Ever wondered what life is like for a single parent by choice? We’re lucky enough to be able to check in annually with former CJP staffer Sarah Feinberg about her adventure parenting her daughter, Gali. Over seven summers, Sarah has graciously shared her successes and challenges, from her proudest mom moments to the typical struggles of life with an opinionated kid. In this year’s interview, Sarah recaps the last year with 6-year-old Gali and explains their mother-daughter evolution and why she doesn’t necessarily feel “brave” for being a solo parent.
Give us the highlights of your year! You’re working at the National Council of Jewish Women and Gali is about to start first grade, right?
Yes, I’ve been at the National Council of Jewish Women for over a year-and-a-half. This past year was a year of transition. Professionally, our headquarters moved from New York to Washington, D.C., and personally, Gali started kindergarten. It was a big year in our house as we both navigated these changes. Gali surprised me by deciding that she wanted to be called by her full name, Margalit, in the classroom. This was entirely her decision, and it was hard for her preschool friends to comply. They all caught on, mostly because Gali was very strict about it. Now it’s confusing in the other direction, because out of school she prefers to be called Gali—she’s already figuring out the difference between personal and professional! Kindergarten was really good for her. She learned so much both in and out of school: swimming independently, reading, writing, riding a two-wheel bicycle. Her favorite subject is Hebrew/Judaics, and she loves putting Hebrew sentences together. I’m really looking forward to seeing what first grade brings!
What was one of your proudest mom moments this year?
Someone gifted us “Q&A a Day for Kids: A Three-Year Journal” that Gali has really gotten into. It has a different question for her to answer every night, which we have been diligent at answering. It has been so interesting seeing her answers and perspective. I enjoy watching her sound out the words and use creative spelling. Her answers to these questions show me that I’m doing something right, and I can’t wait to see how they change over time. My top two favorites so far this year: Describe your favorite snack and the place you like to eat it. Gali’s answer: “I like IS krem at JPLX [I like ice cream at J.P. Licks].” And, what is the best gift you have ever gotten? Gali’s answer: “Ima [Mom],” written in Hebrew. While I took the girl out of Boston, I’m proud that she still identifies so strongly with it. And I never would have expected that she would answer the question about a gift the way she did! It blew me away.
What was something you particularly struggled with?
Mornings! I have always been a morning person, and Gali is most definitely not. This means that almost every morning there’s a fight to get out the door. I acknowledge that I can’t identify with her perspective, which does not help!
Now that you’ve been on this journey for seven years, what feels easier and more challenging to you as a single mom? When have you really felt the struggle, and when have you been grateful that it’s just you?
Gali is a strong, articulate, passionate 6-year-old girl. As she gets more independent, which I love, she also has more opinions, beliefs and lots of feelings about what she thinks is right and how I’m definitely wrong. She has already yelled at me, “You don’t understand anything!” And it’s definitely about 10 years too soon for that. The power struggles are the hardest. But even with all of this, since I’m a strong woman—yes, the apple and tree are definitely connected!—I am generally happy that I still get to make all the decisions about how to raise her.
How has your support system evolved over the years? Do you find it easy to ask for help when you need it?
I have learned over the years to ask for help and have gotten much better at it. Overall, my support system has expanded. Since moving to D.C., my support system has changed radically because I now live very close to my parents and sister. They are my first phone call when either I’m sick or need help with Gali. I definitely had my people in Boston—Gali calls them our “framily”—who helped out when I needed. But there’s nothing like family who drop everything and rearrange their lives sometimes to help me. On top of that, I have a really good local and virtual community that lifts me up and provides moral and hands-on support.
Have you thought about growing your family at all? Has Gali asked you about having more kids?
I think about it all the time. Unfortunately, I cannot provide a biological sibling. I dream of fostering children who need a home and possibly even adoption. I’m not yet in a place to make it a reality. Gali doesn’t ask about siblings, and when I asked her about it, she said, “Nope. I don’t want siblings. I don’t want to share!”
What’s something you wish more people understood about women choosing to become single mothers?
That those of us who choose to become single parents are not any braver than coupled people who decide to become parents. From the conversations I have with other single parents by choice, we all made this decision because we really wanted to be parents and the traditional path wasn’t happening for us. And we didn’t want to give up on this dream. It’s conceivable that I’m crazy for creating my family this way, but I do not feel courageous.
What do you wish people would not do or say when they find out you’re a single mom?
The No. 1 thing people say to me is, “I don’t know how you do it on your own.” I think I’m like every parent—I put one foot in front of the other to keep moving forward. After six-plus years, I don’t know any other way to parent. Also, I feel very fortunate that I got to make this decision and that it worked out for me.
What is Gali’s advice for single mothers by choice?
Gali was so happy to have a question for her! She says, “It’s hard not having more people in our family to play with and keep me company. What’s good is you get time with your ima [mom].”
Can you share any updates and highlights from Gali’s relationships with her donor siblings and families?
We spent the end of our summer vacation in Chicago meeting with another donor sibling—“dibling”—family who drove in from Iowa. I’ve been connected with the moms over Facebook, and it was so wonderful to meet them in person. I asked Gali after how it felt meeting new diblings and she said, “A little scary.” When I asked her why, she said it was because they were new people. I also asked her if they felt special to her, and she didn’t seem to think so. I’m glad we got to meet them. I’m making these connections so that as she grows up, she has the option to have a relationship with the people she’s genetically connected to.
How have you made your self-care a priority this year? What does that look like for you now?
This year I’ve had to focus on my health. I have a chronic disease, which reared its ugly head. I’m OK but still trying to get it under control. I’m fortunate that overall it hasn’t impacted my ability to live my life fully or take care of Gali. Self-care, in general, is being able to spend quality time with my friends over a glass of wine or scotch without my child tugging at me nonstop.
Last year Gali expressed a lot of curiosity about God and Judaism. This year she’s been in Jewish day school. What has she been asking about?
We’ve had lots of different conversations related to Judaism. She notices a lot more about what she does and what others do, and she’s not shy about sharing these observations with me. She is internalizing the values she’s learning at school and at home. My favorite example from this year is one Sunday we were visiting Baltimore and walked by a homeless person. I looked in my wallet to give him some change, only to find I didn’t have any. Gali had brought her wallet with her “spend” money—she gets $3 each week for allowance; $1 is for spending, $1 is for saving and $1 is for tzedakah. She asked me if she had “small” money to give him. We looked through her wallet and discovered she did, but we had already passed the man.
Later, we saw another homeless person and she eagerly asked if she could give him her dollar bill. She carefully took it out of her wallet and walked over to give it to him. She told me she felt so good giving him some of her money. She also started brainstorming ideas of how homeless people could get money for housing—“Can’t they get lemons to make lemonade so they can sell it to have money for a place to live?” It was amazing to see her connect to this important mitzvah and to see this compassion in her.
Any other thoughts you want to share?
This parenting journey is wild! With a year of formal schooling under her belt, it’s amazing to see Gali grow and mature. I can see the difference and people comment on it to me—and not just that she grew several inches over the course of the year. Watching her develop relationships independent of me, deepening relationships with the people who have been part of her life since the beginning and establishing new ones with people at school is really special. I continue to be grateful that I get to raise a passionate, smart, fun, caring, inquisitive child.