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Children, When?
Rebbetzin Feige

Children, When?

Our decision to wait seems to keep getting longer. Are we viewing the situation correctly?


Dear Rebbetzin Feige,

I am 29. My husband and I love each other and share our Jewish life and ideals. But for the first two years of our marriage we decided not to have children. My husband was always traveling up and down the country for his job, and I followed him as much as possible. We said to each other we wanted a father to be present at home and a family to be more "sedentary" before having children.

Now he has been offered a position that requires more moving around over the next few years. It's a great opportunity, but this would mean having a further delay in trying to have kids (for at least the first year so we can settle down and organize our lives). We are afraid that we will decide too late. We usually think of a woman having career plans that may come into conflict with family plans. I never thought my husband's job could produce the same effects.


Rebbetzin Feige responds:

My dear reader, Your conundrum as to whether to proceed now or postpone having a baby in favor of a later date -- perhaps a more propitious time -- is, in one form or another, the stuff of life that requires perspective.

Clearly, the way we view the circumstances of our life can change from moment to moment. The fact that you have written indicates a desire on your part to get a handle on how to sort out the variables in order to find a reliable index of where things are really at.

Historically, when the children of Israel were ready to enter the promised land, the tribes of Gad and Reuven approached Moses requesting permission to settle on the east side of the Jordan where the land could support their extensive stock of cattle. Their request was framed in the following way: We shall build corrals for our cattle and cities for our children...then we will join forces with the rest of the nation to help them conquer the west side of the Jordan.

In his reply to them, Moses conceded but reversed the order of their request: "build cities for your children and then corrals for your cattle." They had prefaced provisions for their cattle first and for their children last. Moses corrected them and assigned top priority to the children.

At face value, this scenario is quite startling. Did members of the exalted 12 tribes really need reminding that children come before cattle?

The commentaries explain that their priorities were unquestionably intact and their intention was never to assign greater importance to their cattle than to their children. Their reasoning in seeking to settle their cattle -- their holdings -- first, was to secure a livelihood so that they might better provide for their children's future. Indisputably, the children were the overriding objective, but perhaps, they concluded, if they attended to the peripheral first and planned for everything, the context of their children's lives would be a better one.

The more important things in our lives must never be at the mercy of the lesser ones.

Moses gently but firmly reversed the order, giving them a loud and clear message that first things have to come first. Indeed, the more important things in our lives must never be at the mercy of the lesser ones. Decidedly, money, professions, work, cattle, houses and all the incidentals and accoutrements are nice and desirable and can certainly enhance living, but they do not constitute the mainstay of life. To postpone putting in place that which gives meaning and purpose to life is misguided.

My dear reader, be aware that in some instances postponing constitutes procrastination born of fear. Indeed, there are those who hide behind all sorts of rationalizations because, at a subconscious level, they are afraid of the commitment to a course of action that will forever change their lives.

Having a baby can be scary. Motherhood demands a shift from the singular focus on self to a focus on another. A great Jewish thinker once commented that becoming a mother is the greatest of all masochistic acts. Yet, without it, a woman feels unfulfilled. Clearly, children are at one and the same time the source of our greatest joy and our greatest anguish -- the proverbial agony and ecstasy syndrome.

My dear reader, in your attempt to perfectly order your life so that the time is perfect flies in the face of the fact that none of us has control over the eventualities of our lives. "The well laid plans of mice and men," the saying goes. Controlling life's circumstances is not in our purview. Only God knows what the future holds. Our business is to do the best we can right now, to "let go and let God."

Obviously our decisions have to be reasonable and I'm certainly not suggesting that we act with abandon. However, excessive preoccupation with trying to control what might be coming around the corner is presumptuous and futile. Undeniably, there are no guarantees in life. We have all experienced people with financial security unexpectedly losing their means. At the same time, we have also seen people who are down and out recoup and even do better than ever -- the classic case of what appeared to be a tragedy turning out to be a blessing. The bottom line is that God runs the show -- He's been doing it for a long time. He's got a plan and He knows what He's doing. As for us, we need to relax and trust in life.

Consider Sarah Rubin. She was a woman in her mid-forties and the sole provider for her family. She ran a small hardware store. One day she came running into my father-in-law's office greatly agitated. She announced that to her great consternation, she was pregnant and saw no recourse but to terminate the pregnancy. She explained that her life was complicated enough trying to raise the children she already had while practically spending all her waking hours at the store. There was no way she could possibly envision bringing a new baby into her already stressful life.

My father-in-law calmed her down reminding her that the Almighty works in inscrutable ways, often taking us by the hand and moving us to places where we never intended to go, but that are ultimately in our best interest. He assured her that this baby, unplanned and seemingly inopportune as it was, was going to be a source of great blessing to her.

