It takes a village

Ronit Sherwin

By Ronit Sherwin

I dedicate this column to the many, many friends, family and acquaintances who have fed me, rocked my children, changed diapers, folded laundry, brought me coffee, retrieved groceries, spent nights on my couch and brought laughter from my new mommy tears. Thank you.

A year ago I gave birth to my son and daughter – twins, a double blessing. While the two little people who now occupy my home and my life are by far the ultimate blessings, I have received infinite more from my various communities.

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Three years ago I made a life changing decision to bring children into the world as a single woman. Parenthood for me was a very conscious choice. Being the parent of twins was a surprise. I was thrilled to learn that my children would immediately know the beauty of a sibling from the womb. As much as I could, I prepared myself for being out-numbered during the months of pregnancy. And then they finally arrived and I already loved them.

It is difficult to believe that my children are one-year-old. At the same time, the more significant milestone is my survival during this past year. Yes, parenthood is beautiful and truly a unique experience, but it is also an endurance marathon that never ends. Those first few months of parenthood are brutal. Now multiply it by two and remove one parent. That is my reality.

I survived because I have communities. I have systems of support that provide care, nurturance and love for me and for my children. While some people struggle to find “a community,” I have been blessed to have multiple communities. And I attribute my successful first year of parenthood to these communities, whom I owe a lifetime of gratitude.

My core community is my family. My family is mighty in numbers, strong in will and not lacking in love. My mother was present at the birth of my kids and reassured me of my capabilities as a mother when I cried with fear at her departure three weeks later.

But I did not need to fear because my other communities were there for me. My Bais Abe synagogue community created a crew of “helping hands” who prepared my meals, took shifts helping with my babies and even spent overnights on my couch in order to give me a reprieve from the 3 a.m. feedings. The beauty was that these “helping hands” extended far beyond my shul community, but also included my Nishmah community, my former Jewish Community Center community and others whom I knew only peripherally. My spirits would lift and my heart would lighten when I greeted an eager volunteer at my door ready to hold a baby. I appreciated the extra hands, but I needed the company and reassurance that I was doing OK and it would get easier.

And it has gotten easier in many ways, but it is no less challenging. We, all three of us, are doing well – actually, we are doing pretty great. Each and every day I think about the past year and I cannot fully express the gratitude I feel in my heart to the many individuals – and you know who you are – who helped us. I have also realized the critical role my communities play in my life and how fortunate I am to have them. Not everyone is so fortunate. And we as a community need to take responsibility for each other.

People reached out to me because I am a single mom or because I have twins or because they know me through my work with Nishmah or because they are part of my shul or because they know I have no family in St. Louis. The outreach was amazing and I needed every one of the generous offers of help. And so do others. New parenthood is hard and is it often isolating – for mothers and fathers. Caring for aging parents is equally as hard and is less rewarding. Being a non-native to St. Louis is also difficult and can take some years to find community. Do you see my point? We need to think of others in our community and take action: begin by reaching out.

It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to role model to our children what it means to care for every member of the community.

It is my intention and my hope that my children will learn to take responsibility for their village.

Dor to Dor

Ronit Sherwin is executive director of Nishmah: The St. Louis Jewish Women’s Project. She also blogs each week on www.stljewishlight.com.

“Dor to Dor,” is an intermittent Jewish Light series looking at various aspects of “grown-up” life and generational connections through the lens of Jewish writers living in the St. Louis area.