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  • Having it All: Rabbi Mom

    Posted on January 9th, 2013 Ruth Abusch-Magder 3 comments

    Note, this week’s post is an interview done by Cheryl a mommy blogger and long time friend of Rabbi Allison Berry for her blog Busy from Birth.

    I have been friends with Rabbi Allison Berry, of Temple Shalom in Newton, MA, since long before she was “rabbi” or even “Allison,” as she will always be Allie to me. We met at the end of our freshman year at Brandeis University, when we both became members of the incoming Hillel board. At the time, we laughed and said “how have we not known each other so far?” Though we don’t get together in person as often as we should, each time it’s like we’ve never left each others side. I’m thrilled to have Allison as the first guest poster for The Having It All Project; here’s how she’s having it all.

    Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
    Currently I am the mom of two (3 year old and 6 month old) and work as a part-time rabbi at Temple Shalom in Newton. Rabbis work a unique schedule – days off are usually on Mondays and the weekends are filled with teaching, service leading and a myriad of other activities. After over three years of leading a very full-time congregation I made the decision before my second child was born to move to part-time work and a position with more structured boundaries (usually 25 hours each week and very few emergency 4 AM phone calls!). One of the best parts of my current routine is supervising programming for families with young children within the synagogue. Basically I get to plan and implement activities that directly benefit my family! Not only am I very proud of the work I do – basically a full-time job with part-time hours – I now have more time at home with my kids. The balance has worked incredibly well. Some weeks I work 15 hours and others 45 – but I have incredible flexibility. On the downside – we make certain budgetary sacrifices to make this type of lifestyle work.

    What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
    What has always worked for my family is flexible childcare! Because I have hours that are not traditional (on the days I work I could NEVER do a 5 PM school pick-up – I generally work until 9 or 10 at night) we rely on two key childcare providers. Our nanny is amazing. She works for us three days a week – in particular she arrives early in the morning and helps minimize the early morning chaos. I am NOT a morning person, but because she helps at this key time I get to work on time and keep my sanity intact! She leaves early on Thursdays (one of her three work days) and that is how we make the finances work and she can be there when I need her the most for my own emotional state
    and happiness. We are also blessed to send our son to a preschool that does not penalize you for a late pick-up or a change of schedule. Need him to stay until 3 PM instead of 1 PM? Of course! Add an extra day that isn’t usually scheduled? Absolutely! They do charge us a set amount for the extra add-ons – but just knowing that if I have a funeral come up or am in a counseling session I don’t have to leave in the middle or risk my life rushing to be on time is a huge relief.

    Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
    Lately we struggle on Friday afternoons! Something always goes wrong and plans go awry. I help lead worship services at the synagogue on average two Friday evenings each month. My husband will commute from Cambridge to Newton to meet us at the synagogue and take the children home. Something always goes wrong. There is terrible traffic and I end up late for services (has happened and been so embarrassing – imagine having someone announce to a room full of 200 people that their rabbi is late, stuck in traffic on 95!). One of the children has a tantrum and screams the entire car ride. Or – my husband is late from work. Then I find myself leading Shabbat services with two children – infant and toddler jumping up and down and on and off the bima (altar/stage). We can’t seem to fix this problem. We thought hiring a mother’s helper to meet me at the synagogue would work – it did help – but my son still had a tantrum when he realized I wasn’t going to stay with him too. We are still working to fix this one. Would love any ideas!!

    Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn’t
    work for you?

    Balance role models – I meet every other week with two other women clergy. They are slightly older and have children in late elementary school. They always have the best ideas and advice. One of them once told me – “Stop trying to fit your needs into the boundaries of what traditional childcare offers! Your life doesn’t fit those boundaries so why should your childcare needs.” I really felt like she gave me permission to find options that fit my schedule and emotional stressors. So now I hire help for early mornings when I’m not at my best and manage evenings (dinner and bedtime routines) on the evenings I’m not working on my own when I’m in a better frame of mind.

    What wouldn’t work for us — When I worked full time we had no family time on the weekends. Since I moved to my part-time position I really cherish the weekend time we have together as a family. Even if we just go grocery shopping it is really important to me that we do it together. Not only can my husband and I support each other – we get out of the house so much faster when there are the two of us getting the kids ready – but we can actually relax a little and have fun. I missed those unstructured hours terribly. It doesn’t work for us to be overscheduled on the weekends. We don’t do a lot of play dates or programmed activities. My kids are still little so we will have to see if this is realistic as they get older.

    Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to
    be then?

    My mom died four years ago. I never expected at the age of 18 to be raising two kids without my mother around and available to help! My mother-in-law lives in Canada – she is very helpful when we see her – but it isn’t all that often. What I have learned is that none of us should ever take our family – especially family that is ready and willing to help (even if the help isn’t always perfect or the way we would do it ourselves) for granted.


    3 responses to “Having it All: Rabbi Mom”

    1. Thanks for your honesty!

      A couple of ideas for Fridays, based on my own experience:

      – always have him spend the service time in the same room, ideally with the same caregiver
      – have a cool toy that he only gets to use then (e.g. a Noah’s ark Playmobil set) and a cool snack
      – give him an hour of regularly-scheduled concentrated mommy time either before the service or the day before (so that his ‘mommy’ tank is full, so to speak)

      Also my son had (has!) a lovey, a small stuffed horse named Douglas. I would make Douglas come ‘alive’ by moving his head and hooves & would have a conversation with Douglas about appropriate synagogue behavior.

    2. Rabbi Allison DOES do it all, and impressively at that. She’s the perfect candidate for this blog. When the rest of us are falling to pieces trying to figure out how to make it all work with our kids and other commitments, she is the one calming us down, helping us to reevaluate our expectations, and set our priorities in order. I can attest to this from personal experience. Bravo Allison! You are a calm and empathic role model for even the “experienced” parents among your flock!

    3. Kari-I just saw your post tonight for the first time! Your ideas are defimitely helpful. I think the Douglas idea is great! There is a monkey that might do the trick. I am looking forward to trying it.

      Lori- it is all a facade!! Well sometimes….I really appreciate hearing that is how I come across.

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