Do you ever have days when you feel like the least organized parent at drop-off? When you’re certain that if you hear the word “why” from your toddler one more time you’ll scream? When you just want to disappear into a dark, quiet room and hide from the chaos happening in your home? Or even consider whether having kids was a good idea?
These are the sorts of questions that Alicia Jo Rabins asks and answers in her new book, Even God Had Bad Parenting Days, while using Jewish wisdom — gleaned from the Torah, midrashim, Talmud, and other ancient texts — to explore the not-so-Instagram-worthy elements of twenty-first century parenting. An accomplished artist, performer, writer, and Torah teacher, Rabins has crafted a deeply relatable, comforting guide for anyone who ever feels overwhelmed by parenthood. Writing of the High Holiday songs that so often paint God as the ultimate patient and loving parent-figure, she says, “I confess that this idea of acting with infinite compassion feels firmly beyond my reach. And that’s why, from a parent’s perspective, I actually find it comforting to remember that God — as described in the Torah — is impatient, imperfect, and sometimes downright pissy,” such as when Korah is jealous of Moses and Aaron’s leadership roles. “Does God calmly say, ‘Tell me more about what you’re feeling’? No, God does not. Instead God opens up a giant hole in the ground” that swallows him whole. The point, of course, is not to advocate for crappy parenting, but to help parents and caregivers feel less alone in moments when raising a child is hard and patience wears thin.
One of the book’s strengths is that it is organized into short, thematic chapters — most of them only three or four pages long — that are quick reads, accessible to even the most sleep-deprived, time-strapped parent. Rabins couples her own triumphs and challenges with Jewish teachings, a creative decision that provides comfort without coming across as patronizing or falsely optimistic. For instance, Even God does not shy away from matters like the author’s postpartum depression, loneliness, and financial strain. This authenticity sets Even God apart from other parenting books. It reads as though it has been written by an experienced mom friend who’s seen it all, who listens without judgment, and who always offers the best response to life’s difficulties — even if that response is just to rub your back and say she understands. Parenting can feel like a lonely, stressful endeavor, but Even God will make any parent or caregiver feel seen, understood, and more intimately connected to Jewish teachings.
Leah Grisham, PhD is a writer and educator whose upcoming book, Heroic Disobedience: The Forced Marriage Plot, 1748 – 1880 will be published by Vernon Press in 2022. She writes about Jewish life, literature, and feminism.