Parenting is often a thankless task. Only recently I found myself squeezed between deadlines, my husband’s busy work schedule, and my son’s endless needs, making the decision yet again to put myself last on the list in favor of everyone else’s priorities. “That’s the job of a mother,” my own mom remarked in a sympathetic but matter-of-fact tone, as if to say, “Aren’t you used to this by now?”
The reality is that in today’s culture I don’t have to be. I could make the decision to pay other people to take care of every single chore, including childcare, on my list. In fact, I could’ve simply chosen not to have children at all. What was a given for past generations is an option for my own. Perhaps that is why, for some, the very idea of having children is overwhelming.
Contrary to many of my female contemporaries, I didn’t choose motherhood; motherhood chose me. I say that because as a young adult I didn’t create a bucket list and put kids on it. I simply always knew in my heart that one day I would be a mother and stay at home with my children when they were young. That didn’t make the physical or emotional struggles I encountered as a new mother any easier, or me any less human. Watching your friends who chose not to have kids embark on European tours while you’re elbow-deep in poop will make you second-guess even the strongest of spiritual convictions. And while, yes, the smiles and cuddles are emotionally overwhelming, so are the anxiety and fear of not parenting right.
One of the greatest threats to good parenting is getting lost in the daily vicissitudes of life, letting your focus on the big picture give way to jealousy and, worst of all, doubt. Doubt, after all, is what motivates so many people to choose not to have children. They doubt the environment will survive. They doubt they will succeed in their career. They doubt they can afford another mouth to feed. They doubt they can do it right. Too often this doubt is masked in the goodwill idea that it really is better for everyone involved, even the world at large, if we just don’t have kids at all. But, like any spiritual endeavor, repairing the world (tikkun olam) can’t be accomplished through doubt.
“We don’t know what will happen with those children,” Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Beth El in East Windsor, New Jersey, recently observed, “That’s how we find cures for diseases and discover new technologies. Without children these things won’t happen. That is tikkun olam. Not that every child will be a doctor or win the Nobel Prize, but that each person can change the world in their own way. Everybody has their place and purpose.” When we doubt that, he warns, “Look at all the potential we are losing.”
When we choose to have children and put forth the effort to parent them well we are performing tikkun olam. Contrary to popular belief, having a child is actually an investment in both the world and yourself. Parenting is a career path with several opportunities for success and reward. And, from the minute your children are born, they busy themselves making the world a better place. Rebbetzin Denah Weinberg once said, “There are no problems, only opportunities for growth.” The doubtful world that casts children as the problem is doomed to fail. The faithful world that sees children as the solution is destined to thrive.