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A Radical Parenting Theory

A Radical Parenting Theory

Jewish wisdom is silent on whether or not you should use the Ferber method because, contrary to popular belief, it is not a moral issue.


I was poking through different parenting magazines and I happened upon Brain, Child: the magazine for thinking mothers. I like to believe that just like all mothers are working mothers, all mothers are thinking mothers. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the title, and more intrigued when I read the editor's soapbox in the fall 2005 edition.

Discussing lactivism, the editor wrote, "But there is a line, at least in my mind, between supporting the nursing mother and insisting that you know the best thing for her family. Breastfeeding, like so much else, is just one part of what makes up a mother/child relationship. And we at Brain, Child have faith that mothers can make the best decisions for themselves and their children."

I couldn't agree more. While the Torah mandates that we teach our children certain appropriate behaviors and values, Jewish wisdom is silent on whether you should use the Ferber method of gradually reducing the time it takes for your child to cry himself to sleep or whether you should pick her your child whenever he cries. It doesn't prescribe feeding on demand or on a fixed schedule. And the Torah doesn't comment on the complexity of factors that affect a mother's decision whether to breastfeed or not.

It's ironic that a society that preaches "live and let live" when it comes to a range of controversial behaviors, is outraged if a mother refuses to breastfeed.

That's because, contrary to popular belief, these are NOT moral choices. These issues involve personal preferences, personal abilities, personal medical histories. Only when we are not focused on the moral challenges in the rest of our lives, on the constant opportunities for character growth and change, do we have the time to elevate a baby's sleeping patterns to such a status.

It's ironic that a society that preaches "live and let live" when it comes to a range of controversial behaviors, is outraged if a mother refuses to breastfeed. Is she not entitled to be treated with tolerance? Should she be forced to explain her very private decision to the lactation police, to complete strangers?

We want certainty in parenting because it promotes the illusion of control. Yet so many of these issues don't have right and wrong components. And they certainly don't guarantee whether children will turn out healthy -- or good. Are you really a better parent if you make your own baby food?

As parents we can only do what we think is best within the range of our capabilities, encompassing both our strengths and our limitations. Some parents will sacrifice sleep in order not to let their infants cry. Some parents are physically incapable of such a strategy. Neither one is the correct way. Each parent must do what they can live with, what makes sense for them.

The Almighty is the Source of all morality. He is the Arbiter of right and wrong. If He declines to comment on how often to bathe a child, we don't need to turn it into a religious mandate.

We have to make important decisions and trade-offs. A less frazzled mother with a slightly dirty child? A smiling wife and frozen pizza for dinner? A day out with a friend with a lunch of Cheerios and a jar of Beech-nut for your baby?

Parenting is messy -- in all respects. What works for one child may not work for another. What works at one phase of a parent's life may not work at another. The essence of our job is to instill love and Jewish values. All the rest is incidental.

Just as we don't want to judge others on their parenting styles and abilities (unless there is, God forbid, real danger to the child), neither do we wish to be judged.

It's true that you don't see women in a Ruben's painting bottle-feeding their infants, but since when is that our standard? Our standard is Torah-based. We want to teach our children to love the Almighty and to know how much He loves them.

And if they say a blessing with a chocolate-covered face (and hands!), I couldn't be happier. Although I'm glad I bought that bubble bath...

July 8, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 39

(39) Samantha, March 20, 2009 6:19 PM

Funny, it sounds like this was written by a man. If I could only say one thing about this article, it would be...hello!!! The Torah doesn't comment on the choice women have to breastfeed or not?? If I'm not mistaken, wasn't the Torah written before mainstream society undermined the strength of women and brought formula into the picture as a convenient "choice", when it really should be a fourth-rate emergency food? That choice didn't exist then, and no one questioned it. I say the same about the other two points. There was no Ferber Method, no thought to let a baby cry themselves to sleep, terrified, in a strange new world. And I'm pretty sure there were no doctors recommending strict schedules for babies in the time the Torah was written. G-D trusted women's instinct and that instinct was to (breast)feed when baby was hungry, hold the baby when they cried, and feed or hold them until they slept. It is now that we stray from the hands of G-D to abandon the instincts given us and listen only to "experts" or try man-made theories of how to take care of our children. The Torah has no mention of those things because, when it was written, G-D saw the care of babies being carried out naturally. Today would be a different story...if we listened.

(38) Anonymous, November 21, 2007 4:07 AM

These decisions are Moral

I agree with the fact that Torah only cares about decisions on a moral basis, but these decisions are moral ones!! You must treat others like you would want to be treated. If you're very hungry would you resist from eating until a certain time because you're on a scedule. If something's bothering and you need to cry-would you like your husband to try out the Ferber method? Baby's are people, and just because they can't tell you what they feel now, and just because you don't see consequences now-it does not mean that they won't come up later. But, I still think that it's for a mother to think about on a personnel level, we shouldn't be judging them but should judge for ourselves.

(37) Natural Parent, August 2, 2006 12:00 AM

So sad

Put all the medical and statistical data aside. Lets go back to human nature and instict. We have moved so far from following our natural urges in parenting. Hashem gave women the equipment to nurse their babies for a reason. Hashem gave babies piercing and desperate sounding cries for a reason. How sad that our society has separated itself from what Hashem planned for us. And that it thinks that this OK is even sadder.

(36) Ruth, July 31, 2006 12:00 AM

Jews should know health benefits of breastfeeding

Anyone who has a family history of Crohns Disease or Ulcerative Colitis should know that breastfeeding confers significant protection against the child's developing these diseases. (It's not a guarantee, but it greatly lowers the risk and may reduce the severity.) Breastfeeding is the healthier choice, and therefore, the halakhically preferred choice in most cases.

(35) Yosef, July 24, 2006 12:00 AM

Daas Torah deals with everything

I like Mrs. Braverman's writing a lot but it is presumptuous of her to state as fact what the Torah expresses opinions on and what it does not. Those are questions for G'dolei Yisrael, not nice, very accomplished, smart women from LA.

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