My Daughter Got Too Old for the Shema


“No, Mommy. No Shema tonight.”
“Why not?”
“Nobody else does it at bedtime.”

And so it begins.

We were on vacation last week, and my 3 1/2-year-old was overjoyed to be sharing a room with three other preschoolers. Every day, she would ask again if she could sleep with the “big kids” again, and every night she bounded up the stairs to the kids’ room, eager to get into the trundle nestled between three twin beds. At which point, she got to see how other families do their bedtime routines. The other families aren’t Jewish, so needless to say, they weren’t singing the
each night. So, my daughter didn’t want it either.

I must confess, I was more than slightly heartbroken. Not because I thought my child was rejecting Judaism (which I don’t think she was), or me (I’m glad she felt comfortable telling me what she wanted), but because my baby is growing up. She’s actually becoming the big girl she constantly tells me she is. In that moment, as I tucked her in between the My Little Pony sheets, she wanted to be like her friends more than she needed the comfort of the bedtime routine we have been repeating every night since she was born. Of course this is what I want for her, especially considering her tendency towards anxiety and clinginess. (Gee. I wonder where she could get that from?) And of course, I’m not ready for this, not for what it is now, and not for it will inevitably become.

Thus, the ongoing challenge of parenting, of walking the line between connection and separation, between what we want for our children, and what they want for themselves. And, of course, part of what I want for my daughters is a Jewish life. When I said I didn’t think my daughter was rejecting Judaism, I meant it. She knows that we sing the Shema at bedtime and at synagogue, but I’m not sure she fully understands what is Jewish in our lives, and what isn’t. In that moment, she just wanted to be like her friends.

As much as I hope that this will be the first and last time that our family’s rituals leave my daughters feeling disconnected from others, I know it won’t be. Even if we send them to Jewish day school or Jewish summer camp, they will inevitably, at some point, notice the difference. They will become aware of their membership in a minority group, and they probably won’t like it. Until, hopefully, they will.

It’s the Jewish condition.

As much as I want to protect my daughters from this, I’m going to do my best not to. As much as it pains me to admit it (and it really, really pains me), I can’t plan their lives for them. Bit by bit, they’re going to make their own choices, including whether or not I get to sing them the Shema at night. But the choices we make don’t come from nowhere; we all need something to struggle with, something to reject, and something to come back to. My husband and I have chosen Judaism for ourselves, and for them. Hopefully they’ll agree, but they might not, and we’ll have to make our peace with that.

But I’m not there yet. So, when my daughter wasn’t paying attention, I whispered the Shema to her, and gave her a kiss goodnight.

Carla Naumburg

Carla Naumburg, PhD, is a clinical social worker and writer. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post,The Huffington Post,,, The Jewish Daily Forward, and Psychology Today. She is the author of two books, Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters (Parallax, 2014) and Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family (New Harbinger, 2015). Carla grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Bay Area of California, and she currently lives outside of Boston with her husband and two young daughters. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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