Excerpted and adapted from The Soul of Parenting, by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff. August 2023. Reprinted with permission.
Parenting in Unity
Mommy, Daddy, and Our Parenting Mission
When Spouse and Child Are Against You
How to ensure that you and your spouse are united and build better bonds in your family
Do you find yourself in cahoots with your child against your spouse? Do you ever feel as if you’re standing alone as your spouse and child form an informal pact together?
When one parent is allied with a child, it creates an unhealthy bond. This environment becomes ripe for disrespect as the seeds of chutzpah are sown. A child who learns that parents are not on the same page sees the possibility of putting down a parent and casting his opinion aside. A parent and child versus the other parent is a recipe for dysfunction.
A mother asked me about the relationship that her husband has with their eleven-year-old son. Describing their exchanges, she felt that her husband was unduly harsher with him than with their daughters. He expected more, demanded more, and corrected him about the slightest mistakes. Somehow, it felt as if they were in competition with one another.
They were in competition; they were competing for her alliance.
I wanted to know what her reaction was when these happenings took place.
“I tell my husband that he’s being too hard and that he should just let things go. After all, he is the father, and he needs to act like the adult.”
“And do you say all this in front of your son?” I questioned.
“Well,” she replied, “I do try my best to whisper. But I guess I’m whispering out loud, and he hears it all.”
I assured her that not only did her son hear, but he understood quite clearly that he had discovered a powerful wedge between his parents. Anytime in the future that he had an issue with his father, he now perceived his mother as on his side. His relationship with his father will suffer as he grows into his teens. The relationship between husband and wife will also fray. There is a question of loyalty, trust, and parenting on common ground. Parents who display favoritism for a child over a spouse create resentment and anger in their marriage. It is the father and mother who must stand united, not the child and parent.
Of course, there are times when a parent comes down hard on a child or is unreasonable in his expectations. How can we resolve this type of situation and stand together with strength so that our children perceive a home environment that feels safe and secure?
Understand that resolving this is vital. When kids see parents behaving lovingly and respectfully with one another, they feel as if they are in a stable home that will endure. A firm foundation gives sons and daughters the sense of steadiness needed in a chaotic world. Children also learn to respect parents when parents display respect for one another. Casting a spouse’s opinion aside thoughtlessly, disparaging a husband or wife, and treating each other disrespectfully only hurts us, the parents. Children pick up these disrespectful cues and then act the very same way toward us. Nobody wins.
Strategies for a Healthy Home
Here are some dos and don’ts to ensure you and your spouse are united and build better bonds in your family.
[bl]Don’t put down your spouse in front of your child.
Don’t sabotage the relationship of the other parent by criticizing the way your spouse is handling a situation. Saying things like, “You always make her cry” or “That’s how you discipline him?” is not productive.
Don’t use your child as a pawn to get back at your spouse.
Don’t attempt to fix your loneliness or hurt through becoming your child’s partner.
Don’t argue about your child while he is present. Besides teaching him to be disrespectful, many children end up feeling guilty that they have caused bad feelings between parents.
Don’t show favoritism to one child or become that child’ defense attorney. You must be honest here. If you find yourself constantly sticking up for a child, take a step back and figure out what is happening in your home.
Do discuss differences of opinion in private, using the respectful tones and words that you would expect your children to use.
Do agree that you will not put each other down or use disparaging remarks to get your point across — especially in front of the children.
Do agree that there must be standards of respect in your home so that when a child is upset or angry, he may not put down a parent. Saying things like, “She drives me crazy” or “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about” is completely unacceptable. A child may express frustration or sadness, or ask for more time or understanding, but everything must be expressed with honorable words and actions. Children should never perceive a parent as a vessel for complaints against another parent.
Do communicate that you are on the same page as parents.
Do decide to sit down together and discuss how to handle the times that you disagree. Are there certain situations that keep on cropping up, pitting one parent against another? Is there one child in particular who brings out this unhealthy alliance?
Do be sure that children hear positive words from both parents. Sometimes, a parent falls into a negative spiral with a child. Every interaction is about what the child did not do or how the child could do better. When the other parent hears this, a defensive posture is taken. This tug of war must stop. Children need to hear positive words, encouragement, and love from both mom and dad.
