Community BlogClosing the Gap

As my morning coffee brews, I begin to think about my schedule and responsibilities for the day. My mind wanders to thoughts of who I’m meeting with, the emails I need to send, the projects I need to start or finish…when, quite suddenly, as the coffee percolates its last drop, I am awakened out of my morning fog by a half-eaten bowl of oatmeal flying across the kitchen. Back in my morning reality, my coffee has to wait as I struggle to find the energy to give my kids breakfast (or rather clean it up, as apparently my son is actually done with his oatmeal), brush their teeth, corral what seems like a hundred markers rolling across the floor, convince my toddler to put on his shoes, and get out the door to school. There are days when the coffee is still there, untouched, when I get home at the end of the day. Perhaps you can relate?

Many of us live our lives as parents simply doing the best we can. We provide for our families – emotionally, financially, by trying to pass on cherished values and morals, and with an abundance of love and often joy. And yet, much of the time we find ourselves living in a gap between the selves we wish we were (the more perfect parents we imagine we could be) and the way we actually are in our families and in the world. What happens when we do something that doesn’t match the values that we try to live by? When we raise our voices in frustration or simply handle a parenting moment in a way we wish we hadn’t? How do we live in those moments, learn from them, be okay with them, and continue to show our children that we are always striving to be our best selves?

This fall I had the pleasure of studying with ten other parents in a Parenting Through a Jewish Lens course at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley. As we grappled with the mundane and sacred, we often came back to the idea of what it means to parent authentically, with responsibility to ourselves and others. We explored this idea by articulating some of the values we aspire to teach our children: the importance of family, hard work, empathy, honesty, kindness, gratitude, giving back…and together we realized that these were fundamental core Jewish values. The values that we, in our sacred community, hope guide the lives of our families. And yet, we all agreed sometimes we miss them in our daily grind. Sometimes the ideal way of living and parenting just doesn’t happen, and our children see that we don’t always live up to the expectations we set for ourselves. How then, can we close the gap between our ideal living and the reality of everyday life? And how do we teach our children that we are constantly trying to better ourselves, even though we certainly have our difficult moments?

When the oatmeal is splattered, marker caps are everywhere, and there seems to be chaos with each step of the morning routine, how do we find meaningful moments to pause, be in the present with our children, and not fail our own desire to live fully every value we hold close? In our class I encouraged each family to post in their home a list of the ideal values they wanted to aspire towards – essentially the brit (covenant) each family member makes with one another – to commit to working towards them together with room for imperfection.

We learn in the book of Psalms, זֶה־הַ֭יּוֹם עָשָׂ֣ה יְהוָ֑ה נָגִ֖ילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָ֣ה בֽוֹ (Zeh hayom asah Adonai, nagila v’nismicha vo), “This is the day God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalms 118:24).” So I offer an intention for us imperfect parents: In each day may we try to close the gap between ideal and real, and show our children that with responsibility toward living out our ideals, we can rejoice and be glad in this day knowing we’ve done the best we can…and just maybe enjoy the coffee when it’s still hot.

Rabbi Philip Sherman is Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth Elohim, and father of two young children. 

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