Activity Recreation//

Make them feel like they matter, by Dr. Ely Weinschneider and Monica Berg

…As such, my parenting goals are fairly simple: make them feel like they matter and give them confidence that they can achieve what they set out to do. I emphasize the need for independence, not co-dependence, and encourage them to hear their inner voice and listen to their soul. Parents are here to guide their […]

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…As such, my parenting goals are fairly simple: make them feel like they matter and give them confidence that they can achieve what they set out to do. I emphasize the need for independence, not co-dependence, and encourage them to hear their inner voice and listen to their soul. Parents are here to guide their children on their journey. A child’s job is not to live up to their parents’ expectations, but rather to fulfill their own unique purpose in this world

Monica Berg is a spiritual teacher, writer and guide who specializes in assisting people as they identify and overcome life’s challenges so they can reach their greatest potential.

Teaching classes globally on topics ranging from relationships to health, and self-esteem to success, Monica’s is a fresh & original voice that channels the powerful internal voice that lives within us all — authentic and fearless, it reminds us of our extraordinary potential and pushes us onward with compassion and understanding.

In addition to her many years of studying and teaching Kabbalah, Monica also draws on her own personal life experiences. She battled and overcame a debilitating eating disorder at a young age, and as a young mother of a special needs child, she has become an outspoken advocate.

Her personal striving has shown her firsthand how the personal and practical life wisdom of Kabbalah can bring Light and strength into even the most challenging experiences.

Monica’s combination of wisdom and real-life awareness makes her classes and counseling compelling to a wide range of individuals at different stages of their lives.

With her trademark blend of humor, insight and honesty, Monica shows students how to create a life that feels like it is working, like it makes sense, and most importantly, a life in which they are living and loving as the powerful, fulfilled person they’ve always wanted to be.

In addition to being a mother and teacher, Monica is also the Global Communications Director for The Kabbalah Centre International, responsible for the information that goes out to millions of students across the world every day.

Monica currently lives in New York with her husband Michael & their children David, Joshua, Miriam and Abigail.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I was born in Thibodaux, Louisiana and spent the first 8 years of my life feeling safe and protected in the beautiful house my father built. I still remember, as clear as yesterday, watching the home come to life; intricate mosaics put together piece-by-piece like assembling a mighty puzzle, the finishes, the furnishings. I have nothing but happy memories of the house my father built.

Aside from the safety, love, and acceptance that I felt within those walls, I was also inspired seeing someone I so greatly admired create something magnificent out of nothing, with just two key ingredients — his imagination and determination. Throughout my life, these two things have given me the clarity and courage I have needed to go after my dreams with the same perseverance.

My family moved to Beverly Hills when I was eight-going-on-nine, putting me in the middle of third grade. I had had a very happy childhood — I was the quintessential happy child, in fact. My father was 40 and my mother was 35 when they decided to make this new start with a new home, new school, new friends… new everything. My mother began working full-time and wasn’t around as much and I remember feeling different at school; the girls were not the sisterly companions I was used to in Louisiana — not to mention the introduction to boys — coming from an all-girl school it was a bit of an adjustment. I just never felt like I fit in.

Although I made many friends over the years, the feeling of not belonging never really went away. As each year passed, I felt more of my purity and essence escaped me. It was as if I had left my heart and soul in Louisiana; my safe haven in the South. Los Angeles represented for me more of a City of Lost Angels… perhaps it was because my parents were trying to find their own way, as well. As a result, I had so many questions, but no answers. I felt as though we were all in a big maze, trying to find our way through it, or in my case, trying to find an exit.

It wasn’t until I was nineteen that my family and I returned to Louisiana, it was our first time back in ten years. I recall feeling sad upon arriving in our old neighborhood — beautiful streets lined with large wooden porches, porch swings, and the wind against my face reminding me of the soft touch of my youth.

I couldn’t remember a time when I had felt settled or comforted like that. The truth was, I hadn’t felt that sense of belonging since we moved, and yet here I was, “home” again, but I didn’t feel any of the warm feelings that for which I was longing. I only felt nostalgic for our old house, a longing for the life I had, and the indelible absence of the youth and innocence I felt I had lost in the move. I yearned to feel carefree and safe once again. My parents may have up and moved in search of happiness, but happiness isn’t something you chase, it’s something you choose. They had it, they just didn’t appreciate it, and they ended up losing everything to find what they had been searching for but had had all along — peace of mind, security, a happy family, and enough money to be comfortable for the rest of their lives.