Emotional crossfire wounds both parents and children. Being a parent means that we set our egos aside, stop indulging ourselves, and start focusing on the health of our homes. Our children need us to lead them into the future, a future that is intact and based on mutual respect and dignity. Children who see parents aligning together understand that theirs is a home filled with love and wisdom.
What’s a Father For?
The definition of being a father
What is the definition of being a father?
Is his self-worth simply based upon his financial income and the type of car that he drives? Or is he here to provide more, to endow his children with a spiritual income, as well?
In addition to his financial portfolio, has he thought about the spiritual portfolio that his children will come to inherit one day?
There are many challenges facing today’s families. Life is expensive. Tuition, insurance, camp, clothing, food, after school activities, orthodontists, mortgage payments, medical bills, various therapies, and tutors — the list goes on and on. Though I know that often it is both husbands and wives who are working long hours and worrying about the bills, I also know that men feel greatly responsible for their family’s financial situation.
And then my mind wanders to memories of my father.
No, we did not have much “stuff” growing up. We never took exotic vacations or had the latest “must haves” and toys. But my parents provided us with so much more to carry us through our days: endless love and faith that have anchored us throughout life’s ups and downs.
Though many stories pop into my mind, there is one story in particular that imprinted within me the sense of “what’s a father for.”
It had been a long, hot summer. My husband had undergone delicate surgery for a dislocated shoulder and was warned to watch the movements of his arm. He was wearing a sling while dealing with a lot of pain. I was in my later months of pregnancy, and you know that scorching days and expectant mothers are a difficult combination.
I took my children outside to play, and my five-year-old daughter fell off her swing. Her hand lay limply at her side.
I drove to the pediatrician hoping that he’d tell me this was just a bruise or sprain. He gave me the news that my daughter’s hand seemed broken, and I would need to see an orthopedist. My child would need an adult to lift her, accompany her into the x-ray room, and calm her fears. I also had a toddler who needed someone to watch over him in the office while my daughter was being examined and having a cast put on.
Since I was expecting, that “someone” who was needed in the x-ray room could not be me. My husband was completely incapacitated. I drove home, thinking of my various options. My mother was lecturing, and I knew that my father had left that morning to visit my sister and spend a week with her family in their Catskill bungalow.
As I entered the house, my phone rang. I picked up the receiver and heard my father’s voice.
“Sheifele, how are you?”
I could not speak. I just started to cry.
“What is it, Slovelah? Why are you crying?”
I sobbed a bit more and then relayed my story to my father. I described my husband, immobile in his sling, my daughter, wailing and needing to have x-rays taken of her arm, my seven-year-old, just getting off the day camp bus, and my two-year-old, doing what two-year-olds do. The orthopedist’s office was an hour away. I didn’t know how to manage. I felt overwhelmed.
“Don’t worry, my sheifele, I’m coming to help you.”
“Abba, what do you mean?” I asked. “You just arrived this morning. You spent three hours on a bus getting there, and you’re staying for a week. How will you help me?”
“I am going to take the next bus home — don’t worry. I didn’t even unpack yet, so it’s fine.”
“Are you sure, Abba?” I asked incredulously.
I was astonished. I knew how my father had been waiting for this week. My parents never took a vacation. This was to be my father’s “big getaway” — a week in my sister’s bungalow. His greatest pleasure was spending time with his children and grandchildren, taking walks on the country roads, and breathing in the natural beauty of God’s world. He had schlepped up by bus, and I learned later from my sister that my father had arrived sopping wet, drenched in sweat from the heat of the trip.
But he made no mention of any of this to me. It was clear that he would just turn around and come home. I was overwhelmed with his kindness. I decided to ask one more time.
“Are you sure, Abba?”
I heard my father’s wonderful laugh over the phone. And then he said something that I will never forget.
“Slovelah, of course I’m sure. What’s a father for?”
As we grapple with uncertainties and a topsy-turvy world, at least let us hold onto this one unshakable truth. Fathers exist in the lives of their children with a role that goes way beyond paying the credit card bills. Fathers are here to lead, to provide spiritual and emotional nourishment to both sons and daughters. Fathers can be the moral compass that steer children through their life’s journey. And then, when we grow up and wonder if we are doing the right thing or how we will possibly make it, we can hear our father’s voice and see our father’s image in our mind. We can look back on the small kindnesses, the little talks when we seemed troubled, and the reassuring arm around our shoulders that let us know that we are loved and never stand alone.
