“Are all of these kids yours?”
“How do you do it?”
“Why so many kids?”
“You must be so busy!”
Ever since the birth of my fourth child three-and-a-half years ago, I’ve frequently been asked these questions and have heard these comments. In a time where faster is better, two children are the standard and life is way too full, a big family isn’t the norm.
But I always recall two visions I had growing up, which intensified when I married my soul mate. The first vision was looking into the future and seeing myself when I’m about 75. Sitting around my Rosh Hashanah table are my husband, four grown children and a bevy of grandchildren. The second vision was me in my house in the woods, peering out my kitchen window and watching my four children play outside (minus the arguing!). I just always knew I was destined to have four kids.
This doesn’t mean that my day-to-day life is perfect and filled with happy kids playing nicely—it’s actually pretty exhausting. There are four of everything: four children all three years apart in age, representing four different life stages. I’m constantly being pulled from diapers to cell phones and everything in between! I struggle with whether I can give enough to everyone and still maintain my sanity, all while washing the dishes. The answer, honestly, is not always. Even though I’m living the dream I’ve had all my life, it’s not perfect, and sometimes it isn’t even pretty.
But Judaism has taught me that my children won’t necessarily suffer if I can’t meet all of their needs all of the time. In her bestselling book, “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” Jewish author Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., teaches us that being responsible and getting outside of our desires is an important part of Jewish values and Jewish parenting. My kids have certainly learned how to rely more on one another and gain independence and patience. I have taught my children mitzvot (commandments/good deeds) by encouraging them to help their siblings on a daily basis.
Mogel states that in a culture that breeds anxiety and entitlement, we as parents can navigate through parenting with discipline, follow-through and lots of love. Do I struggle with this? Yes! Every day I go into battle—I must stand my ground, say no and mean no, and do it with lots of love. And when I make mistakes (because I’m human!), I imagine that my children chose me as their parent; I imagine their little souls before they entered the world, choosing my heart and my life as their own, with all of the mistakes and messiness it comes with. As a wonderful quote on my refrigerator says, “Parenting: the days are long, and sometimes endless, but the years, they fly by.”
Every night, as I say the Shema to each of my children, I ask myself: Did I give each child what he or she needed today? Did I put down my iPhone and all the other tasks that take my attention away to say thank you to God for my children? Did I notice a smile? Did I share in a joy or sadness? Was I present and did I maintain my boundaries and rules with the child who needed them? Did I balance it all with love? This is my way of staying God-centered and remembering what’s most important to me.
As I drift into sleep every night, I take many deep breaths and sometimes wonder how I made it through the day. And then I say the Shema, and no matter what type of day it was, I thank God for all of my blessings and prepare to do it all over again the next day.
Ariela HaLevi is the mother of four wonderful children in Swampscott. When she’s not parenting, she’s a yoga instructor teaching many different classes on the North Shore, including Jewish yoga on Shabbat at Congregation Shirat Hayam, where her husband, Baruch HaLevi, is the rabbi. Ariela recently opened a small practice, ShalOM Yoga and Healing, a unique yoga and healing program that assists women in exploring stress relief, healing from illness and discovering their soul’s purpose.