I now consider myself a sum of all of these parts, all these experiences have given me the opportunity to grow and become the person I am today.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

I have always had the same motivation for the work I do. It’s always been about elevating consciousness and empowering myself and others to live happy and fulfilling lives. While this motivation didn’t change, the way I wanted to express it did. Before I felt this yearning for change, I sat behind a desk, doing important and meaningful work, but not connecting with people in an authentic and intimate way, a way that I craved and knew in my heart would be of greater benefit to myself and the world. I no longer felt inspired or satisfied, and more than anything, I didn’t feel like I was doing what I was destined to do. I struggled for over a year with how to move forward.

Feeling stuck, I often shared with my husband, Michael, about my growing desire to speak in public, to write, and to serve as a mentor. The shame of wanting set in, coupled with a fear of failure. “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t” mentality and I kept wavering, back and forth. Michael recognized how sad this was making me and finally said one day, “You know what, Monica? A lot of people in this world would rather you just sit behind that desk for the rest of your life, and they’d be totally fine with you doing that. In fact, they’d be happy with that. But if you feel this is what you need to do, then go and do it. I believe in you. It’s time you start believing in yourself.”

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

When I heard this question, I laughed and was tempted to take a picture of my planner, it’s all in pencil, crammed into the daily slots are meetings, recitals, children’s dental appointments, work events, birthdays, speaking engagements, work trips, and goals. My typical day starts with God’s greatest gift: coffee, followed by a two-hour workout. Throughout the day I juggle answering emails, writing articles and books, mentoring, researching, and preparing for lectures. Throughout all this, I work closely with my husband, Michael, and take multiple phone calls from each of my four children. Evenings are a mixed bag, sometimes filled with work events, spiritual connections, and networking dinners.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

We are the single biggest influence in our children’s development, for better or worse. Yet, our children spend most of their days in school, influenced by teachers and their peers. We should take measures to make sure that these influences are positive, and correct any misconceptions or flawed beliefs that arise from outside influences. Spending time with them while also chasing our dreams is ambitious, but at the end of the day, children learn best by observation rather than what they’re told. If they see their parents constantly changing and striving then hopefully that inspires them to do the same in their lives.

As such, my parenting goals are fairly simple: make them feel like they matter and give them confidence that they can achieve what they set out to do. I emphasize the need for independence, not co-dependence, and encourage them to hear their inner voice and listen to their soul. Parents are here to guide their children on their journey. A child’s job is not to live up to their parents’ expectations, but rather to fulfill their own unique purpose in this world.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is important to make time to spend with your children?

One of the biggest factors in every developmental phase of childhood is the need for security. Without spending time with them, they lose that feeling of safety that is so necessary to healthy development. I make it a point to have conversations daily with each of my children and make sure they know that I am available to and for them at any time. With that feeling of security, children show more initiative, imagination, and confidence in each endeavor they take on.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give us 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

In my childhood, there was a lot of time spent together, but not much of that time was focused. Proximity is not emotional intimacy and I strive to make the time I spend with my children really count.

My daughter Abigail, 5 years old, is typically a joyful, curious, and engaged child. On the other side of the coin, she can be in the tearful depths of woe over something very minor. When Abigail came home from school crying, I sat on the floor with her and Abigail rested her head in my lap and I asked her questions about her feelings and what had happened. I never scold, yell, or threaten Abigail — or any of my kids for that matter — about her emotions. We quietly and gently work through the feelings as they arise, setting Abigail up to be emotionally intelligent and to be able to identify and soothe her own negative emotions as she matures.

 — -

A few years ago, I was at a grocery store with my oldest daughter, Miriam, who was nine at the time. It was right before a big trip and I remember being very much in my head, going over plans, thinking everything through, and feeling very annoyed that it was taking such a long time to check out. Rather than being engaged with Miriam, I was checked out. I could have, for example, used that opportunity to chat and connect while we were waiting in line. Finally, after feeling like we had been standing behind the person in front of us forever, I was brought back to the present. Suddenly out of my mental planning, I thought, “What’s really going on here?”