And if right now, you are feeling hurt and lacking such memories, know that today is your opportunity to create this legacy with your own children.
After all, what’s a father for?
Manhood and Tough Finances
How we respond to challenges makes a profound impact on our children.
When families go through economic turmoil, marriages suffer. Intimacy suffers. Relationships with children suffer. (This is true, too, for any times of unexpected chaos and tumult that a couple confronts).
There is a sense of fatigue. Emotions of sadness, irritability, and loss of energy overwhelm and demoralize. Withdrawal of love and outbursts of fighting can devastate the entire family.
I have met with numerous couples who are trying hard to hold on to a life that they once took for granted.
Husbands and wives whisper about credit card bills, tuition fees, and mortgage payments that sit on their desks waiting to be paid. The threat to their shalom bayis, peace in the home, is real.
How can we help our kids resist the urge to grow despondent while sensing a hopeless shadow constantly hovering above?
I cannot say that I have all the answers, but I do know this.
There will come a time that our children will look back at times of challenge and they will reflect on their memories.
Perhaps, they will be going through new challenges of their own; perhaps, they will be reminiscing about their childhood.
When they think of you, what will they remember?
A Son Calls Home
Lisa and Josh seem like the perfect couple. They easily complete each other’s sentences and have a great rapport between them. Josh had a fabulous job as an investment banker in NYC, until the market collapsed. The day that he was let go, I received an email from Lisa.
“My husband has given his life to his company. What will he do? I am afraid he’ll fall into a depression. What will happen to us? I am so frightened.”
Lisa has attended my classes for years. I encouraged her to share the wisdom she has gained with her husband. Couples who study together grow united. Torah’s wisdom anchors us; it strengthens our souls.
The year passed slowly. While searching for a job, Josh took on running. One day, while on a jog, he fell and broke his leg badly. He needed surgery, then crutches, and months’ worth of therapy.
Lisa and I exchanged daily emails. We spoke about never losing hope. We spoke about the power of a good word, about the smile that gives life to another. Though times may be difficult, we still have the ability to touch each other with goodness. I asked Lisa and Josh to never let a day go by without doing something kind for their family…even the smallest act of kindness helps a family remain connected.
It was a very tough time.
Josh finally found a job. His leg healed. Lisa took on a part-time position to help ease the financial load. Their eldest son left for college.
One night, Lisa and Josh asked to speak with me. Their son had called home and told them that everyone had been asked to give a talk about their hero. When it was their son’s turn, he spoke about his father.
“Dad, I told them how you taught me that no matter how tough life gets, we never give up. I told them how you lost your job and busted your leg, but you refused to lie down and surrender. Dad, I told everyone you’re my hero.”
I ask parents everywhere to ask this question: When your children will look back on difficult days, what image will come to mind?
Will they recall a father sitting hopelessly in his chair with a blank look in his eyes, night after night?
Will they conjure an image of a mother’s sharp outburst in response to the slightest request for help?
Or will they know in their heart of hearts that despite all the stress and exhaustive pressure, you, their parents, never gave up — not on faith and not on each other.
You never lost your love of life, your dedication to family, your ability to hold on.
You never gave in to despair.
A Father’s and Mother’s Image
When Yosef was just seventeen years old, he found himself living as the only Jew in the land of Egypt. He had been sold into slavery by his brothers, lost connection with his family, and did not know if his father Yaakov was even alive. One day, Yosef was left in solitude with the wife of his boss, Potiphar. She had tried to entice the handsome young man in every way possible for months, but to no avail. On this holiday, Potiphar’s wife feigned illness while the entire household was out, celebrating in their temple. Again, she tried to tempt Yosef. His resistance almost cracked…but in the last moment, Yosef resisted and ran out of the room. Where did Yosef find the incredible strength needed to resist such strong temptation?
It was “deyukno shel aviv,” the image of his father that saved Yosef in the last moment. His father’s face reminded him of who he was supposed to be, the great potential that lay within, his roots, and his destiny. How could Yosef betray his father’s legacy?
Rabbi Ami adds that Yosef saw the image of his mother, Rachel, and his blood ran cold.
At that moment, he saw his mother’s face. He remembered her sacrifice on her wedding day so that her sister, Leah, would not be publicly shamed, and he was struck with awe. How could I possibly fall so low when I come from such greatness?
