In the best of times, we are certain that we are good parents, confidently guiding our children toward adulthood with a sure hand, deep wisdom, a sense of fun and an easy ability to connect with our children just as they are. But often, at our core, each of us wonders—in the privacy of our own homes, our own minds, our own hearts—whether we are “doing it right”—whatever “it” is.
When our diverse group of parents in our Temple Shalom Parenting Through a Jewish Lens (PTJL) class—a mix of those raised with Judaism, Christianity and no religion at all—studied “Parenting for God and Spirituality” together, the doubts came out in full force:
“How can I belong to a synagogue if I am not sure I believe in God?”
“I feel funny doing the rituals when I don’t believe the words of the Hebrew prayers.”
“As a ‘left-brained,’ analytical person, maybe I’m not receptive enough to ‘right- brain’ experiences like wonder, awe, spirituality.”
One of my joys in teaching PTJL groups is watching the transformation across members of the group from tentative engagement and sometimes doubt about religious precepts to reassurance, insight and confidence. The alchemy at work within a mutually supportive group of parents, a selection of relevant texts and openness to questioning and meaningful conversation helps parents realize they are not alone in their struggles. It’s a recipe for creating new understanding about the self, the family, the community.
In this session, we kept coming back to a key teaching: Questioning is not only OK, it is part of the essence and history of Judaism. For example, the patriarch Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel”—one who wrestles with God. Also, the expression “two Jews, three opinions” illustrates how, as a people, we don’t shy away from grappling with an issue from all sides!
And grapple we did. Class members offered suggestions to support each other, and some novel ideas, to inform our modern struggles around God and spirituality:
“Try conceiving of God as quantum physics, a context in which the Eagle Nebula makes sense.” [That is indeed an example of something beyond our understanding; I’ve seen the nebula described as made up of “towering tendrils of cosmic dust and gas.”]
“We can develop our children’s spirituality through nurturing their sense of wonder and gratitude—try to follow their lead, pause and look around, even if you need to get home to do the laundry.”
“An analogy to offer our children: Imagine how an earthworm cannot conceive of humans’ capabilities. So, too, we cannot conceive of God’s capabilities. Don’t expect to understand God.”
“Deeds and rituals don’t require faith to add value to our children’s inner lives and to our life as a family.”
There is no one correct way to parent, no clear path to “doing it right.” Multiple opinions, creative approaches, respectful disagreement—there is room for all of these takes on God and spirituality. In our PTJL class, parents came to appreciate that the Jewish tradition is a pluralistic “big tent.”
The class explored the quintessentially Jewish art of holding onto overlapping or even conflicting truths simultaneously. With that, we gained an understanding of the power of our conversations, and of our ability to learn with and from each other within the framework of our traditions.
Heather Zacker is a personal and professional coach and instructor for Parenting Through a Jewish Lens. For more information, contact email@example.com.
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