Rabbi Ilana Garber is the associate rabbi of Beth El Temple in West Hartford, Connecticut. She serves on a professional advisory committee for the Hebrew Health Care Home Health and Hospice program and as co-chair of the Rabbinical Assembly Women’s Committee. Rabbi Garber was kind enough to share her experience with work/life balance with us for our month-long series on Women, Work & Money.
Who is in your family?
I have been married for five years to a wonderful man who is a professional musician. We have two sons, a 3-year-old, Noam, and a 19-month-old, Yaron. (You can read Yaron’s story here.)
What’s your work schedule?
Hah! There’s no schedule. Sometimes I feel like Motel 6–we’ll leave our eternal light on for you! Some days I run the morning minyan and those are particularly challenging. Generally I work from the moment the kids are dropped at daycare until I get them around 4:45 p.m. I’m home with the kids from 5-7 p.m. with strict rules to have no interruptions. Most nights I leave the house after 7, run a minyan, and then have a meeting from 8-9:30 or so. I usually eat dinner late, and go to the gym in the morning.
What kind of support/additional childcare do you have?
Daycare is the best, for me and the kids. I’m not the kind of woman who could spend all day with the kids. Weekends are hard enough (though remember, I work all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday, too).
What do you like best about your current schedule?
I love what I do so while my schedule is insane, it works. There are times I really need to be “on” like weekends and early mornings/late nights, but the rest of the day, from 8:30-4:30, is my time to work. I write sermons, teach a few classes, and have several appointments each day (everything from bar mitzvah tutoring to fundraising meetings).
What are the biggest scheduling/baby-related challenges you face?
The sick child challenge! My husband and I will play the game of wondering if our child is too sick for daycare and if we send him but then he gets sent home with a fever, is it worth the risk. With my schedule so dependent on meetings with other people, losing a day can be very tough.
How do you and your husband/partner divide up the household chores?
I’m in charge of the finances, paying bills, organizing what the kids need to bring to school, RSVPs for birthday parties, etc. But my husband does all of the shopping and cooking. We chose to hire a cleaning service but we both do a major tidying of the house every two weeks before they come.
How do you and your husband/partner find time for your marriage?
We schedule date nights, not as often as we’d like, but at least once a month. Jewish tradition also plays a role in us finding time for our marriage, since we follow the traditional practices surrounding family purity during and after my menstrual cycle, until I go to the mikveh (ritual bath). So the presence of that special calendar allows us to have time that’s for work and craziness, and time that’s just for us.
How do you find time for yourself?
Discovering the gym at 5:30 a.m. has been nice–after three years of getting up with babies so early, my body was still waking up at 5.
What advice do you have for new Moms trying to figure this all out?
The whole debate about “having it all” doesn’t take into account that each woman needs to decide what “it all” really is for her. I do feel that I have it all, but maybe someone else would look at my life and think that I don’t have any time for myself or that I don’t spend enough time with my children. This balance works for me. I am fulfilled by what I do and my children are fulfilled by having a mother who is fulfilled. My kids know that when Ima (Hebrew for mother) has to go out at night it’s because she’s helping people.
My advice to new mothers would be to really figure out what your priorities are–your priorities, not anyone else’s. Figure out what you want and where your strengths are and get help for those challenging times. We’re all different and we all have different strengths and different vulnerabilities. Embrace it, embrace your children, embrace your life. Then, you truly do have it all!