We are each creating our very own “diyukno shel aviv.” When our children think of us and ask themselves “What would Daddy do?” or “What would Mommy say?” they are tapping into the legacy we have paved for them.
I pray that we give our children an image that inspires them to always choose the right path, and to remember that they come from strong roots. And, though we may not have dreamed that we would travel down this road, the journey has taken us to places that helped us discover the true meaning of faith, courage, and love.
Peter Pan Parents
Some parents never want to grow up.
A letter from a teenager to an advice columnist caught my eye:
I am a fourteen-year-old girl, and I get along with my mother pretty well. But she tends to wear clothes that are appropriate for girls my age — and totally wrong for a forty-two-year-old mother. I feel humiliated when my friends see her dressed up like that. But when I try to discuss the issue calmly, we end up screaming. What can I do?”
I have spoken to children who have described how ashamed they felt when their father ruined a bar mitzvah celebration, a night out, or a meal together, by drinking himself into the most humiliating of experiences. I have tried to help children find peace after speaking about mothers who dress in inappropriate outfits, thinking they look fashionable, but in their daughter’s eyes, they are only a source of embarrassment.
The issue goes beyond “not in good taste” and a little too much alcohol. As parents, we are responsible for setting certain standards of behavior in our family’s lives. The way we dress, the way we celebrate, and the way we speak all impact the way our children see us. And if our children believe that we are belittling ourselves through our behavior or clothing, we become diminished in their eyes.
There is a trend in our world today where parents are just not interested in the responsibility that parenting entails. Too many fathers and mothers are trying to raise children while they have not yet finished growing up themselves. We don’t want to look older, act older, or miss out on the fun. We find blogs complaining about having to be home at night, doing carpool, or needing to sit down and concentrate on boring math homework. “Been there, done that — I need to get away from it all.
I call them “Peter Pan parents.” Every neighborhood has them. We find fathers and mothers who would rather be out or on vacation than deal with the pressures of family life. Some dress in beat up sneakers or wear the same outfits as their tweens and teens so that they’ll still feel young. As their children grow, they become stuck in time, refusing to move on.
The trouble is that, in the process, we lose our dignity. And when our dignity goes out the window, so too does the esteem that our children should have for us. It is important for us to remember that children need parents to respect. Of course, we want to create a warm and loving environment in our homes. But, at the same time, we cannot fall into the trap of thinking that we and our children are simply BFFs. As a parent, I have a most crucial mission: to guide, to lead, and to inspire. I am here to mold character and raise a child with soul. How can I possibly accomplish all this if I did not yet accept the responsibility that honorable parenting brings?
We are our children’s greatest role models. If not us, who will our children seek out for direction?
Athletes, celebrities, and famous politicians have immersed themselves in indecent behaviors. Social media and popular videos encourage our kids to mock decency. Popular culture screams out that coarse and crude are “in.”
If we want our children to speak and carry themselves with respect, we must be the first in line. Judaism teaches us to revere both body and soul. We dress with dignity. We give thought to our words and language. The way we live reflects the majesty that lies within.
When Noach left the ark after the great flood, the first thing he did was plant a vineyard. After drinking wine, he became drunk and “uncovered himself within his tent.” Cham, the son of Noach, saw “ervas aviv,” the uncovering of his father, and mockingly told his two brothers about their father’s disgraced condition. Rabbi S.R. Hirsch teaches that “ervah” is an expression of weakness and shame, such as when a person sinks into a degrading position as a result of his drunkenness. When a parent dishonors themself, they also dishonor the parental image that their children hold onto. Their behavior causes them to become shamed in their child’s eyes. The entire relationship between parent and child becomes diminished as does the reverence that children have.
Honor and respect are basic foundations of our homes. Effective discipline is contingent upon the relationships that we have with our kids. Parents who live with dignity give their children an image to revere, admire, and respect.
Your children need to honor you — not because you crave admiration or obedience — but rather, your children should gain inspiration and learn life values from you. You are the primary giver of mesorah, the transmission of our heritage, a chain that links us back to Sinai. Respect is a cornerstone of our relationship. When children show respect, they are accepting their parents as their life guides. The greater their reverence, the stronger the bond of transmission that grows between parent and child. This cannot be accomplished by parents who act as if they are still in college (or high school).
