Mimi Borden lives with her family in Lincoln and just completed Parenting Through a Jewish Lens in Newton.
Since the afternoon in high school when my cross-country coach (who was my history teacher, a novelist and a stand-up comedian) shared his philosophy of never being unprepared, preparation has been key to everything I do. Before starting any project, I like to research, investigate, ask questions and then make decisions that are as informed as possible. When pregnant with our first child, our bedroom became a maze of parenting advice. Even though he wasn’t born yet, I had already read books on sibling rivalry, playground politics, and rainy-day crafts. I was going to be so prepared for our child, that all of my doubts, fears and uncertainties would be addressed before they even had a chance to materialize. In retrospect, it seems like it wouldn’t be too hard to guess how successful that strategy was.
Fast forward 10 years and while my inclination is still to research and analyze, most of the time – through work and homework, lessons, play-dates meals and laundry - I find myself flying by the seat of my pants. There have been days when I felt lucky just to have a clean pair of pants. When I’m being honest, I admit that I remember only passing fragments of what I read years ago, have the time and focus to read just a fraction of what I want to, and know that searching for parenting advice on the Internet invariably ends in a wonderfully chaotic maze of stuff (including more books in my Amazon shopping cart than I’ll ever read). What’s more, interactions with my children so rarely unfold as I would have expected that most of the time my careful planning flies out the window before the conversation has really gotten started. I feel like I have so many unfinished thoughts, so many questions all swirling around at once. And at the center of it all is this desire to slow everything down, for us all to feel happy and nurtured and whole.
As a possible antidote to some of this, my husband and I signed up for Parenting Through a Jewish Lens at Temple Emanuel in Newton this past winter and spring. Despite the fact that our children are 7 and 10, the instructors assured me that the class would be as relevant for us as for new or expecting parents. I’m thrilled that we followed through.
First off, as a parent, I don’t think that there is any amount of reading that could match the experience of having weekly sessions with such smart, knowledgeable, kind, caring and compassionate instructors as Rabbi Michelle Robinson and Judy Elkin. No amount of Internet searching, for example, could replace sitting in a room and hearing how Rabbi Robinson talks about doing morning and evening prayers with children. It’s this Jewish blend of mindfulness that has slowed down our mornings and our evenings. It has made our children more aware of themselves and their worlds and reminded us of all the wonderful possibilities of being a parent.
The small class setting was also integral to the experience. With six couples and our instructors, all who care deeply about their children and the world, a community sprang up – one that supported and challenged one another. Hearing others talk about the relationships with their own parents, fears of being a new parent, questions about faith and Israel and observance, made the class meaningful in a way that it could
never have been if we were doing it on
our own. Sharing this experience with a close community heightened the
questions and the answers and constantly reminded us that we’re all in it
The lessons that emerged from the class, I think and hope will make a lasting impression on our family life and our parenting styles. These lessons range from the relatively straightforward to the truly profound, and I know that we will be thinking about their evolving meanings for our family for many years. Parenting through a Jewish lens means to me that we are mindful of special moments and should take the time to mark them, that we are always there for people who are making their way through difficult times, that being part of communities is an essential part of life, as is being true to oneself and nurturing our children to do the same. This view makes a difference in how we parent. Applying these teachings in meaningful ways enriches both the big picture of our lives as well as the day to day.
When I think about how PTJL has had an impact, I am also heartened by the way that Judaism is now positioned for our family. While enrolled in the class, two devastating tragedies took place very close to home. Having class to go to as an outlet for questions and confusion raised by both the shootings in
Newtown and the bombings in was invaluable. Our
wise and thoughtful guides throughout the process reminded us that Judaism has
dealt with tragedies since the beginning of time. Out of this has come
wonderful stories of bravery, uncertainty and triumph that can help families
talk to children about their fears and anxieties and chart a path for them back
to something positive. Talking about Esther’s journey in the Purim story or the
people who had the faith to light the menorah during Hanukkah filled the void
when we didn’t know how otherwise to talk about what was happening in the
world. It balanced tragedy with heroism and gave us all something hopeful to
think about in the face of so much sadness. Boston
For us, PTJL has served many purposes and bridged many gaps. For me, it certainly tapped into my need for preparation, and in a way that helped to slow down all the swirling questions in my head and to connect me more deeply to Judaism, a new community and most of all my family. To celebrate all the ‘aha’ moments we experienced during our class – and to all the questions we still have – I breathe and smile and say the Shehecheyanu.
PTJL is being offered at more than a dozen location throughout greater Boston this fall with amazing instructors - we hope you'll join us.