Rabbi Julie Greenberg, Single Mom of Five, Explores Race, Class, and Unconventional Families in New Book
Rabbi Julie Greenberg is a mother of five, the founder of Mountain Meadow, a camp for children with LGBTQ parents, and was one of the first rabbis in the world to do same-sex weddings, to welcome interfaith couples and families, and to work closely with clergy from other faiths in co-officiations. We recently discussed her latest book, “Just Parenting: Building the World One Family at a Time,” about raising her five children by and large as a single parent with the help of sperm donors, adoption, women lovers, former lovers, and a gay male parenting partner.
She is graciously offering Kveller readers a discount on the book: just use the code “KVELL” at checkout here.
How is this book different from all other parenting books?
This book is different for a number of reasons. It integrates the genres of memoir and how-to, intertwining my personal story with parenting ideas that could be useful to many people. I focus on the link between major issues of the day, such as race, class, and peace, and those micro moments of parenting, such as how to handle squabbles at the dinner table. Finally, this book offers wisdom from the mainstream and from the margins. I am a rabbi and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and I’m also a mom in a pretty non-traditional family.
There are many ways to make a family and live a life. My story opens up some possibilities. In fact today there is no longer a dominant model of family. Huge numbers of kids will spend some of their childhoods in single-parent homes. That encompasses a whole continuum from 16-year-olds who get pregnant in very disadvantaged settings to 40-somethings who quite intentionally become single parents. Also, because my family is multiracial I wanted to bring race into the book.
How did it go pitching the book to publishers?
They said, “It’s a great story, it’s very well-written, but we don’t think a parenting book by a single parent will sell.” But I think people are hungry to hear about more varied parenting paths. We’ll see.
Yes, they did happen at the same time. Judaism is the idiom in which I parent, though I didn’t write the book specifically for a Jewish audience. I find Judaism a source of nourishment. For example, this week my eighth grader had a hurt ankle and she was really overwhelmed with work. I kept her home from school on Tuesday for a day of rest and replenishment and I was telling her, “Honey, you just need Shabbat on Tuesday.”
Do your children also view Judaism this way?
Well there’s five of them and it has meant different things to them at different developmental stages. Rosi speaks Arabic and is working for peace and justice in the Middle East, which I view as a very Jewish thing to do, though she might view it differently. Joey has a deep spiritual sense and he works at my congregation as a kind of shamash (helper): he sets up the chairs and so on and participates fully in prayer and in whatever discussion is happening. My youngest daughter Mozi helps out in my House of Study for 10 to 13-year-olds–a one room school house that I’ve done for years in my living room. She just had her bat mitzvah so she’s a kind of peer to them, and several of my children attended the class in their childhoods.
Another aspect of the book is how you integrate pain and honesty with positive stories. You talk about Narrative Parenting, or using stories to enrich the values of family life even when the stories are about hard things. It’s not a cautionary tale, nor is it relentlessly upbeat.
Oh good, I am glad you got that. I wanted to be honest about my experiences, both the hardships and the joys. And I wanted to offer ways for parents to use life stories to grow their families. Overall parenting has been an incredibly joyful journey for me but there are hard times, too. As I tell my kids, “Sad is part of life, too.”
I think of that as a very Jewish thing, not exclusively.
Yes, we a do good job of recognizing both the bitter and the sweet.
One of the striking things about the book is that you do integrate in giving advice and practical pointers with your family’s stories. How did you get comfortable giving advice? I feel like I have almost never felt like I can do that.
People were coming to me for advice all the time, both friends of mine and people in my therapy practice. It’s like how you know if you should be a teacher; do people come to you to learn things?
Did you also read parenting books throughout your time as a parent?
Oh yes. I have always welcomed any and all advice. I feel like it’s important to trust yourself, but also take in as much information as you can, whether it’s from books, or my children’s coaches, or teachers, or therapists. I am always happy to hear from someone who cares about me and my kid!
For a good portion of the book, you are involved with a platonic co-parent, and the book deals frankly with the end of that relationship. It made me feel affirmed in a way–as someone who is co-parenting with an ex, and contemplating parenting with my current romantic partner–that it was hard regardless!
Did you notice the quote in the book, “We are all intimacy-challenged?” It doesn’t really matter if you are having sex with the person or not; parenting is deep and primal. You will have challenges and moments of reckoning. And you might even choose not to continue partnering with the person. But the choices will be yours, not ordained by God or society or whatever.