I had a lot of ideas about what kind of pregnant lady I’d be (cute, active, not too huge); what kind of birth I’d have (natural, empowering); and what kind of mom I would be (cute, active, not too emotional).
Cute pregnant lady? Not so much. Given the choice between eating those gingersnaps and barfing my way through work, I chose the gingersnaps. And one by one, I let go of my vows about what I’d be like as a mom.
Ever since getting pregnant and becoming a parent, I have been seriously schooled in the difference between expectations and reality. Life is unpredictable, and we aren’t in control, and everything changes. And there’s nothing like having kids to learn that lesson over and over.
This week’s Torah portion, Mattot, begins with a warning about how seriously Judaism takes vows: “If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge. He must carry out all that has crossed his lips.”
In other words, I should have thought twice before saying to myself, “I’ll definitely be that kind of pregnant lady/I’ll never do that when I’m a mom.”
Sure, there is a time and place for vows. We promise to be faithful to our partners through an uncertain future, or to love and support our children, or to honor our parents and friends. These are deep, serious vows about deep, serious stuff. And that’s what makes them worth taking on.
But all the other promises we make to ourselves before having kids? Not so important. How we’ll feel and act when we’re pregnant. How fast we’ll get back into our old clothes. Whether we’ll let our kids “cry it out” or not. Whether we’ll work or stay at home. Exactly how many grams of sugar or minutes of screen time they’ll get. How clean we’ll keep the house. Whether or not we’ll leave our baby carriers strapped around our waists at fancy parties.
I thought I knew the answers to these questions, and a million others. But I was totally wrong.
The Torah uses the language of rules and commandments to warn us about taking vows lightly, but I also think there’s a simpler reason to be careful about making vows: they can make our lives harder than they need to be.
I’ve found that the more flexibility I can give myself, the fewer vows I make, the easier it is to deal with reality. I can adjust more gracefully to the fact that everything changes: my kids, my marriage, my body, and myself.
So, from the perspective of a toddler’s mama with second baby due in a couple weeks, I am trying to take this advice to heart. I want to save the vows and certainty for absolute essentials. And for the rest, I want to take a step back, think of those gingersnaps, and remember that I really have no idea what’s around the corner.
What will having two kids be like? Will I get my homebirth VBAC with #2? Who knows. All I can really know is what’s in front of me: my partner, my kid, and my giant belly. And for today, that’s all I need.
To read the previous posts in our Torah MOMentary series, click here.