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Choose your Parenting Guru

March 9, 2011 – 9:49 pm11 Comments

By Lior Misrachi

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers, masechet avot, chapter 1, teaching 6) we find the following saying:

יהושע בן פרחיה אומר: עשה לך רב, וקנה לך חבר, והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות

Joshua ben Perachyah said: Choose a rabbi and acquire a friend; and judge every person towards merit.

It’s a pretty clever little saying that hits upon some difficult truths. The first being that you should choose a rabbi. Why? Because no one is objective when it comes to their own issues. Even the ‘smartest of the smartest’ might choose to justify being lenient with themselves. The second principle our sages teach us is that we should choose ONE rabbi, and one rabbi only, to answer our questions. Why? So we don’t go around asking a variety of rabbis until we find the answer we want to hear and undermine halacha in the process.

Choosing a rabbi isn’t necessarily easy. It wasn’t meant to be, I suppose. But the principle is a sound one. And so, observant Jews generally choose a rabbi with whom they have some connection; so that he is able to take their context into account. They choose a rabbi who is learned in their eyes; this is pretty self evident. But most importantly, in my opinion, they choose a rabbi who shares their hashkafa – that is, their religious (and/or general) outlook on life.

Recently, I’ve come to understand how wise this particular saying is, not in terms of my Jewish observance, but in my new role as a mother. My son, Eitan, was born almost three months ago. He has brought my husband and I much joy and I am amazed every day at my capacity to love and care for him. Of course, Eitan has also brought certain challenges that we daily, sometimes hourly, have to navigate.

So let’s start with my parenting hashkafa. I believe for the most part that chilled parents equal chilled babies. I didn’t want to do too much reading while I was pregnant as I was confident in my intuition. It helps that I don’t need and don’t want to rush back to work so there was no imperative for routines.

On the recommendation of a good friend of mine I did buy and read the ‘Baby Whisperer’ book by Tracy Hogg. Here I was introduced to E.A.S.Y. According to the baby whisperer it’s important for the baby to Eat, then have Activity time, then Sleep, which leaves time for You.  Sounded easy enough …

But then the reality set in. Eitan was born and I didn’t find feeding easy at all. I developed mastitis TWICE in those early weeks, which now seem like a blur.  And so we consulted an expert. A wonderful lactation consultant, without whom I would not have been able to keep feeding. She didn’t support E.A.S.Y. and believed that forcing babies to have activity time after feeding leads to overstimulation and difficulty sleeping. She suggested instead that we let Eitan fall asleep while feeding and lie on one of us for ten minutes to make sure he was properly asleep before we put him to bed.

This is what we did and it was wonderful. We both really loved the snuggle time that we had with our little man. The consequence, however, was that Eitan got used to sleeping on us.  Another trick that worked really well for us in the early weeks was to use our exercise ball.  One of us would hold him and bounce on the ball. The rhythm of the bouncing put him to sleep almost instantaneously.

Now I didn’t realise any of this was a ‘problem’ until two separate relatives exclaimed that he would never learn to sleep on his own.  I asked my cousin, who I love and respect and who has been a confidant and advice-giver to me since I can remember, when I can start teaching him to sleep independently. She responded that it was too late. I had these horrible images of Eitan after his Bar Mitzvah, still bouncing on an exercise ball in order to fall asleep. PANIC!

Later that same week I went to Shalom Baby (a Jewish mothers group run by The Shalom Institute) and lamented that I had taught my son what I was told were irreversible bad habits. But my friend calmed me down. She told me it was never too late. Just hard work. Ok. Hard work I can do … but how do I do it??

My GP gave me some excellent advice (as she always does) while I was still pregnant. She advised me to try different strategies with Eitan but to give each strategy two weeks before sticking with it or chucking it.

My husband and I decided that it was time to teach Eitan to fall asleep independently. Why? Because I needed breaks. Feeding was still painful, ten weeks after he was born, and I was putting him to bed on my own since no one else could do it. It was exhausting and demanding.

And so, I decided to make my GP my rav (rabbi). Why her? Well, she fit into all three of the criteria I apply to a halachic rav. She knows me. She’s learned and experienced. But most importantly, she shares my baby hashkafa. According to her, I am the expert on Eitan and should trust my instincts. Two weeks it was to be then!