We begin by living with dignity and honor. We begin by taking a good look at ourselves.
There is a part of parenting that requires us to dig deep. We must let go of our selfish needs and finally grow up. We may be tired. It might not always be fun. But, when we finally reach the moment where we are prepared to live with dignity, to parent with honor, to seek out moments that define us as parents, then we have come to a place in our life that will be cherished beyond our days.
When You Stay Together for the Kids
How to make a difficult situation better
I recently watched your talk on living with joy. Here’s my question: I decided to stay together with my husband because of the kids. What advice do you have for me? When a spouse just doesn’t connect, and you decide to be there for the children, is there anything more you could tell me?
Stuck at Home
My dear friend,
Thank you for your email, and I am glad that you reached out to me. Let’s talk.
This is not a response to whether you should stay or go. You’ve made your decision. I am sure you have put lots of thought into this and I appreciate your sacrifice and desire to create a home that you feel is best for your children. Now the question is: what more can you do to make a difficult situation better?
I am going to give you three thoughts, and I’d like you to contemplate each one.
1. Own Your Decision
You sign your letter as, “Stuck at Home.” The truth is, you have made this determination to remain in the marriage for your children. Now it’s time to own your decision. There is no one in this world who can judge you. You cannot be stuck if it is a position that you have arrived at after careful consideration. The more stuck you feel, the less empowered you become.
Living life as a victim is an awful way to live. When we make choices in life, we must accept and even embrace the road that we have chosen. This is called strength. To see yourself as stuck is to say, “I am weak and everything I do now is useless and futile.” But that is not true.
Are you victim or victor?
For starters, get rid of the idea that you are a casualty. Don’t wake up each morning feeling defeated. If you have resolved to remain for the children, respect yourself. Believe in your path. This is a role that you have taken on, so do it with energy and positivity. I’m not saying that this is an easy journey. There is much here to which I am obviously not privy. But if you are there for your children then be there in both body and soul.
To help bolster your confidence, think about the conclusion of Judith Wallerstein, who wrote The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. She is convinced that children are almost always better off if the family remains intact, even if the parents are not in love. This is definitely not speaking about situations where abuse, anger, or addictions are taking place. She is talking about homes where mother and father can work on remaining civil. Of course, we would all prefer a home filled with perfectly happy mothers and fathers. But her research found that if parents could avoid exposing children to fights and nasty arguments, the children do well. These thoughts should bring you comfort and strength.
2. Rid Yourself of Hostility
You ask if there is anything more that I can tell you.
I am not here to cast judgment on your decision or to sway you in either direction. This is an individual choice to make. There is no clear answer here. I am sure that some days you question yourself and look at your disconnected spouse with hurt, even with antagonism. It is easy to fall into hostility. But what is accomplished?
If you are in this situation, it is best to leave contempt behind. Otherwise, you will look in the mirror one day and find yourself unrecognizable. You will wonder at the bitterness, the negativity, the resentful person you have become.
You may be asking, “But how? How is it possible to live with one who is disconnected and not breed anger? How can I live with rejection and not lose myself?”
Remember, you have chosen this path so live actively and not reactively. This means that there should never be one person in your life who holds the on/off switch to your emotions. Do not allow others to be your sole source of joy or self-worth. Do you only react to your husband’s disconnect, or can you actively find a way to discover peace within, through other roads? What makes you a happy and fulfilled woman? Develop a relationship with yourself, see the greatness inside of you, and explore the unlimited potential that is waiting to be discovered. Perhaps, you can become part of a shul or chessed community, take classes on-line, or discover a hobby or career path that has been unexplored. You have more power than you realize.
Every Yom Kippur, my mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, a”h, would give all who were at our davening services a most beautiful blessing. “I wish you nachas,” she would say. “You should have nachas from your families, nachas from your children, but, most of all, nachas from yourselves.” And this is my wish to you, too, that, despite the loneliness and pain in your life, may you find nachas not only from your children to whom you are giving your all, but also from yourself.
3. Seek Good Help and Support
I cannot assume that you have taken this route, staying in it for the kids, without trying to professionally repair your relationship. There are some wonderful people out there who can help you. Did you meet with a wise therapist, Torah teacher, rabbi, or rebbetzin?
