Community BlogParenting: Turns Out There’s More to it Than Diapers, Food, and Sleeping

We’ve come a long way since the start of our Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class. As first-time parents, it felt as if it was everything we could to do to keep our son Gabriel (then five months old) well-nourished and adequately clothed – any extra energy we had was spent thinking about things like how to encourage a regular nap schedule or which food to introduce him to next. We felt overwhelmed by virtually everything and had retreated into an insular existence in which our attention during non-working hours was wholly devoted to Gabriel.  Our awareness of the outside world became increasingly hazy and we had no time to think about what sort of parents we wanted to be or what sort of family we were hoping to create. Still, when we heard about PTJL it spoke to us as something worth making time for.

We’re glad that we did.  We still spend most of our free time discussing issues of sleep and food or lavishing attention and adoration on Gabriel, but thanks to Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, we’ve emerged from the new-parent bubble. We’ve begun thinking about parenting not just as a matter of providing for the immediate material needs of a tiny new person but also as a long-term project of raising a thoughtful, curious, socially conscious child who is aware of Jewish traditions and teachings.

Our class has drawn parents with similar ages of children (including our instructor Hillel), so we can share experiences in a way that feels relevant to each other. The families have many different relationships to Judaism, from active synagogue members to those relatively new to Judaism – a mixture that sparks plenty of discussion.  As the class has moved from the domains of interpersonal relations and personal meaning to transcendence and identity, we’ve discussed topics like ritual, obligation, and tzedakah. The texts would be fascinating to discuss in their own right, but grounding them in their relationship to parenting brings an added weight and personal meaning to the conversation. The discussions we have in class are just the beginning for us – we continue to talk about them on the way home and after Gabriel has gone to bed.  PTJL has reinforced what is, for us, a key Jewish idea: the questions are often just as important as the answers. We may not have learned the right way to raise a moral child, but we are thinking about it in ways that we were not before.

That being said, there are some concrete “take-homes” from class. Gabriel is still too small to implement many of them: coins placed in his hands are more likely to end up in his mouth than in a tzedakah box.  But we’ve done what we can: reciting the shema before Gabriel’s bedtime and lighting Shabbat candles on Friday nights.  Regular rituals like that, even when it’s just the three of us, make us feel part of a larger Jewish world, a community that extends across both time and space.

The class has introduced a clear progression of ways to introduce Gabriel to Jewish life and broaden his understanding of the world around him: activities can start in the home (discussing Jewish children’s books provided by PJ Library) expand out to the family (sitting shiva with those in mourning), and then to the community and the world (deciding together where to donate time and money to those in need).  As Gabriel gets older, we look forward to helping him expand his sense of his role in the world and the things he can do to help make it a more just, inclusive, and, ultimately, joyful place.