This is the sixth (!) year that JewishBoston has checked in with our former CJP colleague, Sarah Feinberg, about her journey as a single mother by choice. Sarah now lives in Washington, D.C., where she works full-time and parents 5-year-old Gali with the help of her supportive “village.” This year was filled with transitions, including a new job for Sarah and a preschool graduation for Gali, and plenty of parenting joys, including a fun “Day of Yes.” Though there are challenges, Sarah is grateful for her community’s help in raising her daughter. As she says, “I may be a single parent, but I am not doing this alone, which is truly a gift.” Read on to catch up on Sarah’s busy year.
What’s new with you and Gali this year? I know you started a new job, and Gali will soon be starting kindergarten.
I’m so happy to be checking in with you again this year! We have experienced some big transitions this year. I started a new job as the senior director of planning and operations at the National Council of Jewish Women, and Gali graduated preschool in June, which is our first school transition. I expected the ceremony to be emotional and it didn’t disappoint. Now we’re getting ready for kindergarten. Deciding where to send her was really hard—this was one of the times that I really felt the burden of having to make the big decisions on my own. I know I made a good choice—she’ll be going to the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital. We’re excited for the fall, and I hope the transition will be made easier because many of her friends from preschool are going as well.
What were some of the best parts of parenting this year?
Aside from watching Gali grow, learn new things—Reading! Swinging from the monkey bars! Swimming! Learning how to use the remote control! Telling knock-knock jokes!—and continue to be a caring and compassionate friend, I think one of the best things I did as a parent this year was give Gali a “Day of Yes” after returning from a longer business trip. We both played hooky and she got to do whatever she wanted for the day. Any request she had was answered with a “yes!” While I was away she created an intricate map of our day (see below), and we couldn’t deviate from the plan. We built structures with her Magna-Tiles, made some Perler bead creations, went to the zoo, ate ice cream, got Gali her own library card and drew pictures together. It was a really wonderful day and so fun to see what was important to her and what she wanted to do with me. The other best part of this last year has been that our conversations have become more substantial. She has thoughts, opinions and logic—or not, depending on the topic. It is generally really fun to talk with her!
What challenges did you experience as a mom?
No matter whether you’re parenting alone or with others, parenting is challenging. This year one of our bigger challenges was helping Gali navigate her friends at school. This year seemed to be a preview of the teenage years. There was much drama over the course of the year as the kids started really making friends and then having fights with them. It was hard to figure out how to support her through the pain of fighting with people she cares about and give her the tools she needed. I was fortunate to have partners in her teachers and the parents of the other kids. The other challenge this year has been managing transitions. I didn’t expect that getting a new job would have such an impact on Gali, but it did. We fought a lot for about a month until I figured out that she was unhappy with my increased travel and focus on work. We were able to have some valuable conversations about why I work—not just to earn a salary, but because it makes me happy—and help her understand the importance of it.
It sounds like you’ve become a mentor of sorts to other women embarking on this journey. What has that been like? Does it feel like it’s more common now than five years ago when Gali was born?
I can’t tell if it feels more common or if being a single parent by choice is getting more press coverage, or if because I’ve done it my network is more aware and is connecting me to more people. I enjoy talking to these women who are thinking about going down this path to parenthood. I remember how valuable it was—and still is!—for me to have people to talk to, ask questions of and share my fears and concerns. I hope others can learn from my experiences and that I can be a cheerleader for others in this role.
You recently asked Gali what you should tell people who are thinking of becoming a parent on their own. She said: “You get to spend a lot of time with your child. You get to watch really great shows. You can play really great puzzles, games and read a lot. And you get to snuggle a lot.” Anything you want to add?
Here’s what I’ve been telling these women: The best part of being a single parent is you get to make all the decisions yourself, and the worst part is that you have to make all the decisions yourself. And to be successful, at least for me, it’s important to be able to ask for help and to know who you can ask. I have definitely experienced both of these over the past five years, but this past year in particular. And yes, if your kid is anything like Gali, you get to snuggle a lot!
How has being a single mom changed over the years? Does anything feel easier or harder for you?
As Gali gets more independent, there are many aspects that are easier. I can do things around the house while she plays independently. We can run errands more easily. She is now in a booster seat and can get herself in and out of the car by herself. That alone has been freeing. She enjoys exploring museums and other places in and around town, which is a lot of fun to do with her. I’m no longer just schlepping her along; she can interact in a more meaningful way now and is a good companion to do things with. And while she’s really good at playing independently, she’s still really attached to me and has a hard time separating from me. That part is hard on me.
Gali has obviously only known her life with one parent. Does she ask you about that as she notices two-parent families?
Not really. She understands there are lots of different ways to make a family and this is how ours is. That being said, at some point during the spring, I was cleaning up the house and asked her to help. She protested, and I reminded her that being a part of our family means that we each have responsibilities to help around the house. She looked up at me and said, “Ima, you need to get a man!” After I got over my shock—where did she even learn to say that?!—we had a good conversation about our family and what it might mean if someone else were to join us. Once I spelled out how she wouldn’t get me all to herself anymore, she wasn’t so sure that it was a good idea.
Have you been in touch with Gali’s donor siblings and families this year? Does she ask more questions about them?
Oh yes! We continue to get together with the “diblings” we have relationships with. This year, I started showing her pictures of other diblings around the country. She still doesn’t ask any specific questions and continues to accept that this is how our family is. We have our family—grandparents, aunt, uncles, cousins—and we have our “framily”—friends who are like family. And then we have her diblings and their families. She knows they are special people that she’s connected to.
How has your self-care routine changed as Gali has gotten older?
I’m not sure that it has changed specifically because Gali is older or just because I’m more settled and have developed routines with friends. A group of friends comes over about once a month on a Saturday night. Monday nights she goes to my parents’ house and I often have dinner with friends or just have a night off from cooking.
How does Judaism fit into your busy life? What role does it play for you and Gali?
This has remained a constant for us and our lives. Shabbat continues to anchor our week as a day where we take a break from screens and technology and connect with our friends. We have Shabbat dinner every Friday night and continue to go to Shabbat services every Saturday. Our synagogue community is really wonderful, and we have both made wonderful friends there. A close childhood friend is also a member, and she brings books each week to read with Gali after the kiddush. This is a special time for them and gives me some time to catch up with my friends.
Over the past year Gali has become very curious about God and what it means to be Jewish. We have had fabulous conversations about God, including God’s gender and whether God has a gender. That conversation led to another about who created God. She asked really good questions, which I couldn’t fully answer, so I asked her who she thought she could ask instead—our rabbi, her grandfather or her friend who is a rabbi. I think it’s important for her to know that I don’t know everything, and that different people know different things and she has many resources to help her learn.
She loves each Jewish holiday and as soon as one is over, she’s already asking when it’s going to be [insert holiday] again. She’s already counting down to Passover next year and has grand plans to teach her younger cousin the Four Questions.
Anything else you want to add?
It’s been a bit over two years since moving to a new place, and I continue to be grateful to my village—our family who lives nearby and across the country who are active participants in Gali’s life, our friends in Boston who find ways to stay connected to us, my far-flung friends who support me, and the people who are now in our daily lives. The village is, thankfully, big, and each person plays her or his role in helping me raise Gali. I may be a single parent, but I am not doing this alone, which is truly a gift.