“So… how have you been managing?”
“Been getting any sleep at night?”
“I hope your life can return to normal sometime soon…”
These are some of the questions and comments I’ve received over the past few weeks. No, I was not in a car accident. Nor was there a personal tragedy in my life. In fact, what happened to me recently was something that most people would consider an incredible blessing.
I had a child. But not just a child…a fifth child.
To be clear – I am extremely overjoyed and exceedingly grateful for this amazing gift that I have just received. But who can ignore the reality that having another child inevitably brings additional financial, emotional, and mental stress into one’s life?
How am I supposed to break up a fight between a 6 and a 5 year old while holding a crying infant? How do I help my 3 year old put his pants on while rocking a stroller? Is it even possible to cut my kids’ dinner into smaller pieces while holding a baby on my lap and perfectly angling his bottle at a 55 degree angle to ensure that he doesn’t drink air for five good minutes? And when exactly do I get to eat, sleep, or put my own pants on??
These questions have led many to decide against having a larger family, or at least to take more time when doing so. This is surely a subjective matter, with no room to claim that one approach is better than the other. And believe me, after a morning of serving whipped cream for breakfast and accidentally brushing my teeth with Neosporin, I understand all too well the valid reasons for avoiding the onslaught of stress and tension that comes with raising five young children.
But then I am reminded of the opening words of a parenting class taught by a well-respected Rabbi of mine that I attended back in the beginning of my marriage. He said:
“If you are ever at a point in your parenting career when you begin to question whether a child is really a blessing or not, simply consult with a couple who is struggling to have a child. They will gladly remind you of the immense blessing that it truly is.”
At the time, I was not yet introduced to the struggles of parenting. In fact, I was still only starting familiarize myself with husband-ing. So I couldn’t really conceptualize in my mind a time where the stress of raising children would overshadow my appreciation for having them in my life.
But as it all began to set in during my sixth or seventh trip to and from the hospital, I could not avoid the question: Do the overwhelming feelings of stress mean that I’m in over my head? That my wife and I are sorely outnumbered and stand no chance against the small army we ourselves created? Or is there some sort of meaning behind this stress? Perhaps there’s a way of navigating through it, even alongside it, in a healthy and successful way.
The world of mental health recently provided a surprising answer to this question. A recent study showed that stress itself does not necessarily impact one’s body in a harmful way. Rather, it is one’s negative orientation towards stress that brings about those undesired symptoms. In simpler terms, psychologists proved that stress only damages you if you think it does. But if you only saw stress as a positive tool in your life, your body may not be affected at all. It’s really all a matter of perspective. So in a time of stress, when your body experiences increased heart rate, muscle tension, and other physical symptoms. You can either view these reactions as damaging to your health, or you can see them as your body’s way of preparing you to successfully navigate the stressful situation you are in. Instead of breaking down, our body is building itself up to deal with the stress head-on.
As on oleh from New Jersey, I find my experience living in Israel to be eerily similar to that of having a fifth child. I moved away from a place of relative comfort, support, and security, to a region of great hostility, that lacks certain comforts and support systems that I once knew well. But my decision, along with my wife, to immigrate to Israel was in order to experience first-hand the blessing of the Jewish homeland – to permanently dwell and raise a family in a land that we belong to, and that belongs to us.
And perhaps, just like in regards to my 5 beautiful children, if there ever came a time when I would question whether living in Israel, with all the stress and hardship involved, is really a blessing or not, I can consult with those that never got the chance to live here. Gladly they would remind me of the immense blessing that the state of Israel truly is.
So as I stood in the front of the room at my son’s bris (circumcision) trying to express my feelings to my friends and family, I ended with the following:
When stress confronts us in our life, we have two choices: we can escape it, or we can embrace it. I choose to embrace it and recognize our natural, God given ability to navigate through it, and use it to remind me of the tremendous blessing I already have in my life. My wife, my children, and my homeland.