Modern Mishpocha: Finding the way to say ‘dayenu’ as a parent

By Stephanie Shefrin

The Jewish holiday that dominates above all others in my childhood memory is Passover.

My mother’s ritualistic cleaning, the sacred job of bringing up the Passover plates and bringing down the toaster. My father, kneeling by my bed, rehearsing the four questions with my sister and me so we’d be ready come seder night. The later-than-usual family get-together, the rapid scramble to be first to find the afikoman and get the IOU from our uncle for five bucks.

But most of all I remember the singing. Maybe it was all the wine the adults drank and all the grape juice we kids received, but some of my clearest and fondest memories are of my entire family repeatedly bursting into loud boisterous song at every opportunity the Haggadah provided.

And the best of them was Dayenu.

The traditional Dayenu lays out all the things that God did for the Jewish people in biblical times, with the chorus of “Dayenu (it would have been enough).” The tune is catchy, the verses fun, and we wrap up all out of breath and ready to eat.

Previously in this space, I considered one of the liturgical standards of Yom Kippur, the Al Chet prayer, and the way it could be reimagined in the context of parenting. In that prayer, we list sins and seek forgiveness for them. (Modern Mishpocha, September 18, 2017).

At the time, I reflected on how parents get so much advice and instruction it is challenging not to feel like we’re always doing the wrong thing, and from whom are we supposed to seek forgiveness?

There’s room to consider the Dayenu in the context of being a parent as well.

Witness the scandal in the U.S. where dozens of parents have been criminally charged for outright bribery to get their children into the best schools.

Some consider this an example of a newish trend in parenting known as snowplowing – people who seek to get every obstacle out of their child’s way so they can succeed, not just in the moment but in the future. If the path ahead is cleared, well, the child’s life will be perfect.

But at what point? At what point as a parent do you point to your child and say “dayenu,” what they have achieved is enough for me?

And, in turn, at what point do we look inward at ourselves and accept that what we are doing is enough? It is enough for us, enough for them.

Pinterest, Instagram, the mommy blogs – all push us daily to strive for some kind of fictional perfection that leaves us frustrated and angry if it doesn’t work out, afraid we are letting down our kids.

An easy approach to say we should sing our parenting Dayenus by finding the ability to be grateful for, and focus on, the small things: the nap that worked out, the child’s proud first steps or first words read aloud from the page, even just getting a few minutes alone to take a shower. Dayenu!

It is harder to do the work that allows us to say what we’re doing as parents is enough.

When I went back to work after the birth of my first child, I had no idea how I’d get dinner on the table and a kid to bed at a reasonable hour if my job didn’t put me home much before 6 pm.

But I realized one day, I don’t remember when, that what I had to do was give up my idea of what dinner meant – a “proper” meal, as opposed to the simpler options available at breakfast and lunch. The food could be whatever.

We could have eggs, for example. No one ever wasted away by eating omelets for dinner.

Feeding my kids healthy options that worked for our lifestyle and schedule. Dayenu!

As we tell the Passover story this year, there is so much going on in the world around us that resonates with its themes of redemption and liberation. And with Dayenu as well. Growing income inequality raises honestly the question of whether what we have is enough for us; are our efforts to combat climate change enough for us to make a difference?

So, may you find a way to make Passover meaningful for your family this year. Chag Sameach!