Sometimes, we assume that a situation is hopeless, when really it is not. I have spoken to couples who were in the same situation in which you now find yourself. I cannot guarantee that you will be able to make your marriage work again, but I also cannot say that it is an impossibility. At times, there is disconnect and friction because of a situation with a child or in-law, or there may be a financial or health crisis. With time, good advice, and deep investments of energy and effort, the darkness lifts. Couples who never thought it possible to live together as an intact family have found themselves reconstructing their relationship.
Sometimes, rebuilding after going through turmoil brings a more steadfast home. I ask that you try to find that go-to professional person who can be your emotional and spiritual guide.
I know that this must not have been easy for you to share.
I wish you strength and blessings on your journey.
Mommy and Daddy: Stop Fighting
Things that a child wished her parents knew about fighting.
At the conclusion of a lecture on shalom bayis, how to create peace in one’s home, I asked the audience if they had any comments or questions. A hand shot up in the back. It was the teenaged girl who had come to help set up the room for the program.
“Everything you said tonight is true,” she said. “Especially what you said about the fighting. If only my parents were here to hear your words. I get so upset, sometimes even frightened, when there is all this arguing going on in our house. I wish I could tell this to my parents. So all of you sitting here tonight, please take this message home.”
Here, then, is this young teen’s wish — perhaps her parents may be reading my words. There are too many kids out there who cannot express themselves but who hope that their parents can come to a better place of understanding.
- Stop Fighting in Front of Us
Our family is in turmoil. Behind the social mask that we wear, we are disconnected. Whenever you fight, it makes us feel vulnerable. We know that it is not possible to always get along, but why can’t you disagree with dignity? Why can’t you have your discussions privately and respectfully? Why must you wage your battles in front of us? Why do we have to see you treat each other like this? Whether it is a cold war or heated arguments, it doesn’t matter. Both wear us down and make us feel as if our home is not a safe haven. We do not want to live in a battle zone. We will start looking for other places and people to spend our time with. We will seek an escape.
- Don’t Argue about Us
Too often you quarrel about the way the other one parents. You accuse Daddy of not knowing how to do anything right with us. You accuse Mommy of letting us get out of control. You act as if we are a burden. When we see you fighting because of us, we feel responsible for your arguments. We think that we are the ones to blame because you can’t seem to get along. We find ourselves feeling guilty and trying to make the hurt disappear. We struggle to help you find resolution. “Don’t worry,” we say, as we try to wipe away Mommy’s tears. “It’s OK, Daddy,” we say bravely, when things don’t turn out perfectly. We just want to live in peace.
- Don’t Use Us as Pawns
Don’t give each other the silent treatment and expect us to carry messages between the two of you. “Tell Daddy I’m going out” — when Daddy is standing right in front of you, or “Tell Mommy I’m not hungry now” — when she is sitting at the same table as you. This makes our life dark and complicated. How can we ever expect to learn how to communicate with our own spouses if we see such dysfunctional communication between the two of you? We are your children, not chess pieces that are manipulated until you reach a moment of checkmate.
I will never forget the anguished face of the ten-year-old child who asked to speak with me privately. “Why does my father say tell your mother I’m ready to go to the wedding, and then my mother says, tell your father I need ten more minutes, when they’re both right there? This is not good, right? My mother thinks that I don’t hear her crying in the night after she puts us to sleep, but I hear everything.”
What is there to say to this child?
- Don’t Undermine Each Other
When we ask Mommy if we can go to a sleepover and she says, “No, not on a school night,” and then we run to Daddy, and he says, “Yes, what’s the big deal?” we smell weakness. We see that you are not in sync, and we know that we can manipulate you. It may sound funny, but we would rather believe that the two of you stand together and firm as one unit, even if we don’t like what you say; we feel strength when you agree and say it together. It means that our family is solid. We need you to speak with one voice. It removes the confusion and does not allow us to speak with chutzpah. Because you must know, Mommy and Daddy, that chutzpah and disrespect come when you do not respect each other’s opinions. How can we respect you if you do not respect each other? And a home filled with disrespect has toxins in the air.
While it is not always easy for us to live together as families, we can decide to live by certain rules of dignity, even when we disagree. No matter how stressed or challenged we feel, we must know in our heart of hearts that we have been given precious children to watch over and take care of. Let us resolve to build homes in which our children feel secure and loved. Let us wake up each morning and ask ourselves what we can do to successfully raise the next generation. And one day, we will have the joy of watching our children build their own havens, knowing that we have shown them the way.
