Even God Had Bad Parenting Days
Raising small humans is wild, sacred work
New parents get overwhelmed, regularly pushed to their limits and confused by contradictory feelings of elation and near-despair.
To soothe the frazzled and lift their spirits, writer and Bible scholar Alicia Jo Rabins has created “Even God Had Bad Parenting Days: ancient Jewish wisdom for new parents.” Humorous, self-reflective, and comforting, Rabins' musings on both heartening and cringe-worthy biblical examples of parenting can help any caregiver see beyond the detritus of day-to-day living with young children and recapture a sense of wonder at the process of raising small humans.
Parents do worry about their failed attempts to be perfect, and these short, personal essays can lead them to new perspectives and even to embrace a vital concept that English psychologist and pediatrician D.W. Winnicott called "the good enough parent." The supportive and inspirational writings of this gentle parenting book can help any soul embarked upon this wild, sacred work recognize the wisdom of poet Norman Fischer’s advice that “the only transcendence is fully embracing the ups and downs.”
This collection draws on Alicia Jo Rabins’ years of experience as a writer, Bible scholar, and feminist Jewish educator, and is based on her popular series of articles on parenting for Kveller.
Praise for Even God Had Bad Parenting Days
“Warm, witty, and wise, Alicia Jo Rabins offers essential advice to parents. Her interpretation of ancient stories suffuses family struggles—both mundane and profound—with beauty and wonder.” –Vanessa Hua, author of Forbidden City.
“Alicia Jo Rabins has given parents a gift of insight, solace, solidarity, and care in this exquisite volume of spiritual nourishment. This book is a blessing for anyone in the trenches of life with littles.”
--Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, author of Nurture the Wow and On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World.
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 Had Bad Parenting Days does not shy away from matters like the author’s postpartum depression, loneliness, and financial strain. This authenticity sets Even God Had Bad Parenting Days 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 Had Bad Parenting Days will make any parent or caregiver feel seen, understood, and more intimately connected to Jewish teachings.
--Leah Grisham, The Jewish Book Council
About the Author
Alicia Jo Rabins is an award-winning performer, musician, poet, and Jewish scholar whose recent film, A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, is being exhibited at film festivals throughout the US, most recently at the New York Jewish Film Festival. Her writing appears in Kveller, Ecotone Magazine, Tablet Magazine, and American Poetry Review, among others.
She is a 2020 Literary Arts Fellow in Poetry and has fellowships from RACC, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists. Winner of the 2015 American Poetry Review/Honickman Book Prize, and finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, she is also the author of Divinity School and Fruit Geode, and creator of Girls in Trouble, an indie rock song cycle abut biblical women.
Rabins graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard College (creative writing), holds an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson and an MA in Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and she tours internationally as a musician, lecturer, and feminist Jewish educator. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Find her at aliciajo.com
I so appreciate the fact that in the Torah, the main characters--including God--all have moments of acting like overwhelmed parents. Despite the best intentions of remaining patient and compassionate, they, like us, lose their cool.
For example, the Exodus from Egypt. We love to celebrate this story of miraculous liberation. Less often do we mention that the recently liberated Israelites are extremely whiny. (Sound familiar?)
They're tired of wandering in the desert, and they sit around complaining about how they miss the delicious meat they used to eat in Egypt. Moses, like a stressed-out parent, finally hits a wall. He can't take any more whining and complains to God that he'd rather die than lead these people.
And how does God handle this? By making quail rain down from the sky, then sending a plague to kill the Israelites who choose to eat it.
This is not a pretty story. In fact, it is exactly this kind of thing that makes people think of God as a vengeful guy in the sky with a white beard.
But reading this as a mother, I think . . . who am I to judge? I get it. I've had crappy parenting days too . . .