I often feel overwhelmed by all the weeknight meetings and events at my kid’s school, all the parenting books that remind me of all the ways I’m parenting wrong, and all the authors on book tours who come and tell us in person everything we’re doing wrong.
It scares me — the world is doomed, our kids are doomed! There’s an epidemic of teenagers having sex, we are all infantilizing our kids, and they’ll stay stuck at age 10 and never want to leave home, our children don’t know how to fail and will never be able to face rejection, or the worst of it — they’ll grow up to reject their Judaism. Ugh.
Why would I want to go out during the week only for someone to make me feel like I’m a crummy parent? So I attend very few of these school events, book talks and lectures. At the end of a long day, all I want to do is cook dinner for my family and sit around the table with my kids. There’s no place I’d rather be than home, with my family.
Isn’t the home central to creating a Jewish life anyway? Isn’t that where parenting begins? I know Shabbat is critical, but can’t we take some of it — the unplugging, the mindfulness, the value of family togetherness, the respite from work — and sprinkle it into our daily evening home life? Besides, we only get our kids for a half-hour at most at the dinner table each night before they rush off for homework, to check their Snapchat, to shut their bedroom door and listen to music, to leave us for good … all too soon. So, let’s make that time count when we can.
Here’s the thing: If I stay home and eat dinner with my kids, I don’t feel like a failure as a parent. I’m lucky, my kids like my cooking. That alone makes me feel like I’ve done something right. Putting good food in their belly makes me feel good. I’d rather take the time to make a nice pot of soup then schlep across town, always running late and then stressing about finding a parking spot just to sit and listen to someone tell me that I’m overprotective, I don’t let my kids feel disappointment, my children won’t grow up to be successful, resilient or self-reliant adults, or that I’m not Jewish enough and then maybe my kids won’t be Jewish at all. No thank you to all of it. I’d rather make soup.
When my first child was a baby, I had no idea what I was doing. Even during my pregnancies I somehow felt I failed. I ate tuna all the time when I was pregnant with my daughter, and later my doctor told me tuna was filled with mercury. I craved and ate salami when I was pregnant with my son and felt horribly guilty after because I thought I was poisoning my child with nitrates. When my kids were infants, I went to them every time they cried. Other parents made me feel I was weak because I didn’t let my kids “cry it out.” My kids were always messy eaters — food on their faces, spots on their clothes. Everyone else’s kids looked so clean. And yet, somehow, my kids made it to middle school and high school. They sleep through the night. They care what they look like. Things haven’t been all rosy for them either — they have fallen, but eventually they got back up. They’re kind of good in math despite the mercury and nitrates.
Parenting is hard. I worry all the time. I make lots of mistakes. Will someone’s eight-step plan or blueprint for better parenting help me be a better parent? I don’t think so. And most of the time when I compare myself to other parents I fall short. But every time I parent from inside I feel better — a lot better. When I trust my instincts, when I listen to my kids tell me how they are feeling and then decide what to do from there, when I take a breather during the week (not just on Shabbat) to feel grateful that we have a roof over our heads and food to eat, that my kids are getting a good education and are able to attend school — whenever I look within, I feel better. The more I look outside to try and control and shape the outcomes of this parenting thing, the more miserable I feel. I don’t know how any of this will turn out, but in the meantime I hope you’ll join me as I fumble along from the inside. I’ll make mistakes, but at least they are mine to make.