Be Kind to Yourself



End of the school year, beginning of summer, Shavuot, graduations…it is time to reflect on what has been, and to rest and unwind in the hot months that follow.  I’ve always loved this time of year.  The spiritual elevation that starts with Pesach and culminates with Shavuot is an interesting time.  It appropriately matches the intensity of the end of the school year and the powerful emotions we and our children experience as a result.

With summer, at least for me, comes this relaxation that I don’t experience the rest of the year.  I’m incredibly fortunate to work a flexible schedule where I can be more available to my children, and I very consciously try to make my life as simple as possible.  No carpools, no after- school activities, and already I feel freed and rejuvenated.  I literally feel a weight lifted off my shoulders.

When I was a young mother, I was an overachiever.  My house was clean (with help), and my kids were driven to a ridiculous number of after-school activities.  I made myself completely crazy with all the “musts” on my long list of motherly duties.

Then something horrific happened, and I lost my mom at a relatively early age.  Anytime one loses a loving parent is too early, and losing my mom when my older kids were very little was extremely hard.  All of a sudden, I was not a perfect overachiever mother who “had it all covered”.  In fact, I had nothing covered.  That first year after her passing, my children didn’t go to any after-school activities at all.  I would pick them up, and we would hole up at home and just be.  At first, they gave me the “I’m bored” shpeel, but they soon stopped, as they saw it was getting them nowhere.

That year taught me more about parenting than any books.  It showed me that I am strong beyond measure, even when I’m at my weakest, and that my children really just need me—not fancy extracurricular activities, not TV time, not an exorbitant amount of playdates, not camps or educational videos. They just need me next to them, doing nothing and everything, exploring the world, starting with our living room; just us being together.

After that first year, when I’m sure I was a bit (a huge understatement) depressed, I slowly returned to the real world and started taking my kids to things that “every child should have…” But I now do it very selectively, and I am ok with saying no to both the surrounding world—which tries to push its crazy whirlpool of unnecessary stress on us—and even my kids when they ask for too much (or what I consider too much).

Everyone talks about how we need a village to raise our children, and well, my village has died.  First my grandma, then 4 years later, my mom.  I have built my emotional  village out of my relatives, who are loving and supporting, my friends who love and cherish me truly, and my husband, who is an amazing partner, but I no longer have the built-in generational mother to daughter village which I used to and which was amazing while it lasted.

I have learned my limitations, and I realize that in order for me to function as a wife and mother, and at work and home on an optimal level, I must have downtime.  Not running-errands-while-I’m-driving-carpool-on-my-way-to-dance-recital downtime, but rather, I-am-home-with-the-kids-doing-nothing downtime.  My kids know that I will be there when they get home from school and that I am ready to spend time with them.  I limit playdates, after-school activities and any electronics.  I welcome boredom, because that is when we get to know each other, and when we get to have conversations about Hashem, about heaven and earth, about stars that shine far away and in our eyes.  We talk about things that are hard to talk about, like death and why bad people exist, and about the latest Star Wars news or whatever else is filling their world.

In the years since my mom’s passing, I have learned to be kind to myself.  My mom used to shelter me from the world, and while she was alive, I truly felt protected.  Since her passing, I have lost that protection, and people with the kindest intentions have tried to give me all sorts of advice on how to be.  However, what I have learned is that I know best and that I am my children’s “best bet”, as my mom used to say.  They have chosen me, and we are bound together in this beautiful tango of teaching and learning from each other, and only I know what is right for them.

I urge you all, dear mamas near and far—be kind to yourselves, don’t take on more than your physical and emotional body can handle, remember that you know best, and that your children will be totally fine without the latest gadget they “need so much” or the “hottest” camp or extracurricular activity or whatnot. What your children truly need are the three things that my own mama taught me: “Your love, your love and your love—and everything else is icing on the cake.”  

Wishing a happy, healthy and blissfully uneventful summer to everyone. Please remember to be kind to yourselves first and foremost—and to remember to put your own oxygen mask on first!! 

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Chana Shohat is a mother, a wife, a physician and an artist. She is living in the Land of Milk and Honey, busy practicing medicine and the art of surviving parenting. She strongly believes that a good cup of coffee and some new oil paints can improve any day.