One of the challenges I seem to come up against pretty often in life is starting something not, as Julie Andrews, would have it, “…at the very beginning/a very good place to start.” I once found myself being a trainer in something at which I myself was a novice, and while the stretch was good for me (and developed my skills too), I also wished for the chance to learn slowly and at my own pace, not jumping the gun.
Parenting has been a bit like that as well; I was a stepmother before I was a mother, and so by the time I had our twins, I was both a “new mom” and not a new mom at all. And while I was beginning my full, unmodified journey as a Jewish parent, I was also already a rabbi, who did not have the luxury of slowly figuring out how Jewishness fit into our life. Judaism was my job. Even while I was a brand-new Jewish parent, I was by no means brand-new to either category (and my husband was already well down both paths too). I never felt, or took, the luxury of going slowly and being mindful, of thinking about my Jewish parenting journey from scratch.
All of which is to say that I’m a little bit jealous (in the nicest possible way) of the participants in my Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class. While they range in Jewish backgrounds from being a rabbi to just-about-to-become-Jewish, with one exception their oldest (or only) children are four years old or younger. They are starting at the very beginning. And they’re doing so in community.
One of the chief virtues of Parenting Through a Jewish Lens is that it gets parents out of the house to talk to other adults—including, if applicable, their own partners (imagine that! Time to talk with one’s partner about things that matter!)—who are fellow travelers on the Jewish parenting journey. If that were all it did, dayenu—that might be enough. But more than just a chance to have a parents’ night out in a Jewish setting, the class provides the opportunity to reflect on parenting—yes, through a Jewish lens—in ways that might not otherwise come up.
One of the most delightful and even surprising sets of ideas came to us through two texts on the importance of play for parents. One made the interesting argument that being playful with our children not only honors their needs and their very selves, but puts us in touch with our own mythic history in the Garden of Eden, a time of innocence before we encountered the responsibilities of the adult world. The other text told the story of a man who made his son’s inheritance conditional on his acting like a fool, a confusing qualification until a sage’s own parenting story made clear that what the clause referred to was the willingness to act ridiculous in the service of playing with one’s children.
Such a refreshing idea—that as parents, what entitles us to respect is not just our demonstration of who’s in charge, but our loving willingness to truly play. Sometimes, our maturity and authority lie in our deliberate willingness to be anything but “grown-up and authoritative”–to be like children with our children. Like beginners.