| The Day After |

How Will Our Mothering Be Reshaped By Coronavirus?

The struggling child doesn’t feel like anyone’s top priority as annoyance turns to irritation turns to impatience turns to rejection

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sk any frum mother what her top priority is and she’ll for sure say it’s her family.

In our formal tefillos and informal “please Hashems,” in the sandwiches we make and the laundry we pre-treat and the menus we custom-tailor to every palate of every child, we’re constantly thinking of our children. Their likes and dislikes. Their needs and wants. Their strengths and weaknesses and challenges.

We carve out time for dentist appointments and PTA and story-time. We consult with experts and worry about kriah and do speech therapy exercises. We take parenting classes and sign up for daily chinuch tips and keep track of our positivity ratios.

But…we’re carving out time.

We are squeezing that undeniably top priority into the many other tasks and roles and responsibilities that fill our lives. Because many other roles and responsibilities do fill our lives.

We make the trip to and from the dentist as pleasant and focused as we can – it’s some more precious quality time – but then later that night when supper extends a little too long and the pressure of making up the missed work-hours looms, the pleasantness becomes strained and it’s “let’s finish and get into the bathtub and get to bed so I can catch up on the work I missed during the dentist.”

We savor the time on the couch reading books and pointing to the butterfly hiding between the blades of grass, and we invest our heart and soul and a little prayer into the extra potato kugel that we pack along for our bochurim’s in-Shabbos at yeshivah, but then when someone’s struggling with math and there’s a bar mitzvah we really can’t miss, we bring a palpable strain into the cozy home we worked so hard to create. The struggling child doesn’t feel like anyone’s top priority as annoyance turns to irritation turns to impatience turns to rejection.

We watch our teens as they tune into the complexities of the world and we listen as they voice their questions. We relish the opportunity to discuss real issues with people who care, who think, who demand answers and clarity. We share our own formative experiences and the lessons we learned way back that still resonate. But then there are the guests at the table, the people who genuinely need a meal or a welcome or a home base – and as they drink up our attention, our energy, our focus, the kids around the table wonder where they fit in when their parents have so many multi-layered social commitments and responsibilities toward so many people.It’s been two months now that we’ve been spending just about every morning, afternoon, and night with the people who are our true top priorities.

There are no simchahs.

There are no appointments.

There are no social commitments.

There are no guests.

It’s not always perfect and it’s not always peaceful. The space is limited, the opinions are strong, and the number of times you can agree to read the same book — or to teenage chefs making late-night spicy fries — gets depleted at some point.

But.

There are no doubts anymore who is the top priority. Your children are being nurtured directly by you every single meal of every single day. The child who couldn’t be toilet-trained now knows his mother can stay with him however long it takes. The child who spent much of the year in the school hallways after getting kicked out of class is now enveloped by constant belonging. The child who never fell asleep because he kept coming out of bed to make sure you’re still around now knows there is nowhere you can go (although he still pops out once or twice to check).

Whatever learning or davening is happening, it’s happening under your watch. There are no teachers or mashgichim or babysitters or “put the pan in the oven, set the table, I hope I’ll be home before bedtime.” There are no guests at the Shabbos table. There are no visitors to steal your attention and headspace on Shabbos afternoon. There are very few goals and ambitions other than to keep the house pleasant and positive, get today’s laundry put away and tonight’s supper in the oven, and squeeze in a little more room on the couch.

When the virus departs and the outside world opens up again, we’ll have no choice but to go back to our offices, our simchahs, our commitments. This bubble of time spent focusing on that one all-important role is really just that – a bubble. It’s not realistic and it’s not sustainable. We all fill many more roles than just Mother. We are also children, siblings, friends. We hold positions at work and in the community. We mean many things to many people.

But during these weeks shut inside our homes, our children know with certainty that thing we keep hoping they sensed all the while.

May that certainty stay with them always, stay with us always: the knowledge that they come first, and last, and fill up all the crevices in between.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 810)

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    I found Shoshana Friedman’s description of “the day after” for motherhood to be insightful and accurate. The concluding point, however, did not resonate with me and I wonder if others feel the same.
    She wrote “during these weeks shut inside our homes, our children know with certainty…” My children, ages six and two, have been shut inside for two months now. Overwhelmed by the fact that they need constant attention, supervision, and entertainment, I find myself saying “Mommy can’t right now” much more often than is to my liking. Mommy is always busy with something else and often trying to escape to a phone call or a nap.
    My regular breaks are certainly warranted, but I am not pleased with the message my kids are getting. One could argue the importance of them seeing that I am human and I have my limits, but that they are my priority? I’m not sure that’s what is being conveyed.
    In Eretz Yisrael, where I live, the authorities have begun to relax the regulations, and my kids will be returning to a regular school schedule this week. With this “return to normal,” what has changed is not so much their appreciation of me, but mine of them. The lack of guests, void of simchahs, and constant mothering has refocused me on my top priority so that now, when I am afforded those couple hours a day when my kids are home and awake, I will (hopefully) relish the time we have together. It’s quality over quantity — and that’s when I think they will actually feel the difference.


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    An Aspiring Abba

    I am a big fan of Mishpacha in general, and I especially liked the various views in this past week’s section on “The Day After.” The two that are probably closest to home for most families were the ones on chinuch and mothering, and the ideas expressed there indeed resonated very much.
    What triggered me to respond is not the content presented in these two pieces, which was fantastic, but rather the surprising absence of a significant and very relevant “other”: fathering! Of course, the father’s role is very central in the realm of chinuch and talmud Torah, but it can be very dangerous to give the impression that his role is limited to that, and that everything mentioned under “mothering” is restricted to the mother.
    An abba teaching Torah to his child, mind to mind and soul to soul, is certainly the height and apex of their relationship, but the whole range of human engagement is crucial for the chinuch and the child to fully thrive. Torah and spirituality require a healthy basis of psychological and physical wellness, encompassing mind, heart, and body, and this wholesome nourishment must of course come with a balance of discipline and gentle love, including things like play and basic emotional presence. And while these things may come largely from the mother’s side (perhaps predominantly), it nonetheless takes two (or actually, in Chazal’s words: Three).
    In our holy language, “av” actually means “love, passion, desire,” and that fundamental life force is certainly at the heart and soul of the Torah-transmission that the abba imparts to his children, transmitting the loving guidance of our loving Father in Heaven.
    This trying coronavirus time period is not only putting us fathers in a position of teaching more, and not only putting the holy mothers into a position of mothering more — it’s putting both of us into our full parenting positions: being full mothers and full fathers, with all of the varying aspects and layers that each one entails.
    May Abba in Shamayim help us all to seize this precious opportunity and become the fully dedicated parents we are meant to be, in full health and holiness.