So now that I had my rav, I needed to consult a couple of ‘sfarim’ (books). I chose Robin Barker, the author of the (Baby) Bible: ‘Baby Love’ and the website RaisingChildren.net.au (in this analogy, probably equivalent to the Talmud).  All three of these resources share the same fundamental principle: as long as your baby is healthy and reaching developmental milestones – there’s no need to panic!

We took a deep breath and began the mammoth task of changing Eitan’s sleep/eat pattern. It hasn’t been easy and I am not deluding myself into believing that we’re there yet. It has indeed been hard work, but at the same time, incredibly liberating. From feeding up to twenty times in a day, we’re down to about eight. My husband has been able to help with the sleep because it isn’t related to the feeds, which means I have time to rest, shower and have some ‘me’ time.

So where does all of this leave us? Well – one thing’s for sure – I’m not about to give anyone any advice, which is why I’m not saying what we actually did to change Eitan’s pattern. There’s enough contradictory and confusing advice out there as it is. The truth is that everyone is probably right to some degree and I know that all those advice-givers out there are very well meaning. But if you try everything at once, I don’t believe you’ll get anywhere.

My brother-in-law asked us the other night how we knew what we were doing. We both laughed and answered that we didn’t. But the one thing I have learnt from the past few weeks is that just like in the observance of halacha, getting advice from everyone is tantamount to getting advice from no one. And so I’ve chosen my rav and I’m sticking to her, to help me filter all noise and be the best possible mother to my son.

Lior Misrachi is a Jewish educator and mother living in Sydney.

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11 Comments »

  • leedsiy says:

    B’H

    Lior the best article I have read on this Galus site. LOL. A baby is a big learning curve, isn’t it? I learnt the hard way not to listen to advice, but to follow my instincts and set up a routine for my son and for myself. I would not have coped with unexpected single parenthood and my work if I had not.
    People can drive you a bit mishugga on this topic of child rearing. I was many things. I must not feed my child cucumbers before he was 12 months old. (How did all those Israeli babies munching cucumbers survive having fits from the seeds (??) yes I kid you not. I must not use fresh food when he was going on to solids, but only tinned Heinz baby food. Definitely no yoghurt, or stewed apples and pears ( are you crazy to give him that – PIPS PIPS!) I ignored them. Even the post natal nurse Lynn who told me that I must be depressed despite not have the symptoms because most people are and then borrowed my Iyengar yoga manual and never returned it. I wasn’t depressed and I was not going to be subjected to post natal depression for them or anyone.
    I fed him yoghurt, cucumbers, stewed apples and pears (home made and strained)and allowed him to suck on biscuits. He had a problem with gluten which I then trusted my instincts on and did not listen to doctors. In fact the one time I did listen to a doctor about my son being dosed with parachoc for his constipation over two years, I wished I had not listened to him rave on about how harmless it is. It is not.
    Trust your own instincts on many things despite the degrees and the experience, you live with your son and you get to know his every little twitch and twinge. You know when he is comfortable and when he is not. You understand him better than any doctor. Find someone who has raised six or more children and talk to them. They have been through everything several times over and they know more than most doctors. They have had practical experience in all sorts of child hood ailments, they have had practical psychology experience, nutrition experience and they know heaps. They have to to survive their children.
    Children are the best thing in the world to be associated with. They are also the most frustrating, stubborn,lovable, good, evil, pure and innocent little angels you will ever have the pleasure of dealing with.
    Enjoy them with a sense of humour and learn.

  • Ari Silbermann says:

    In Israel there’s a saying that goes:
    עד החתונה זה יעבור So don’t worry if he still has to fall asleep on a bouncing ball at his Bar Mitzvah. Or if he can’t point to his tummy at 4 months or what ever it is. Thankfully where we live alot of our friends have 3-4 kids and they calm us down whenever the tipat halav give us that worried look. Chilled is definitely the best policy.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Mazaltov Lior. Lovely piece. I am glad Robyn Barker’s book is still the baby bible.
    I knew she was the baby guru for us all those years ago when she said that chicken soup is a great first food (other than milk) for babies.

