We Jews are not a solitary lot. We come together to pray, welcome new life, mourn our losses, celebrate our holidays, and raise our children.
They say it takes a village to raise a child — and I say it takes a shtetl to stay sane while we raise said child. Oh, and that shtetl is not optional! We need our tribe if we’re going to make it through this parenting gig without losing our shit (which, coincidentally, is the title of my new book). Hanging out with friendly, supportive adults — maybe a spouse, a friend, or a nice parent at the playground who doesn’t give you the side eye when your kid is being a punk — makes parenting easier, less stressful, and more fun.
Most of us parents aren’t intentional about our support team; we end up hanging out with old friends or whoever happens to be hanging out on the sidelines at the same time as we are. If we’re lucky, that works out, and we like the people we run into. But we’re not always so lucky. Either way, it’s well worth our time to consider who’s in our parenting minyan (so to speak) and consider who we might need to add to the team.
In addition to your parenting partner (if you have one), an ideal support system includes three groups of folks: your pro team, your crew, and your peeps.
Your pro team includes anyone you either pay for their services or seek out specifically because of their professional expertise. These folks may include doctors, therapists, lawyers, pediatricians, childcare providers, coaches, teachers, and rabbis. It’s true that you can’t always choose who these folks are, usually because your damn insurance won’t pay for out-of-network providers, or there’s only one good daycare between your house and the office. But if you do have a choice as to which professionals to invite onto your team, try to find people who will support you in parenting the way you want to and call you out when you’re headed in the wrong direction.
Your crew is your extended community of local and like-minded parents. These are the people you can call on in a pinch to pick up a prescription when you’re home with a puking toddler, or your kid needs a last minute ride to Hebrew school. These folks might be your close friends, but they might not be, and that’s OK. Either way, they can save your butt six ways to Saturday, but you have to get over yourself and ask. There’s absolutely no shame in reaching out, and each time you do, you’re reminding your friends that no one can do this alone, and you’re giving them permission to ask for help when they need it, too. Speaking of which, you gotta reciprocate! Even if you can’t drive the carpool, can you host a playdate or drop off some food on a sick day?
And finally, you need your peeps. These are your BFFs, the people who talk you off the ledge when you’re about to let loose all over the science teacher; drag you off the couch when you just want to cry into your coffee; and answer your 10 p.m. texts with a mildly offensive but totally hilarious gif. Your peeps don’t make you feel crazy or stupid, even when you are being crazy or stupid. They’re real with you; they’ll tell you when you need to take your kid to a speech therapist or get an evaluation for ADHD, for example, and they do it without making you feel like an idiot.
Sometimes it can be hard to know if you’ve found your peeps. If you feel calmer and more connected, confident, and empowered after hanging out with them, then they’re your peeps. If, on the other hand, you find yourself feeling confused, ashamed, or doubtful after an afternoon chatting at the playground, well, they might have been having a bad day, or perhaps they’re not your peeps. That doesn’t mean they’re jerks or that you should never hang out with them again. I’m just saying they’re not the first people you should reach out to the next time you find yourself hanging up streamers for your Tuesday night pity party.
Now, if we’re going to talk about parenting, Jews, and community, we gotta talk about family. In an ideal world, your family members are your peeps and your crew, but not your pro team. Seriously. Even if your mother is a literacy specialist or your brother is an orthodontist, you are allowed to consult with them only in a pinch — ask for a referral to someone else. Trust me on this one.
Sadly, for many of us, our families aren’t ideal. Some are amazing, some are colossally screwed up, and most are good enough. Sometimes, they’re just not available to help — either because of death, addiction, dysfunction, or any other number of reasons, they’re not your peeps or your crew, and maybe you feel like you can’t even trust your kids with them. This straight-up sucks. Not only do you not have their support, but you may be using some of your limited time and energy to manage their challenges. It’s OK to be sad about this; parenting without family support is a big loss. But when you can accept that this is the hand you were dealt, and maybe even connect with other parents who are in the same boat, you won’t feel so stuck.
Regardless of your particular situation, finding and connecting with your village isn’t always easy, especially when you’re overwhelmed by the demands of life and parenting and days that end in “y.” The first step is to show up for your shtetl in small ways. Say “hi” to a parent on the playground, the field, or in the lobby. Answer that email looking for a flute to borrow or a ride to the recital. And ask for help when you need it, even when it feels awkward or weird. You’re not alone, and it will get easier. Besides, this is how Jews have been raising our children for generations.
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