Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rest for parents

For about six years now, Lyn and I have observed Shabbat in some form. We don't work on Shabbat, we light candles and sing blessings in the evening, and we generally pray at our havurah on Saturday mornings. Since we began our Shabbat observance, it has changed and grown, generally moving toward increasing observance. It has provided a consistent pause in our daily lives and given us an amazing space to take a spiritual breath.

Or, rather, it used to.

Now that we are parents of young children, the main work of our lives is caring for the two of them. Every day we make Leigh's meals, get her to eat them, and clean up after her. Every day we make sure she gets dressed, help her go to the bathroom and remind her to wash her hands. Every day we brush her teeth. Every day we navigate the tricky psychological world of parenting a kid who doesn't stop and seems to have a relentless drive to uncover our weaknesses. And did I mention that we have a baby too?

None of this stops on Shabbat -- it doesn't even slow down. It's been three and a half years since I had a truly restful Shabbat. These days, Shabbat doesn't provide a pause or a change or something really special; it's simply another day as a parent, and one in which I don't allow my child to watch a movie.

I feel as though I have allowed the cultivation of my daughter's Shabbat observance to eclipse my own. I want to create a certain kind of Shabbat environment for her, but haven't stopped to consider that perhaps my own is more important. A little bit like how on an airplane you are supposed to put on your own air mask before attempting to put on your child's.

That's an interesting realization, but doesn't necessarily solve the problem. However, I have had a few thoughts on changes we can make.
  • Earlier this year, we started to pay for our havurah to have childcare on Shabbat mornings. This has opened up the possibility of actually getting to pray on Saturday mornings, rather than spending the morning either playing upstairs with Leigh or worrying that it is time for me to relieve Lyn who has been playing upstairs with Leigh. Having childcare allows me to relax and open myself up a little to some spiritual renewal.
  • Now we have unfortunately entered that time in a baby's life when we can't just let him nap in a carrier on the go -- we actually have to nap Ira in his crib at home during the day or we'll pay for it at night. That means someone needs to stay home with Ira. We've decided that for the time being, most Saturday's one of us will go to services and the other will stay at home. Being at home with just a baby for companionship can provide it's own kind of rest, especially when it is Shabbat and you don't have to keep up with work or household chores. So one of us gets to pray (with Leigh upstairs in childcare) and the other gets some contemplative time at home.
  • We've also decided to start trading off longer solitary afternoon breaks. This will also mean changing some aspects of our Shabbat practice, like our observances around spending money or writing. For instance, the next time we do this I may walk over to a coffee shop, buy a coffee, and do some reading or writing for a few hours.
I'm curious about how any of you find time and space for rest in your lives (whether it is connected with a religious observance or not). How do you recharge? How do you find time for quiet contemplation?


Sue VanHattum said...

Sometimes, when I'm having trouble sleeping, I figure it's because I needed quiet contemplation time.

Early mornings I used to read and sometimes work in my yard. Now I'm online from 6ish to 8ish. I go to sleep with my son, and naturally wake up pretty early.

I'm a single parent, but when other people are watching my son, I take care of myself before I take care of housekeeping.

That's the recharging. But the spiritual... I used to do pagan ritual. I haven't really done that since I became a mom. I threw a solstice party a few weeks ago, and we did turn out the lights for a few minutes, and I sang a bit. It was good.

N said...

I don't have any answers - for you OR for me - but I'm excited to see this post, as it's something I'd been wondering about with impending child-ness.

Casey from said...

We find that we spend all our time to unwind on the computer playing around reading blogs, facebook, etc and not really connecting to one another. Now that Riley is reliably going to bed every night at 7ish, we started a new Friday night tradition that we roast a dinner to eat after she goes to bed, no computers, no blackberrys, even no tv, just music, read some poetry together and relax with a warm quiet dinner. We are really liking it so much so far.

Cindy said...

For us, one of us gets a break from childcare on Saturday mornings and one of us on Sunday morning, and we can do anything we want with that time. Mostly, it works well.

For Shabbat, what I find special and refreshing is to have a special meal together with the table set nicely with a tablecloth and everything. We try to have extra tasty food and it's a treat to all sit down together to a leisurely meal (well, as leisurely as it can be with a three year-old).

Also, I find it helpful to remember that traditionally Shabbat is not a "break" like we think of a break. It is a respite from creative work, from technology, from our paid work, from spending money. That is a particular kind of "rest". But when I want to zone out at a movie or go and buy something for myself, I do that on other days. Of course, that means setting aside time in addition to Shabbat, which can be difficult. I guess it depends on what Shabbat means to you and what "rest" means to you!

Karrie said...

With jobs, a dissertation, an internship and a two year old, we've found that we really, really need shabbos. After a lot of trial and error, I think we've figured out a good structure that gives us to essence of shabbat, even if we don't follow all the official rules.

We go to shul on friday evening and let Gabriel stay up late (and then we all get to sleep in a bit shabbos morning.) This way we don't have to run out the door the next morning - which is what we do every week day! Instead, we make cinnamon rolls and curl up with coffee (and steamed milk for the boychild.) Gabriel gets to watch a video (a special treat, since he rarely gets to watch tv) and mama and baba read the paper.

This gives us a good 45 minutes of nice, quiet time. It's such a different space than the rest of our crazy week.

We rarely get time all together during the week, so we try to just spend time together as a family. In the cold winter, sometimes this means going to the bookstore and reading together (while also enjoying a latte.) In the spring and summer we take lots and lots of walks. This summer Gabriel should be old enough for some bike trips!

We try to *slow down* and be mindful of the g-d energy all around us.

We don't always succeed. And the 'work' of parenting a two-year old is still ever present. But I feel centered and reconnected at the end of the day, so I call it good.

PS - this is the first time reading your blog. I'm glad I found it!