  • Grandma C says:

    A very well thought out, well written article with an interesting analysis/analogy. Of course you are right regarding advice from others being unhelpful, but as a mother and grandmother I just can’t help myself. I know in my head I shouldn’t, but when a daughter complains that she is so exhausted because her “much older than Eitan” baby/toddler is still waking up several times during the night, my heart rules. I just I can’t help suggesting what I would do in that situation.

  • Malcolm P says:

    Seriously too much information. Some things are better kept to yourself. No one really cares or wants to hear about your lactation issues. And whether your child does or doesn’t fall asleep isn’t the most interesting of topics for 99% of the population. Keep it for mothers meetings.

  • Keren Tuch says:

    Lior – I care about your lactation issues! I am not a mother but I find it very interesting to find out what I may be in for one day.

    Malcolm P, perhaps you can be more discerning of the articles you choose to read if you don’t find this of interest. Considering it was International Woman’s Day 2 days ago, I find your comment a little insulting that you think only 1% of the population would be interested in these issues. I take it you are not a parent, and have no aspirations to be one…….

  • Akiva says:

    Keren, while I take your point, and think Malcolm P is a bit of an arse, given his comment here, not all women are mothers, many do not want to be, and this doesn’t diminish their womanhood. You are not automatically interested in reading about the motherhood journey just because you’re female. Not sure how international women’s day comes into it – I find your automatic association with it and a motherhood piece a bit problematic.

  • Akiva says:

    Malcom P – you are in a dwindling group of men who take no interest in these issues. You still number far too many, but the number is, mercifully, shrinking. You are equally invested in these issues with the women who bear your children, and your comment is dismissive and offensive.

  • Grandma C says:

    Galus Australis articles are widely diverse in their subject matter. It will always be the case that some will be of interest to some sections of the population; at the same time those same articles won’t be of interest to others. Without casting aspersions on previous articles which may have been well written and of interest to some readers, the kosher wars and Melbourne Jewish radio (Lion’s Den) personally did not interest me, even though I have enjoyed reading other articles by those same authors. I always read the first paragraph; I soon realise if it is not my scene, then I don’t bother finishing. So that’s what I suggest Malcolm P and others do, if the article does not interest them. There is no need to be offensive to the writer of the article.
    Regarding women – Keren’s comment does not state that all female Galus Australis readers would or should be reading Lior’s article, or that all women want to have children! I think she is making the point to Malcolm P, that the percentage figure of 1% who may be interested is ridiculously low considering the number of women in the population/community who do have, want to have, or have had children, and may now be grandmothers who give unwanted advice…. :D

  • Michelle Lowbeer says:

    Lior, great article. Thank you for sharing your experiences, I’m sure many a new parent will benefit from hearing what you have learned.

    I have three points to make.

    Firstly:
    I think that “instinct” when it comes to raising babies and children needs to be taken with a grain of salt. For example… if we want our babies to sleep independently of us (as many of us do in this modern Western world, where we don’t necessarily have the resources of a whole village to raise our child), they will have to learn by crying themselves to sleep. Hearing them cry for prolonged periods – and not doing anything about it – is likely to go against the grain of every instinct that a “normal functioning” mother will have. But I am convinced that this is the only way it will happen.

    Secondly:
    In this day and age where more information is available to us than ever before, there is much wisdom in the lesson of picking ONE thing (rabbi / piece of advice / practice) and following it consistently and well, rather than trying to follow lots of things, getting overwhelmed and “failing”. I believe this applies in most, if not all, areas of life.

    Thirdly:
    Every day (in fact, every moment) is an opportunity to start anew. And it is never too late to do most things. (eg teaching Eitan to sleep independently.)

    Best of luck with your rest of your journey, may it only get easier from here on in!

  • leedsiy says:

    B’H
    Oh Golly, Malcom P you don’t have to read articles titled ‘Choosing your parenting Guru. Why did you do so when your obvious lack of enjoyment of such topics should have you clicking on to another page when the work parent comes up or children or family.
    Stay single, work on your golf swing and go bowling and visit those old people’s homes and what ever else is your ‘thing’. Be cool and cruise. Some of us do love family and kids. I wish I had had six and a career or the money to keep them all in comfort. Too late now and will have to save it for my to be much loved grandkids when they are here.
    Loved this article. It was so refreshing to read all the positive comments without politics and nasty personal attacks. You were the one off note.

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