Thursday, November 19, 2009

Judaism and Progressive Parenting

I recently joined Scott Noelle's PATH program and posted an introduction on the forums. I listed the basics...3-1/2 year old triplets, the path I took to attachment parenting, frum Jew. You know all that stuff that should help people see where I'm coming from. Turns out I'm the first triplet mom there, though there are a few twin moms and the only Orthodox Jew. Not too surprising, actually. What has left me stumped, though, is a question asked of me in one of the replies.

How do you integrate your parenting choices with your Orthodox values?

All of the jabbering on I do about both topics and I can't figure out a coherent answer to this! The best I can come up with is that it simply is. Sounds like a bit of a cop out, huh? Yet it seems the most accurate.

In the same way that I imagine a vegan mother would pass on her values towards the use of animal products to her children, I pass my values as a Torah Jew to my children.

Before we eat, we say the bracha. After the bathroom we say the bracha. We wash when we wake up and we say Sh'ma before bed. In our afternoon routine is prayer and at various points throughout the day we give tzedakah. When we shop for food, we have to look to see if it is kosher. When we shop for clothing we have to decide if it is appropriate. After eating a meat item we have to check the clock and wait before dairy.

In the same way that I'm not going to spank my children or send them on a time out or tell them that they are horrible people I'm not going to feed them a cheeseburger or let them watch a movie on Shabbat.

The largest obstacle to understanding how an Orthodox Jew can be a progressive parent lies in how you view your relationship with HaShem. A lot of people view HaShem as a benevolent father who has unending love for you when you are good but is harsh when you err. They also see the "rules" He has set before us as harsh and arbitrary and having no place in the modern world. By redefining the core relationship we have with HaShem we find that progressive parenting fits in very well with Orthodoxy.

Instead of viewing the mitzvot as unyielding rules set forth in an arbitrary manner I view them as immutable laws of truth--they simply are--and I interact with HaShem in a teacher-student relationship. As a teacher or mentor would, HaShem (through the Tanakh, Mishnah and the writings and drashim by Rabbanim throughout history) guides me through a life lived following the laws set forth in the Torah.

This is how I view my role as a parent. I'm not here to force my children to do anything. Rather I help them navigate a life that is true to them and fits within the framework of truth that we have. Just as I teach them that the law of gravity means they can't fly off of the top of a building I also teach them that the law of the Torah means we can't eat bread on Pesach.

I realize that this approach is a bit unorthodox, but since when has anything in my life been orthodox? Other than the whole Orthodox Jew thing, that is. :)

I highly recommend both the PATH program and Scott's free emails The Daily Groove. Both are wonderful to have in your parenting toolbox.