Wednesday, September 12, 2018

When you don't have enough love to give all your children, and it's OK

How often do you feel like your children aren't getting the best of you? Me: approximately every single day. But I feel less so after our rabbi absolved parents of that guilt in one of the most powerful sermons I've ever heard.

Monday and Tuesday were Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I sat in the sanctuary with Sabrina as Dave, Max and Ben went to the children's service. "My daughter vomited two weeks ago," the rabbi began his speech. He and his wife had a tough year. First their four-year-old was diagnosed with HSP (Henoch-Schonlein Purpura), a disease that causes inflammation of the blood vessels. As they tended to their son in the weeks that followed, their seven-year-old daughter started to complain that her legs were hurting. Then her stomach didn't feel so good, and she lay on the couch a lot and watched TV. Focused on their little boy's health, the couple didn't pay a lot of attention to her symptoms. And then, she was diagnosed with the same disease, only a much worse case.

The rabbi took it very hard. How could he have ignored his own child? Didn't he have enough love to give them all? But, no, he didn't, he acknowledged to the congregation. 

Tears streamed down my face as I sat on the wooden bench next to Sabrina. I'd often felt like I wasn't giving her enough attention when she was little because Max needed so much of me. She was the child who could—feed herself, hold a toy, color a picture, sing the alphabet, go down the slide—and Max was the child who could only if we helped. Max is a lot more independent now but with Ben here, I tend to feel like two out of three of my children are not getting enough of me—oldest, middle or youngest. I am Firefighter Mommy, coping with the largest blaze and hoping the less dire ones will put themselves out.

The rabbi grappled with his guilt, and ultimately forgave himself for being human. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't be there at all times for every child, every congregant, every cause. He noted that during this period of soul-searching and reflection, many of us vow to be better people—which often implies doing more. We'll do more activities/exercise/yada yada more. We'll be better parents. But instead of trying to be perfect, he urged, we could strive to be the best version of ourselves. He mentioned Serena Williams, who almost died in childbirth and who was asked by her coach to give up breastfeeding her baby girl to train for her comeback. As she told Time magazine last month, "Nothing about me right now is perfect, but I am perfectly Serena."

If the leader of our congregation could stand in front of hundreds of people and proclaim that he did not have enough love to give all of his children at once, we can all do the same. It's not horrific or awful, it's the truth. There is no shame in acknowledging that we are parents, not superheroes, especially those of us who have children with disabilities, medical conditions and extra needs. It seems like we'll be less stressed, less anxiety-afflicted, better moms and dads if we could just accept it.

I for sure can't give my three children equal amounts of attention, care or help once. I can't show all of them the same amount of love at once. But in the rabbi's enlightened words, I can strive to be the best version of myself. I can put my phone down and listen more intently. I can be diligent about picking my battles, and I can take parent time-outs as need be. I can find try to the patience even when it's slowed to a trickle. And I can stop guilt-tripping for not having enough of me to give each of them all of the time. I hope—no, I know—that my children feel the love, even if I'm not able to always show it. 


  1. You, and your rabbi, are very confused. And also wrong.
    Attention is not the same as love. Time is not the same as love. Energy is not the same as love.
    All of these things are measurable, but love is not. Love is infinite and everlasting. It is always there. You cannot have less love for one child unless you genuinely dislike one child for some reason and so feel less positive emotions towards them. The fact that you acknowledge that you pay more attention to one child is proof of your love for all of them. You could not love them more, you could not love them less. Love is love.
    Please, love yourself a little, and realize that what you are doing is enough, and that the one thing all of your children receive from you in perfectly equal portions is love.

    1. Kate, I get what you are saying. And yes, love is love. To me, part of the love package is caring for our children, nourishing them, paying attention to them. In my mind, these things are not inseparable from the adoration. And that is what I took to heart when he talked about times when you don't have enough love to give all your children.

  2. We all know.... firefighters are heros... 😎(even firefighter mamas who need time-out moments;)
    People who speak ‘their truth’ help each of us know the struggle is universal... that we are human and that love is infinite but insight and energy sometimes elusive. Sabrina knows she is loved.. because she’s in it. ❤️Besides... a bit of counselling from student services while she’s in college should ease some of her angst! 🙃
    Hugs to all!

  3. Wow, how I needed this post today. We have 5 children (3 biological sons and 2 nieces whom we adopted after their parents died). I struggle daily with the feeling that I'm not given any one of them the attention they need/deserve. And especially in the first years with the girls, they needed so much of me. I have a hard time giving myself a break and understanding that I've always done the best I could and that's all I can do. Great post. I really enjoy your writing each day.

  4. There are 2 aspects to love: feeling it and showing it. I understand your post, Ellen, and I think it’s great! L’Shana Tova.

  5. What a powerful and wonderful message. As parents, we probably all feel like we are not doing enough, but all anyone can ask is to do your best.


Thanks for sharing!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...