It’s mid-summer, which means it’s time for one of my favorite JewishBoston.com traditions—interviewing friend and (former) CJP colleague Sarah Feinberg about her journey as a single mother by choice. Even though Sarah moved to Washington, D.C., for a new job a few months ago, she’ll always be a Bostonian to us, and we can’t let the season close without our annual parenting check-in. Although I get daily peeks into Sarah’s life with 3-year-old Margalit (Gali) via Facebook, our summer chat provides a welcome opportunity to dig a little deeper. “I love the annual check-in!” she says. “It’s such a great way for me to reflect on the year.” Our latest Q&A covers everything from parenting joys and challenges to “diblings” (yes, real word!) and dating.
This year you made some major changes. Fill us in!
This past year I decided to leave my job at CJP and take some time to figure out what was next for me, career-wise. As if that wasn’t a big enough decision already, I ended up accepting a position at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, so we moved to Washington, D.C., in March. After four months, we’re settling in. We’re missing our friends and family in Boston, but we’re also having fun meeting new people, spending time with family and exploring our new city and all it has to offer.
Aside from your job offer, what prompted your move to Washington, D.C.? You mentioned having a supportive community in Boston that helped you be successful as a single parent. How did it feel to leave this community? What steps have you taken to build a similar support system for yourself in D.C.?
Deciding to move to D.C. was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. Leaving my very supportive community and the many friends who are family to us was so difficult. I think I cried for a month! In addition to the wonderful opportunity at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the main reason for coming to D.C. was to be close to my parents and my sister and her family, who all live here. And I have several good friends from Boston who have moved here over the past few years too. Gali now gets to spend time with her grandparents whenever she wants and see her aunt and uncle and new cousin frequently. My friends have been a great support and are introducing us to new friends.
What are some of the parenting joys you’ve experienced this year?
This year has been all about watching Gali start doing things by herself, and watching the wheels turn as she figures out how to do things. For example, she knows that some things are too high for her to reach, so she figured out that if she drags her step stool over, she can reach them. She helps more in the kitchen and can make scrambled eggs from start to finish, minus turning on the burner, of course. That has been really exciting. This year has also been about Gali figuring out how to articulate her desires and opinions…and she has many! The things that aren’t a big deal—like not about her safety or well-being—I try to support as much as I can. So I generally don’t weigh in on what she wears, unless I think she’ll be too hot or too cold, or what TV show she picks to watch as she gets ready in the morning. We’re learning how to negotiate, which is always a good skill!
What about the challenges? Does being a single parent exacerbate—or help—these challenges?
Like anyone with a 3-year-old, it’s definitely challenging when Gali is asserting her opinions or desires and I’m trying to balance that with accomplishing whatever needs to happen in the moment. But the biggest challenge has been managing our move and getting adjusted to our new life, which is still in process. In Boston, I never felt like being a single parent was especially hard. I had my people, I knew my way around, I had my systems for accomplishing things. In moving to a new city, I have a lot to learn—a new job, where everything should go in our apartment, making new friends, how to get around town, even where to go grocery shopping. Doing all of this while trying to manage the day-to-day stuff of taking care of a feisty 3-year-old can sometimes be overwhelming. Thankfully, I managed to make a major move as easy as possible by going someplace where I already have a support system and can call on my family and friends to help me out and point me in the right direction.
Gali started preschool this year, which means you’ve probably interacted with lots of new parents. I’m curious about their reactions to learning that you’re a single mother by choice. Has it come up in conversation?
In Boston, Gali transitioned from day care to preschool at the same place. But in her new school and our new synagogue in D.C., we’ve been meeting all new families. I don’t usually bring it up right away, but pretty quickly a question comes up or we get a quizzical look, so I make it clear that it’s just the two of us. I’m always happy to elaborate on how we got here when people have questions. Everyone has been very accepting and supportive of our family. Gali’s teachers were really great around Father’s Day, using the language that I use about how she only has an ima (mom) and not an abba (dad), but that I have enough love for, and do the work of, both.
Last year you met one of Gali’s donor siblings and her mother. Have you maintained a relationship with them? Have you met any other donor siblings?
We have! We have seen them a few times over the past year and have plans to see them this month. Coincidentally, around the time that we moved, another family registered on our donor sibling registry page. It turns out they live in D.C. and we’ve gotten together a couple of times. It’s wonderful that Gali has a “dibling” (donor sibling) locally and the opportunity to spend time together more easily. We also continue to be in touch via Facebook with the other families and still hope one day to meet them all in person.
Now that Gali is 3, does she ask you questions about being a single mom or about her donor siblings?
She doesn’t, actually. We continue to read “Gali’s Story,” a book a friend wrote for her when she was born about how our family came to be. And I’m very open with her about this decision and talk with her about her diblings. I also always offer up that I have information about our donor on my computer if she has any questions. But her questions right now are more about when she can see her diblings.
You were recently quoted in this Wall Street Journal article about sometimes letting children break the rules. Aside from letting Gali watch TV to help keep her occupied while trying to get her ready in the morning, for example, what are some other things you’ve learned to do this year that help make single parenting easier for you and Gali?
Maintaining our routine as much as possible definitely helps. But the occasional “special treats” also really help. This might mean that she gets a little candy or that I capitulate to her desire to go out to a restaurant for eggs rather than making them at home. As I feel a fight brewing, I try to quickly think through what will happen if I give in to her and how I can use it as a learning moment when appropriate, versus which principles are more important for me to stand behind. For example, she always needs to brush her teeth or wear a seatbelt in the car. And if I’ve told her that in order to watch TV she has to pick out her clothes and then she doesn’t do it, I know I have to stick to my guns so that she listens better next time. Gali only knows what it’s like to have one parent, so I don’t think about that factor as much. The bottom line is that I, like any other parent, need to manage my expectations of her, and myself, and what we can do together. Some days I don’t get it right, but most days I think I’m doing OK. What matters most to me is that she’s growing and developing appropriately.
I know Judaism and Jewish rituals are important to you. How are you incorporating Judaism into Gali’s life? What traditions and values do you hope to pass on to her?
Shabbat continues to anchor our weeks. Gali looks forward to Shabbat dinner with friends and delights in saying the brachot (blessings) over the wine and challah. She loves going to services every week, spending time both in Torah Tots and the main sanctuary at our new synagogue, Ohr Kodesh Congregation. Through all of these experiences, plus many more, she is learning to be a kind, caring, smart, brave and strong little girl.
Three years ago you decided to focus your energy on becoming a parent on your own instead of on dating. Have your priorities shifted at all as Gali has gotten older?
Before I moved, I was definitely starting to think about dating. I finally felt like our lives had stabilized. But then I threw a wrench into everything! I still hope to meet someone to share my life with and welcome meeting someone, but I’m not actively dating yet.
And now a quick game of this or that! Say you suddenly had 30, Gali-free minutes—nap or Netflix?
Coffee or tea?
Challah or bagel?
Shabbat services: Friday night or Saturday morning?
Hanukkah or Passover?
“Curious George” or “Paw Patrol”?
Gali would say “Paw Patrol.”