Parenting with Joy
It was September 2020. My kids had just started school, and for the first time in several months, I was able to enjoy a quiet meal with no “background” noise.
There were no toddlers pulling on my clothing, no popping up from my seat to wipe up a spill. There were no interruptions, bickering, or stopping mid-chew to help a child cut her chicken.
My enjoyment was palpable. I realized only once the silence came how sorely I had been missing alone time. Being able to hear myself think was something I didn’t even realize felt so good until it was taken away for months.
This lull was short-lived. Since my children had not been around crowds or many other children for so long, their immune systems had weakened. Until school started, every time they played with another child it had been outdoors, at a distance of six feet apart, and masked.
Like a ping pong ball that comes right back with lightning speed, all too soon, my kids were home again and the house was bustling. A few of my kids had developed fevers, and we quickly became a symphony of thermometer beeps, midnight whimpers, and sniffly noses.
We decided to have everyone tested and covered all our bases by getting the rapid COVID-19 test, as well as the more reliable PCR test. My husband drove our three older children while I stayed home with our two year old and recited tehillim while we sat playing Magna Tiles together.
I was singing the perakim in a made-up tune when she suddenly looked at me and said, “Mommy, I have to go to potty!”
Knowing this could be one of many trips over the next twenty minutes, I marked my place in the tehillim book and escorted her right away. Nothing happened. We washed hands, dried off, and came right back to the playroom.
I continued tehillim, and she continued to build.
As expected, two minutes later, she piped up again. “Mommy! I need to go to the potty.” After we went, nothing happened again.
We came back to the playroom, and guess what I heard next, just after sitting down?
“Mommy, I need to go potty.”
“Okay, sure,” I said through gritted teeth and dutifully popped back up.
This went on and on. At some point, she succeeded in using the restroom.
I was proud but felt somewhat frustrated. Part of me just wanted to finish the tehillim peacefully. I didn’t really want to spend twenty minutes in the restroom and would have preferred to utilize that crucial time to recite as much prayer as possible while the other children were being tested for coronavirus.
But then I remembered a story I had heard a few days prior. Two brothers, the famed Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk and Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli, were falsely accused of stealing and thrown in jail. While locked in the prison cell together they had only each other and a bucket of waste left from past tenants. At the sight of it, one of the rabbis began to cry.
“I’m not sad because we are in jail. I know that G-d led me here to this place. I’m crying because I have not yet davened mincha, and there is a disgusting bucket in this cell that forbids me to pray here. How can I serve G-d if I can’t even pray?”
The other rabbi smiled and answered, “Just as you served G-d every day, so too now, you are doing His will. You cannot pray as normal, but you are serving G-d in just the same way.”
After hearing this, the first rabbi’s sadness transformed into tears of joy. Together with his friend, they sang and danced around the bucket, delighted at the thought of serving G-d according to His will.
Hearing their joy, the guards approached the prison cell and witnessed the bizarre scene. Hoping to prevent any form of pleasure for the rabbis they stormed inside and removed the bucket, pleased by depriving the rabbis of their source of joy. Alone again, the rabbis turned towards Jerusalem and said minchah, once again delighted to serve G-d in the best way possible.
In Parshat Ki Tavo, it states, “All these curses will come upon you, because you did not serve Hashem with joy and gladness in your heart.” From this we learn that it is possible to serve Hashem in truly every circumstance that we find ourselves in, with effort, hard work, and the correct mindset.
This story resonated with me in my frustration over needing to toilet train my daughter instead of reciting tehillim. Upon reflection, I realized the irony of it all. One of the greatest acts of kindness one can perform is caring for a young child. It is even called a chesed shel emet—a kindness of the highest caliber, because the person you are caring for can never fully repay you. There are few acts of kindness that hold this title. Not only is it a high-level mitzvah, but it was clearly what was being “asked” of me in that moment, in my service to Hashem.
If my daughter needs me in the bathroom and therefore I can’t pray, then it is what Hashem wants from me in that moment, and that too is service to Hashem.
For mothers, there seems to be a regular inability to finish tasks in general. Whether it’s tehillim, cooking, or laundry or working from home, it’s often necessary to stop mid-moment in order to do something for a child. Sometimes, I feel like I can never accomplish anything. And with the children home 24/7 during quarantine, that feeling was heightened.
Of course, no one can be expected to parent every moment of the day, and everyone needs a break to rejuvenate and refresh themselves for the enormous task at hand. And certainly, we all have lists and goals for how we want to fill our days and what we hope to accomplish—and how we want to serve Hashem. But the truth is, as Rebbetzin Henny Machlis was known to say, “We all think we are so busy. Truthfully, there is only one thing to do at any given moment. That is ratzon Hashem.”
We may often wonder, What does Hashem want from me? Hashem does call to us throughout the day, but sometimes we simply groan or sigh in response, unwilling to see the spirituality in the mundane task that is required of us.
Our physical circumstances are handed to us by Hashem alone, and if that is the case, then it means that it is the best circumstance to serve G-d in.
After the experience in the bathroom, I then tried to bring my moment of realization into the rest of the week. Later, I was giving one child a bath at 11:00pm to cool her fever. Despite my exhaustion, I remembered, This is where Hashem wants me to serve Him right now.
And when I was hobbling around from my last pregnancy, and my legs hurt from varicose veins? Well, that too is how Hashem wanted me to serve Him. Our physical place, and even physical pain, can also be used in service to Hashem.
How often do we wonder, Hashem, what do you want from me? What is my mission? What path do you want me to take?
The answers are often right in front of us. Whatever circumstance we find ourselves in at the moment is exactly where Hashem wants us. We can take comfort in serving Hashem exactly where we are, and with what we have at any given moment.
Then the joy of parenting—and life—can truly begin.
 28: 45-47