Sunday, August 1, 2010

Book Review: Parenting as a Spiritual Journey

Parenting as a Spiritual Journey, subtitled, "Deepening Ordinary and Extraordinary Events into Sacred Occasions" seemed right up my alley. My fondest memories as a child were for some of the everyday routines that my mother established for me- be they daily (dinnertime as a family), weekly (collecting used newspapers and selling them at the recycling center to earn money for summer camp), or annually (Christmastime ornament making, tree decorating, cookie making).

I also craved ritual and routine at summer camp. I loved the regular dependable schedule: every day, we would have breakfast, sing, swim, go boating, eat lunch, sing again, then do a select craft or activity (I loved archery!), eat dinner, sing once again, and go back to our units to build a fire and tell stories and sing sing sing (Can you tell I liked the singing?).

Long story short, I believe that children, not just me, love ritual and routine and they thrive when they can depend on their surroundings having familiar elements. It gives them a safe place from which to start exploring and taking risks. That is why I picked up the book. Being able to ritualize everyday events and help my son learn the sacred in his everyday life- what could be more witchy?

Well, evidentally this activity is not only witchy, it is Jewish! This book was written by Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer. I am happy to learn from teachers of other faiths, as I think everyone and every faith has something to teach.

To give you an idea of her perspective, here are some quotes from the introduction: "(Spiritual parenting books seem to be) written by people who know just what God is and what He (as they invariably call God) wants of them. ... I was in awe. I could envision planting my faith, like a seed, in my children, if only I knew what it was! But I am still discovering my faith as I go along." She also says later, "It is my job as a religious professional to help people deepen events into sacred occasions, and I know from experience that the structures of religion can often do that. But I also understand that religion can suppress spirituality as well as nurture it." So as far as Rabbis go, she is progressive and keenly aware of some folks' issues with religion. And she writes with that in mind, never once leaving her Jewish faith behind. It is a well written, thoughtful work.

The book is broken up into four parts, mirroring the parts of a day: Morning, Afternoon, Evening, and Night. Each of these sections is further broken down into four parts- everyday activities and things that you encounter with your child at these times of day, and reflections on the sacredness of these moments.

For example, "Morning" has a subsection on "Getting Dressed" (which is about the sacredness of the human body). "Afternoon" has "Nap Time" (which is about being instead of doing.) "Evening" has "Dinnertime" (Thankfulness) and "Watching the News" (Justice). And "Night" has "Bedtime" (Trust) and "Sleep" (Separation). What great lessons for us to transmit to our children- in our everyday lives!

Reading the book, which is steeped in Jewish contemplation, it really hit me. Parenting is a spiritual practice, if you allow it to be. Just like with any embodied practice, you need to shift mental gears: stop thinking about the everyday mundane task at hand and seeing it for what it really is! A child is experiencing many things for the first time and even repeated tasks are fresh for them. The entire world is new and everything can have a lesson. We adults often forget what it is like to have what the Buddhists call "beginner's mind". But by raising a child, you get another chance to see the world in this way- if only you allow the time to do so.

I really enjoyed this book, despite not having background in some of the Old Testament and Torah references to which she alludes. For those turned off by or unfamiliar with Abrahamic religions, don't worry, the book is friendly and accessible. I found it very interesting and enlightening!

Formal Rating:
Title: Parenting as a Spiritual Journey
Author: Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer
Publisher: Jewish Lights Publishing
Price: $16.95 USD
ISBN: 1-58023-016-4

Topics Covered: Parenting, Religion, Spirituality, Childhood Development, Exercises and Activities, Essays, Philosophy, Judaism, Christianity
Target Audience: Parents and Caregivers of Children and Teens, Jews, Christians, Spiritually minded people.

Witch Mom Rating: Two and a Half Hats:
 Great contemplative book for parents to read as a way of informing their everyday interactions wit their children. It does have some language that may be unfamiliar with people who are not Jewish, but hey- that's a learning opportunity, is it not?

Link to buy this book, if you so choose.

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