Though still concerned and tentative, she deferred to his sage wisdom. She raised her baby boy in the store, to the delight of every customer. In the end, this baby attended and cared for her with unprecedented devotion in the later years of her life. True to the rabbi's prediction, he turned out to be a source of great nachas and blessing to her.

There are those who suggest that to alleviate our paralyzing anxieties and fears, we should ask ourselves the question of what would the worst possible case scenario look like, and when we realize that it won't be catastrophic, it becomes more doable and manageable.

My son, Rabbi Benzion, was having trouble with his computer. He called the company and was connected to a service person in India. Rabbi Benzion reported that somehow his "mouse" was going haywire and he was at a loss of how to bring it under control. The man told him to release his hold on the mouse and allow him, all the way from India, to handle it. My son watched, fascinated, as the arrow on the screen moved around, unconnected or driven by a human hand, completely controlled by this person thousands of miles away. Thinking it was fixed, he placed his hand on the "mouse." Immediately, the voice from India screamed, "If you want it to work, let go!"

Often times, if we want life to work, we must let go. In a real sense, if we let go we make room for God to move in and do His thing. If we assume a posture of control, in effect, we shut Him out.

The great Rabbi of Kotzk once asked his disciples where one can find God. They ventured the usual responses: in Heaven, on earth, etc. He waved them away and finally gave them his answer. "God is found wherever you invite Him in."

My dear reader, the logistics of your situation can, I am certain, be adjusted to accommodate what appears to be your fondest dream -- to have a baby. Put it on the front burner and let everything else, all other considerations, take second place. Do what you have to do to make it possible. Be assured that babies don't require a perfect context. Parents that are committed to one another and love each other will suffice.

Good luck and may God bless you!

December 30, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 11

(11) Anonymous, December 17, 2013 9:51 PM

Women feel fulfilled without motherhood? Really?

I loved the article, but I don't know what to say about this one.

After being married only a short while, I gave birth to one child, but I unfortunately cannot say that I became pregnant with the purest of intentions. There was a TON of pressure from outside sources (i.e. my husband, friends, family, community) and I was not strong enough to say "I'm not ready."
I love my child deeply, but I would not say that without motherhood I'd feel unfulfilled. Maybe I wouldn't say the same thing later on in life (as I'm only in my 20's), but I believe societal pressure is what makes women want to become mothers.
There is certain satisfaction that comes with knowing you're the main provider for a little soul and all the accomplishments that they achieve are borne out of your care for them. But to say that a woman is unfulfilled without it??
I don't know whether I agree. Please let me know what you think.

(10) Anonymous, November 13, 2007 10:12 AM

The great adventure

I got married when I was still in college, and had my first baby within the year. Talk about timing. How was I going to graduate now? Thank G-d, it worked out for the best. I took a semester off, and was able to be home with my baby for six months. By the time I went back to college (part time), I had become convinced of the importance of being home with my child. Had I graduated and been in the workforce already, it would have been a harder choice. Nine years later I look back and am proud that I was able to be home with my four children.
Motherhood is an amazing club. Go ahead and join it!

(9) Marcia Weinstein Steinbrook, June 19, 2007 8:14 PM

You won't know if it's the right time til afterwards

There are situations in life that present ambiguous circumstances and require that we make a choice nonetheless. Get your priorities in order and take a chance... Someday, it will be about when to stop having kids instead of when to start!

(8) Anonymous, May 1, 2007 9:12 PM

have children

I had my first child at the ripe old age of 29 (my husband was 38). Don't give up hope-women have had babies later than that. Don't delay, though.

(7) Anonymous, April 18, 2007 9:14 PM

with G-d's help, anytime can be the right time

My husband and I waited a year and a half (with the rabbi's guidance) before trying to have a baby. At that point, we felt we had built a firm basis for our relationship, we had just moved to a supportive community where we fit in well, and my husband found a good (local) job. Two weeks after we found out that I was pregnant, he lost the job. Although he was able to get his old job back (now with a long commute), we realized we could not afford to stay in the community we were in after the baby was born without the extra income.

Thankfully, the entire community helped out, and we have been ok. But someone in my family said to me "I think you should have waited till your financial situation was more stable" At the time when we made the decision, our financial situation WAS stable. And once you decide to have a baby, it is very hard to go back on the decision.

So I guess my point is that you never know what can happen. Even if you wait till the "right" time, everything can change in the blink of an eye. So do what is right first, and with G-d's help everything will work out.

How did it work out in my case? Well, the baby was born early, and we were completely unprepared. Because we were living in such a close-knit community, we had the help we needed. In addition, there were some health concerns that were pointed out to me by members of the community. My baby's nurse dismissed them, but caring people in the community kept raising the issue until I made an appointment with the doctor (despite the nurse's reassurances). The doctor was just as concerned as the members of the community, and what could have developed into a serious problem was treated and disaster averted. I can only imagine what would have happened had we lived somewhere else - I would not have found out there was a problem for another month and a half, at the regularly scheduled check up.

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