Like so many, I was thrust into parenthood largely unprepared. It’s amazing how the doctors and nurses at the hospital let you take babies home without an instruction manual. Despite my profound lack of knowing what I was doing, I can look back to a moment near the end of my time at HUC-JIR shortly before I became a parent, when I had this incredibly gnawing feeling that the way I moved through the world would be forever changed. That feeling was a foreshadowing of the seismic shift in priorities that would occur with parenthood.
Before parenthood, I worked hard to nurture a sense of deep responsibility towards personal excellence. Basically, if I wasn’t doing an excellent job, it probably wasn’t worth doing. I worked hard all the time – in school, at home, at my student pulpit, at the gym, and so much more. I wanted to do and to have it all.
Parenthood has helped me to be much kinder with myself about what responsibility and accountability look like. Before having kids, I had a hard time imagining being able to let go of some types of responsibility or being content with a less than perfect job done. Yet, watching these two amazing kid-people, each a world entirely unto themselves, grow and bloom before my eyes has helped me to understand how fluid priorities can be and the intersection of priority and responsibility.
Being a parent is hard and there are days when simply making sure the children are physically safe and cared for is enough. Were they offered food to eat? Yes. Did anyone incur major bodily injury today? No. Did I manage to control my frustration with their unhurried pace? More or less. Whew. Gold star day! I have met my responsibility to keep them alive another day.
And then there are other days when those higher ideals of parenthood seem more attainable. Have I taught them to love learning? Have I shown them how beautiful Judaism can be? Have I helped them to love their bodies? Are we nurturing their innate sense of love and respect, that they will understand their responsibility to build a better world as they grow? These are days when we seem to fulfill our responsibilities towards our best selves – and they are so very beautiful.
We need this balance throughout our lives. There are days and seasons when we meet only the most basic requirements of our responsibilities. There are days and seasons when we are able to chase the dreams of our best selves and of our best society.
We are human. We are enough. And it is OK.
The good news is, that when we live and work in community, we can share so much of the work for which we are responsible. We are not meant to do it all, all of the time and we are not meant to hold it all alone. After all, Pirkei Avot reminds us that Rabbi Tarfon used to say, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”