For anyone who has been following the Kotel saga over the past year, it is no secret that Anat Hoffman and I have very different ideas as to what the place should look like.
Yet, as social media picks up the story of Anat’s parenting style as told by her daughter, please, let’s not judge. For one, no matter how true Tanya Hoffman’s account may be, it is still her subjective reality. We have no idea what kind of dilemmas Anat had faced, nor have we heard her side of the story, so why jump to conclusions?
Beyond that, is there real value in criticizing someone for their parenting style? Instead, maybe this is a good opportunity to have an honest discussion about the choices, sacrifices, balancing acts, and guilt that accompany almost all women, who have chosen to juggle business, community, and family.
As a mother of six, an entrepreneur working long hours, and a business coach who helps women (primarily charedi, as in mothers of 6 to 10 kids) build their own businesses, the work-life dilemma is my constant companion.
It is easy to unfurl the banner of “family comes first,” but does it really apply across the board? All too often, women take in this message and forego their own basic needs for health, nutrition, and mental downtime in the name of being a perfect mommy. They make unspeakable sacrifices, only to mature bitter and burnt-out. Having giving their all, they demand sacrifices in-kind from their now-grown kids and everybody loses out. The stereotype of the passive-aggressive Jewish mother is not a figment of imagination. It’s a direct result of so many women trying to live an unauthentic ideal.
Holocaust stories of mothers giving their last piece of bread to their kids are abounding. But what were the child’s chances of survival without his mother? And, lehavdil elef alfei havdalot, what are our kids’ chances of thriving if their moms are tired, unhappy, unfulfilled, sleep-deprived, fill-in-the-blank?
Are parents’ and kids’ rights really at odds? They are only if we buy into the liberal mindset of rights. This line of thinking has brought all of us to an all-time low, effectively pitting women against their kids. Does my right to self-expression trump my daughter’s right to emotional security? Does the children’s right to attention come before their parents’ right to happiness?
Is it any wonder then that so many women are ridden with guilt?
This competition exists only as long as we focus on rights. Yet in Judaism, people should first and foremost consider their responsibilities. Our vocations, callings, and skills are not ours. There are a trust from God to make a positive impact in the world. And the same Creator, who endowed us with our gifts also entrusted us with rearing the children we have.
Women’s different roles are not in competition with each other. On the contrary, they are complementary. Madeleine Albright was not the first to come up with the idea that women can have it all, just not at once. 500 years ago the Arizal taught that every year, every month, every hour and every minute call for a unique service of God. Life comes in segments and each segment has its job.
I am not making light of the difficulty. Making the right call in the heat of the moment is a struggle, primarily because our culture conditions us to multitask and overachieve. The idea for this post came as I was making grilled cheese sandwiches for kids’ dinner. From there, phrases and ideas, good night stories and lullabies, images and metaphors, discipline and backgammon with teenagers vied for my brain space.
The jumble was yet another reminder to stop multitasking and start living in the moment, wearing one hat at a time. Easier said than done. Yet having the awareness of the ideal is the all-important first step towards working on reaching it.
I very much admire a highly talented friend, who decided to leave the workforce to concentrate on raising her five kids. During all these years, I tried pitching some very interesting positions to her, but she remained steadfast in her decision. A few years later, when she decided to go back to work, she had clear limits on how many hours she was willing to work and what kind of responsibility she was willing to undertake.
It not necessarily the decision itself that is noteworthy; it’s the clarity of knowing what’s right for her. The stamina to remain steadfast in the face of attractive offers. The ability to filter out the buzz, the judgment, the “Lean-In” craziness, the push for overachievement.
In parenting and career, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The balance will be different for each mom and dad. But before we can make this highly individual decision, let’s stop looking at ourselves and our kids as standing on the opposite sides of the frontier. Let’s cross over to their side and figure out what’s best for all of us together. Let’s focus not on rights, but on the joint responsibilities of the entire family to each of its members.
And above all, let’s ditch judgment.