Turns out, the girl in front of us was buying a salad she had made from the salad bar, along with a few other items, but she didn’t have enough money. Because it was made at a salad bar, the cashier said she was sorry, but she couldn’t give the girl the salad, and then proceeded to throw it into the trash! I couldn’t believe that. Even though it would mean throwing a perfectly good salad into the trash, the woman wouldn’t just let this girl have it. Before I could fully grasp what had happened, the girl had walked out. I had been so focused on myself and the trip that I missed an opportunity to give. Almost.

I ran out to the parking lot to find the girl, asked her how much money she needed, and offered it to her. The girl thanked me, asking why I was being so generous and what she could do as repayment. I just told her to pay it forward.

Too often we are on auto-pilot when we should be present. This is an example of an almost wasted opportunity, but ultimately I was able to set an example of kindness that I hope Miriam will remember.

 — -

A few years ago my younger son, Josh, asked me, “What is Down syndrome?”

The question took me by surprise. Josh was fifteen at the time and although he has Down Syndrome, that was the very first time he had ever asked this question. I always made a conscious choice in our home to not label any of my children as anything. Not the “pretty one,” the “smart one,” the one with a disability, so on and so forth. When you label someone, you limit them from being so many things. I told him that it is a diagnosis that explains why some people are different than others and I continued, saying that everyone is different in their own way. Some people are strong, some are thin, some are funny, that everyone has their own set of unique strengths… that different is good. I asked him if he felt different. He said yes. “Sometimes when I don’t listen and don’t make good choices,” he continued. (He was referring to his impulsivity.)

He then asked if anyone else in our family had Down syndrome.

I said no and then, thinking perhaps he would get a different answer, he proceeded to go through every family member by name. To each, I replied that no, they didn’t have Down syndrome. As he got to the bottom of the list, he expressed with all of his essence that he just wants to be like everyone else in his family. He wants to be able to live alone someday and have the choice to do what he wants when he wants. And like his big brother David, drive a car and one day get married. He desires independence, the ability to make his own choices. What he ultimately desires is freedom.

 — — 

Sadly, it becomes very easy to unintentionally show children they are not as important as the work we do or the responsibilities we must tend to.

When my oldest child, David, was about nine years old we had made plans to go out to dinner — just the two of us. I came downstairs calling out to him, “Let’s go!” He looked up at me and said, “Are you going to dinner like that?” I was dressed well, but casually, and as I asked why, I noticed he was wearing grey dress pants and a striped button-down shirt, all decked out for the occasion. He responded, “Aren’t you going to get fancy for me, like you do when you go out to dinner with your students and friends?” My heart absolutely melted. In his own way, he was expressing that he wanted going out with him to be as important to me and as special as it appeared to be in other areas of my life. I immediately ran upstairs, changed into my favorite dress and put on some makeup and heels.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

1. Share what you love doing with your children. I love baking, and Miriam and I have spent many happy hours in the kitchen, working side by side in matching aprons. Abigail and Josh see me writing books and now both aspire to be writers and have started rough drafts on their manuscripts. Abigail’s are in crayon. Also, do what your children love doing with them. They feel a greater sense of purpose when they see their parents participating in something that is enjoyable for them.

2. Be present. Again, proximity is not emotional intimacy. Put down the phone, turn off the TV, and actively listen.

3. Set time aside for family outings. My family has enjoyed memorable days together at the beach, parasailing, and visiting the zoo.

4. The time old tradition of family dinners is one of the best and easiest ways to reconnect. Family dinner rules include no arguments and absolutely no phones.

5. Make fun your focus. Too often we are in our heads or mired in responsibility. But making fun your focus allows you to see opportunities that you would have otherwise missed. For example, Abigail and I were walking down the street and passed a giant floor piano out on the sidewalk in front of a toy store. Think about the movie Big. When you see a sidewalk piano you must dance on it! And dance we did.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or a story?

I don’t like the word “good.” Parenting isn’t about just creating happy memories or about making sure every one of your child’s desires are met. I find that a successful parent is able to recognize pivotal moments in their children’s lives and insert wisdom and guidance in those areas. Being a present, loving, nurturing, and caring parent comes down to consciousness followed by kindness.

There are many things that my children can be in this world, but in my opinion there is one thing that they must be, and that’s kind.

When my David was younger I often asked Michael, “Am I a good Mom?” Because it meant so much to me that David felt loved and appreciated. I didn’t want to mess him up! Michael responded that just simply asking that question as much as I did showed that I was invested and aware of my choices.

