I recently sat down with my friend and colleague, Sarah Feinberg, CJP’s senior director of operations, planning and analysis, to chat about what it’s been like to become a first-time mother on her own. I interviewed Sarah around this time last year as she was in the midst of her maternity leave with her daughter, Margalit (Gali), learning the ropes as a new mom and single mother by choice. A couple of weeks ago we sat down in her office again to reflect on the past year with 14-month-old Gali and talk about how her life and identity have changed.
What was your biggest surprise about life as a new parent this year?
Overall, the most surprising change for me was how much more relaxed I’ve become since Gali was born. I’ve become less stressed day-to-day than ever before. Parenting has really taught me this. In part it’s because I’ve been fortunate that, overall, Gali has been easy to parent, but also because I’ve had to prioritize what’s important to me. Perhaps a different kid would’ve impacted me differently. It’s weird to me that I’ve become so much less uptight! Even my mom is amazed. For example, it used to be so important to me to have the house cleaned up before anyone came over or to have all my clothes neatly folded at all times. I just can’t do that now.
As a single parent I simply can’t do all of the things I used to do without a child. It’s abundantly clear now that my time is limited. So I’ve had to prioritize and focus on the most important things, like spending time with Gali, focusing on my work and making sure the most vital things, like eating, are taken care of. On weekends, I tend to prioritize being out and about doing things and spending time with people over following a strict nap schedule because I need the interaction with other grown-ups for my own sanity. Fortunately Gali’s pretty relaxed, goes with the flow and loves being around people. I’ve changed both because of who she is and because of how I want to live.
It sounds like you were able to find a clear balance between Gali’s needs and your own needs. Was there anything you had to give up—beyond a perfectly clean house—that was more of a sacrifice?
Shabbat is such an important time in my week; it grounds and centers me. It’s when I circle back with friends who I may not have been in touch with all week. I still go to my minyan every Saturday morning, which Gali loves, too. However, I used to frequently host Shabbat dinners at my apartment before Gali was born, and I’ve had to give that up this year even though it’s so important to me. I just couldn’t do it; it was too much to make dinner and get everything prepared while taking care of a baby by myself. So I made it a point to make sure we had a place to go every Shabbat. But I’m slowly starting to be able to host again. This was a major way I had to revise my expectations about what I could do, and I’m fortunate that my friends and community were totally supportive.
How are you feeling these days about having chosen to become a single parent?
It’s hard doing this alone, but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve been blessed with a happy daughter who is adventurous, strong, funny and easy-going. We complement each other and have a great time together. I’m loving watching her grow and change, and she’s still young enough that every day brings something new. That being said, I chose to be a single parent, but it’s not the path I wanted to choose. There’s a lot that has to be done each day, and there’s only one of me. It would definitely be great to be doing this with someone else—especially in the evenings when preparing dinner, cleaning up and supervising bath time—but that’s not my reality, at least at the moment. So I continue to rely on my friends and family to back me up and hold my hand when I need it, and I continue to let go of things that I don’t have the capacity for and try not to let them bother me too much. I think it also helps me that I generally don’t read parenting books. What I’ve learned with Gali, as well as from my friends, is that all of the theories out there are great, but every child and parent is different. What we have now together is working for us, and for that I’m grateful.
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