By Tami Astorino, M.Ed. and Robyn Cohen, Ph.D.

New soccer cleats, check. School supplies, check. Sign up for karate, check. Nurture my children’s neshama (Jewish soul), hmmm.

All parents have lists – our never-ending task lists in an effort to support our children’s lives and take care of the day to day details. Chances are the last time you asked a friend, “How are you?” your friend replied, “busy.” While “busy” can be good, it is what you are busy with, and your interactions with others that contributes to your child’s development, fulfillment and ultimately, character.

Parents often feel like the administrative assistants of the family, yet our true status is that of a CEO. As CEO it is essential to have vision, objectives, and a plan for reaching those objectives that will help you achieve the vision for your family. How much of our list pertains to nourishing our child’s neshama – their soul? How can the tenets of Judaism help pave the path to those objectives?

Your child was born with a Jewish neshama – you don’t need to create it, you just need to give it opportunities to grow. Our children are not just Jewish on Tuesday nights at Religious School. We don’t compartmentalize our child’s neshama; instead we try to infuse it into everything that we do. In Judaism, we take the ordinary everyday tasks and elevate them. This doesn’t have to replace or push aside our child’s other pursuits; rather, it can be the overlay to all his/her activities.

At the end of the soccer game, what do you discuss? It’s fun to talk about our child’s great plays on the field, but what else do you emphasize? Remark about the player who helped the player on the other team get up. Ask, “Did you see a mitzvah?” Take notice that your child made eye contact with the opposing team when saying, “good game.” It is precisely what you pay attention to that sets the agenda for what will flourish in your child.

Most projects, if you give them time and attention, will grow. If you’ve ever started a garden, you know this concept well. If you have a catch with your child everyday, that child will become better at catching a ball. We are familiar with teaching sports skills or math skills to our child, but it is how we ourselves model treating others and take the time to teach our children that ultimately prepares them for the type of person they will become. Growing a mensch is like any skill we aim to teach our children; it takes practice, practice, practice.

The Talmud teaches that “A good deed begets another good deed. A bad deed begets another bad deed.” Behaviors that are repeated often enough become part of who we are. What we model and what our children do helps shape who they become. We are the leader of the family and have the honor and burden of deciding what is important to give attention to and what is not important. As a result, you decide what will grow.

Embrace and claim your CEO status. Challenge yourself to think about your child’s neshama and your hopes for him/her. In an age where we hope our child will excel at so many things, we must be vigilant about keeping “menschhood” at the top of the list. Perhaps if we think of nurturing our children’s souls as the lens through which we make many of our parenting decisions, this objective will naturally rise to the top of our lists. The rest can follow… or even wait.