Exhausted by the Holidays

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Miriam gives advice to a mom who is exhausted by the idea of future holidays with young kids.

Dear Miriam,

I remember when my husband and I used to look forward to the High Holidays as a month of meals with friends and quiet contemplation. Now, with two young kids and no family nearby, the whole month was just one exhausting experience after another. I feel like I spent all my time running after kids when I wanted to be in services, and I’m already dreading next year. Will I ever enjoy the holidays again as a parent? Any suggestions for making things better for the time between now and when my kids are grown up?

Signed,
Exhausted by the Holidays


Dear Exhausted,

Under the best of circumstances, if you’re traditionally observant, a month with seven days of holidays is going to be exhausting. This faux Berenstain Bears cover sums it up delightfully. Add in young children, schedule disruptions and a longing for what used to be, and what should be a joyful experience can certainly end up as something else entirely. But I don’t think you should give up hope of having meaningful holidays for the next 18 years.

There’s a big difference between what a 2- or 3-year-old can handle and what a 7- or 8-year-old can handle. Your kids might need constant attention now, but in a few years they’ll be able to entertain themselves during services, they’ll be able to stay up later and maybe even help out (!) with dinner preparations, they’ll be able to understand what the holidays are about and may even give you a new kind of joy to be able to share and create traditions together. When you’re in the thick of it, though, it’s hard to imagine not being so thoroughly depended upon that you can’t go to the bathroom alone, let alone engage in quiet prayer.

Instead of dreading the next time Rosh Hashanah rolls around, see if there are small things you can do now to get your family ready for a version of a holiday celebration that works for you. You have Passover and Shavuot between now and then, so even if those holidays aren’t as intense (or, maybe, because they’re not as intense), you can have some time to practice. You and your husband could take turns with who is in charge of the kids and who gets some “time off” to go to services alone, or just to be alone. Even though you don’t have family in town, it sounds like you have a community of friends, so perhaps, if other friends have young children, you could host kid-friendly activities or meals or take turns with which families oversee the kids for some period of time. You should also not feel guilty about hiring a babysitter to be with your kids and/or sending the kids to school if they go to a daycare or preschool that is open on the Jewish holidays. There are lots of ways to impart Judaism, and being in synagogue isn’t the only one, especially if it’s not working for your family.

If you are part of a synagogue that has childcare or children’s services, I highly encourage you to take advantage of these resources. If you’re concerned that your kids aren’t comfortable or familiar with the space or the teachers, now is a great time to help them get comfortable. By going to services and synagogue activities on Shabbat and other times during the year that aren’t as hectic as the High Holidays, you’ll help your kids gain familiarity in a way that will transfer over when it is the holidays.

Finally, it sounds like you’re disappointed that you missed out on the reflection and solitude of the holidays. Even though this intense month is behind us, I hope you’ll find other opportunities for self-care and self-reflection separate from these prescribed days. Perhaps you can write a letter to share with your kids in the future about why you want them to value Jewish traditions, or you could read something about mindfulness and parenting after the kids have gone to sleep. Maybe you can hire a babysitter for just a little while so you and your husband can take a walk and share memories of what the holidays used to be like and dreams of what the holidays will be like for your family in the future. Maybe you can designate an upcoming Shabbat to be your time to be in synagogue alone, and then you can reciprocate for your husband the following week. Whatever you do, know that this, too, is just a stage in your family’s life and, like everything else, your family’s holiday experiences will continue to grow and change.

Be well,
Miriam