At the end of the day, we are always going to make mistakes, especially with our first child. But if you do everything with the best of intentions and with kindness, that’s the formula.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or a story?

I instill in my children the idea that they must never settle. Good enough, and close enough are neither. I also make a point of teaching my children that failures are not a bad thing. It’s the trying and the failing that eventually sets us up for big wins.

I inspire my children to live big, versus dreaming big. Dreaming seems far out in the distance. If I create a reality for them where they believe that anything is possible then they can pursue their goals without fear.

For instance, Miriam started to take piano lessons around six years old. Miriam’s personality is such that she doesn’t want to do things that she’s not excellent at. But keeping Miriam in piano lessons against her pleas and certainty that she would never be able to do it right paid off. Miriam is a wonderful piano player and she’s constantly pushing herself to learn more intricate pieces. Through the process she discovered the invaluable lesson that anything worth achieving takes time and practice.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

I love this quote as it perfectly describes success for me, “Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.” — Orison Swett Mardon

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

The End of Illness by David B Agus MD. I love this one as it stresses the importance of living healthy. How to eat, get enough sleep, and the importance of moving your body all day.

A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen. I love this one because it’s a happiness manual, one I refer back to frequently.

This is Water by David Foster Wallace. His stories and eloquence cut to the heart of the human condition and never fail to shed perspective on how consciousness alters experience.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but really great ones make you feel that you could become great.” — Mark Twain

There have been many instances where people have knocked me off-center, making me question whether what I thought or wanted was worthwhile or even achievable. At the end of the day, those people served to make me better and stronger and more passionate about my goals. That quote gave me the clarity to set boundaries with people, as well as serve as a constant that it’s my responsibility to believe in myself and make my dreams come true.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the largest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It all comes down to one word. As I said earlier, kindness is everything. Living kindness doesn’t mean being nice or being polite. It means giving when you don’t want to give. It means being nice when you don’t have to. If we’re honest, that’s pretty difficult. We’d like to think that we’re kind. Though, often when we have opportunities to just give for no reason, to be kind for no reason, we don’t.

It’s fun to be kind. We open doors for the elderly, help a disheveled mom pick up a dropped toy. We do things like this and leave an encounter feeling good; we’ve done something nice. Yay! What I want you to consider is the concept of practicing radical kindness. This is when we share and practice kindness when we really don’t want to, or when it is most difficult.

One night, when I was relieving my babysitter I recall that, as she was bundling up and bracing for the cold, she started to fret about having only one glove. It sounded like there was more of a story underneath her irritation and, being inquisitive by nature, I asked her how she had come to lose one glove.

She said that earlier in the evening while waiting on a subway platform she removed her gloves to retrieve something from her handbag. One of her gloves fell to the floor and as she leaned over to retrieve it, a grimy hand shot out from a bundled person in a sleeping bag and grabbed it. At first polite, she said, “Excuse me, that’s my glove. I just dropped it.”

To which the homeless man replied, “I found this glove.”

“You didn’t find it, because it wasn’t lost. I just dropped it. Please give it back,” she argued.

The homeless man was not inclined to give the glove back and the babysitter was, let’s say, piqued.

Now even more curious, I asked, “So why didn’t you give him the other glove?”

“Why would I give him my other glove?!” The sitter replied.

At this point I was truly confused. I have since come to find out that everyone I have shared this story with, further curious about what their response would have been, also would have not have given the homeless man the other glove, on principle. But principle aside, one glove doesn’t do anyone any good! Meanwhile, the homeless man was likely just happy to have the one glove and, furthermore, withholding one glove would most assuredly not alter his future behavior. It really made me think about when it is appropriate or effective to try and “teach a lesson” versus simply acting in kindness and with a generosity of heart.

It’s a conundrum that all parents know, a child has acted out in some way and it is necessary to mete out a deterrent for future misbehavior, usually in the form of proportional punishment. The difficulty is in maintaining the consciousness of kindness while correcting disappointing behavior. Somewhere along the line, we think that stubbornly withholding our affection is going to drive home the lesson, making it more memorable somehow. But how can closing our hearts to our children, even in times of punishment, be effective? Now, I am certainly not saying that bad behavior should be condoned or coddled, but that we want to be careful to remain kind, even when stern. I know, very well, just how great a challenge this is, but even in parenting, perhaps especially in parenting, it is more important to be kind than to be right.

Kindness is something we all have the opportunity and responsibility to do and give every day.

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