Targeting Stay-At-Home Moms
Are stay-at-home moms weak and dependent?
Does being a stay-at-home mom while your husband is the breadwinner define you as a weak and dependent woman?
In a penned op-ed in the New York Times titled “Poor Little Rich Women,” Wednesday Martin describes her culture shock when she moved to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She coined the term “Glam SAHMs,” for the glamorous-stay-at-home-moms whom she met at playgrounds, playgroups, and nursery schools where she took her sons.
Though they had graduated from distinguished colleges and business schools, these women do not currently work. Instead, they spend their days “toiling at extensive mothering.”
Martin bemoans these highly educated women who “tend to give away the skills they honed in graduate school and their professions — now organizing galas, editing newsletters, and running the library and bake sales-free of charge.”
“Tell anyone you’re a stay-at-home Mo m at a party in New York,” she adds, “and the conversation just dies there. And when you’re not culturally valued, it makes you anxious.”
She concludes that these stay-at-home moms who have chosen to put their energies into their families are “dependent and comparatively disempowered.”
I am not here to debate the lifestyle choices of working versus non-working mothers. It is not up to us to peer behind people’s doors and throw out opinions on their lives. I believe that mothers are trying hard to build strong, loving homes and do their best to raise successful, well-adjusted children. It is the mother who transforms a house into a home.
What does bother me, though, is the inference that women who choose not to work are somehow lesser, smaller, and disempowered. It is time to stop making women feel as if they must battle one another, embroiling us in a constant mommy war between those who work and those who opt to stay home. Why must it be that if I use my talents in an office or the corporate world, I command more respect than if I take those very same gifts and use them for my family or child’s school?
One of the most difficult jobs in the world is called “mother.” There are some moms who work all day, return exhausted, and are disrespected or, at best, ignored in their homes. And the same can be said for some mothers who stay at home, give all they’ve got to their families, and yet, are disregarded and taken for granted by their children. It has nothing to do with salary earned or how much money has been amassed in a bank account. Both these women feel weak and belittled. We cannot always equate cash with clout. These mothers who try hard, yet, somehow parent in pain, are the mothers whom I feel badly for.
At the same time, there are mothers who are cherished and appreciated. Their voices are heard, their opinions respected. They walk with a force of grace and dignity. These are mothers who parent from strength.
It’s not about whether a mother works or stays at home. It does have to do with parenting style, family dynamics, kids’ natures, effective discipline, and praying for success and peace in the home. To love and be loved, to hear and be heard, to own self-respect and be respected — this is the ultimate feeling of empowerment for a mother.
Indeed, it was Adam, the first man, who gave words to the essential life force called woman. Adam called his wife “Chavah, eim kol chai — Chavah, mother of all the living,” for she was the one who gave life to all the living. Chavah denotes spiritual life, for not only does this woman/mother give physical life, but a spiritual and emotional life as well. She created an incredible legacy that is eternal as she gave life to the next generation. Despite death, the destiny of man continues. It is the mother who has been charged with this noble and mighty task.
Judaism reveres the powerful role of mothers. Through their loyalty, sacrifice, strong faith, heroism, deep love, and Shabbos lights, mothers have paved the path that we follow until today. The root of our nation’s faith, emunah, lies in the eim, the mother, who nourishes the neshamah of each generation. Far from being dependent, it is the women upon whom Am Yisrael depends. Mothers ignite the sparks that are waiting to be kindled within the hearts of the next generation. Children raised on their mother’s milk of faith grow to become the next torch bearers of our nation. Mothers teach their children the meaning of compassion, connection, and endless love. Shlomo Hamelech implores, “Al titosh Toras eimecha — Do not forsake the Torah teachings of your mother.” Mothers carry life, give life, and shed tears as they pray that each child lives with blessing, meaning and purpose. To me, this is the greatest, most empowering mission of all and one that I feel incredibly privileged to have been given.
 Bereishis Rabbah 98:20.
 Bereishis-Genesis 9:21– 22.
 Nachas is one of those Hebrew words that is hard to translate, but it means “inner joy,” the type that fills your heart).
 Bereishis-Genesis 3:20.
 Mishlei-Proverbs 1:8.
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