I’m not a terribly spiritual person. Even so, I wasn’t surprised by how much I enjoyed Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s latest book, “Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting.” I had loved Danya’s post on Kveller about radical amazement, and I knew from her Facebook posts that she was neither preachy nor pretentious.
Part memoir, part parenting guide, and part meditation on a life well-lived, “Nurture the Wow” draws on Danya’s experience as a parent, rabbi, and generally thoughtful individual. As the subtitle of her book suggests, Danya skillfully weaves fairly big ideas, such as spirituality and mindfulness, into the challenges parents face on a daily basis. Although I had always enjoyed our nightly routine (singing the Shema and a few other songs), somehow I had never quite thought of it as prayer or meditation, even though that’s exactly what it is. It’s such an obvious connection, but my tired brain just didn’t make the leap from “ bedtime singing” to a spiritual practice. Learning to see some of my daily parenting habits in this new light was just one reason I loved “Nurture the Wow.” Here are six more:
1. Although this book is relevant to any parent in search of meaning and joy in the mundane moments of raising children, it draws heavily from Danya’s Jewish background, wisdom, and practice. The ideas in this book helped me see much of my parenting in a Jewish context, even the moments that aren’t particular Jew-ish. Examples of this are woven throughout the book, but I would be reticent if I didn’t mention my favorite:
“One of the brachot [blessings] that tends to make folks giggle the first time they hear about it is meant to be recited after using the loo… yes! There’s a potty blessing! There’s a blessing for everything. We, as a people, are nothing if not thorough.”
2. This book reminds me of all the ways in which I am getting parenting right, which I often lose sight of in the chaos of daily life with littles and the daily deluge of online images of homemade cupcakes and family 5k’s, both of which are currently on my list of things that will likely never happen. Danya’s observation that, “It’s one of the funny things about parenting that the more of the mundane work you do, the closer you are to your kids,” helped me feel so much better about the dry Cheerios and lazy weekends that characterize so much of parenting reality.
3. Danya writes beautifully and clearly about mindful parenting. As many of you know, this is a passion of mine, and a practice that is so often misunderstood and misrepresented. Danya really gets it, and writes about it in an accessible, supportive way. She shares that mindfulness “enables me to live part of my life as I’m actually living it—not distractedly thinking of the past and future, not split in a lot of directions… I’m a much better parent, and I’m much more able to show up with my full self to my kids. It helps.”
Perhaps more importantly, she goes on to note that “when we’re not [being mindful], we need to cut ourselves some slack, have compassion for ourselves, and give ourselves a gold star for getting through the day with the children more or less in one piece.” I don’t know about you, but I could definitely use a few more gold stars in my parenting.
4. She’s honest about the challenges of raising children. So often I read parenting books and wonder if the author ever had kids of their own, or if perhaps they have sustained a serious head injury leading to long-term amnesia. Not Danya. She is clearly in the sh*t, both literally and figuratively. “Kids are hard,” she writes. “Independent of everything else, they’re little beings with underdeveloped rationality and self-restraint who bounce between dependence and independence, their desire to assert their will and a need for our imposed structure, a suicidal curiosity and their own hyper-strong emotional range.”
5. “Nurture the Wow” reminds us that we can’t do this parenting gig alone. Danya is emphatic about the importance of community, noting that “it makes parenting easier—the hard moments, the funky moods, and the logistical craziness are often mitigated when others are able to be a part of our lives.” Amen, Rabbi. Amen.
6. She devotes an entire chapter to the importance of finding, and taking care of, ourselves. The topic of self-care should be mandatory for every parenting book. Danya says it so beautifully and powerfully, noting that, “Mothers (and fathers) are made—again and again, through small and large acts of self-care. That’s how we become the people who are able to parent our children—filling up our proverbial tanks of gas.”
In all of these ways, and so many more, “Nurture the Wow” reminded me not only that I’m not alone in the challenging work of raising little humans, but that I already have the resources and ability to become more of the parent I want to be, moment by moment. I highly recommend it to any parent who wants to feel more connected, not only to their children, but to their heritage and community, the present moment, and perhaps most importantly, themselves. Huh. Maybe I am a spiritual person after all.