Since my son was very young, and we were very new parents, we have always had a nightly routine. It has changed somewhat throughout my son’s 2+ years, but always includes a bath, one (or many) books, and some iteration of “cuddle time.” In our family, bedtime is one ritual that is sacred in our lives, when sitting at the kitchen table for meals or snacking on healthy food simply falls through the cracks of our working-parent existence. However, since beginning our Parenting through a Jewish Lens class in October, bedtime has changed.
One of the most important pieces of advice I have gotten as a new parent is that just when you despair that your child will never sleep through the night, will never stop pooping in the tub, or will always throw tantrums when they can’t get what they want, things change. Sometimes these behaviors extinguish themselves, sometimes they demand special focused attention, sometimes they get worse, and sometimes they get better. But the one thing we can count on is that they will change.
Every Sunday morning, we get ourselves dressed and out of the house in order to meet with our knowledgeable teacher and other Jewish parents of young kids for PTJL. When we started this class five weeks ago, we didn’t know what it would be like, what we would learn, or how this learning would influence our development as a Jewish family, but we were open, and interested, and motivated, and we made sure to show up.
During the first class, we talked about morning and evening rituals, and ways that Jewish tradition helps us to ease these very present transitions in the day. One way we talked about is by saying the Shema at bedtime. This is our tradition’s way of easing the transition from wakefulness to sleep, by affirming our belief that we will be protected during the night. When we left this first class, we thought that by saying the Shema at night, it would be an easy way to bring Jewish tradition into our bedtime ritual. Five weeks strong, we are saying the shema every night. My two year old asks to say it when he is ready to “snuggle,” and covers his eyes . During this moment, everything else stops. My husband and I cuddle our son together as we say this prayer.
At our fifth class, many parents voiced frustration about time spent in houses of prayer: How can we model Jewish engagement for our young children when we spend the time there chasing them around or keeping them from disturbing others? The other night, during bedtime, my son answered this question for me. After the Shema and before going into the crib, my son and I snuggle while he initiates conversations about his day, such as “Talk about the library,” or “Talk about pre-school.” From there I muster up everything I can about what happened that day, and try to engage him in conversation about it, although he usually just wants me to talk. The other night I was shocked when he said, “Talk about Jewish Lens.”
The funny part is that while we learn during PTJL, he goes to babysitting. He is not there to engage in a discussion of Jewish values. WE are. Yet somehow he knows that this matters. Even our very young children know, can understand and internalize our values. So when our son says Shema at night, even though he doesn’t understand what the words mean, he knows it matters. And when we go to services on Saturday mornings, we may not spend a moment praying, but he knows this matters. And when we snuggle together at night, talking about his day, he knows that our time together with him is what matters. Our children are not the only ones learning, growing and changing. We are too.