I’d been a parent about four weeks when it came time for the Jewish High Holy Days.
I was breastfeeding, and with the anxiety about how, exactly, I was going to do that at synagogue came another thought – “Hey, I don’t have to fast this year.”
It felt like I’d received some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card.
But, that I thought of fasting, as some sort of negative obligation, did force me to wonder why I did it at all.
I’ve written in this space before about how parenting makes me reflect on why I do what I do, and, for me, those reflections surface keenly around the Jewish holidays. I think about how I was raised to mark them and, in what way, if at all, do I want that to be different now?
Mostly I think about this in the context of what my daughter’s experiences will be. But, ahead of this year’s holidays, I’m also thinking about what I want my own to look like.
As a kid, my entire concept of Yom Kippur, in particular, with the literal image of God sitting with a book open, poised to inscribe my name on the Jewish equivalent of Santa’s naughty or nice list, is what the holiday meant to me. And I feared it.
So, when I became old enough to fast, I did it out of fear of judgement, not just from God per se, but that of my friends and family who expected me to be fasting along with them.
I don’t know that I ever developed a more adult conception of the holiday. When, as an adult, I’d sit in the sanctuary and we’d recite the Al Chet prayer – a list of 44 sins – and ask for forgiveness, I’d still have that image of the open book in my eyes as I murmured the sins aloud with the congregation.
As a parent, it feels somedays like the list of potential sins we’re committing is far longer than those in the Al Chet.
And the judgement we fear isn’t just that of God, but of our peers. Ask any mother about making the choice to breastfeed or not and she will tell you that the judgement which will greet her decision – whatever it is – ranks among her many anxieties.
Indeed, we get so much advice about what we should do, not do, must do, can’t do, could you ever truly seek forgiveness for it all?
For the sin I have committed by allowing my daughter to watch Netflix for more than 20 minutes a day;
For the sin I have committed by letting her sleep in my bed;
For the sin I have committed by feeding her Kraft Dinner, the actual kind, not the organic super healthy whole wheat variety;
For the sin I have committed by looking at my phone while she’s on the play structure;
For the sin I have committed by not signing her up for enough after-school activities/for signing her up for too many activities;
And those are just the simple ones.
From whom can I seek forgiveness for the sins I commit as a parent?
It could be from God. Some will argue that’s the only forgiveness that matters.
It could be from my daughter, if not now, then in years to come.
This year, I’ll also try something else – forgiving myself.
I’ll try to reflect on the things I’ve done as a mother in the past year that, maybe, I’m not so proud of, and sort them into issues that I feel need to be dealt with, and those that – no matter what others might think – just don’t.
And I’ll add another line to my own parenting Al Chet:
For the sin I’ve committed by ever making you feel judged as a parent, I ask your forgiveness. And – I forgive you too.
May your apples be crunchy, your honey sweet, and may you all have a healthy, happy and meaningful New Year.