therapists and teachers.

I was also available, as was the case for this interview, to anyone who wished to have a conversation with me about my family's background and motivation for being involved in this media project.

Perceptions aside, my family is and has been, prior to this show, a "media oriented family". My partner is a writer/producer who co-parented his three, including another Indigo, my daughter recently shot her first feature coming out next year, and my son (now 11 1/2 and loving the alternative school I switched him to last year, by the way) is about to launch his own YouTube channel to share his opinions about the world we live in - zei gezunt!

So I would hope that in additional to what she thinks she saw on screen, Ms. Mogel would have considered doing HER due diligence before making claims as to the effects this exposure might have on my children.

I suppose it's my old fashioned upbringing but I believe we are not meant to be judgmental of one another (isn't that covered under the core tenant that says we should avoid lashon harah? Rather, I speak not as klei kodesh, but as a certified past life regressionist when I add that as souls we choose to incarnate with a certain soul group starting with the soul that will accept the role of "mother" for us in each lifetime, as well as bio-chemical and karmic factors for only three purposes:

To love, to be loved and to learn life lessons.

That's what each of us is doing here. And I believe part of being present as spiritual beings living a human experience is that each of us accepts responsibility to co-create our reality and our experiences in this and every lifetime.

So far be it from me to offer judgment as to anyone else's experience. We are all here together but for very different reasons, and meant to accomplish very different things.

Maybe it was my son's soul who was driving this experience? Maybe I was less the "stage mom" and more the support for what his soul's journey needed to look like?

Some thoughts to consider as we enter the High Holy Day season. And the Book of Life? Perhaps another perspective of that whole metaphor is to consider it synonymous with the Akashic Records?

I welcome all further discussions on my blog: www.Diva-Mama.com or drop me an email. I am always open to honest and well meaning conversation.

In the meantime, I wish you Hannah, the staff of The Jewish Week, Wendy Mogel and anyone who cares to read this blessings for a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Shira
aka Cantor, Rev. Adler ;-)

Lunatics.

This is a massive chillul Hashem.

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