Mrs. Malkie Rivkin, shlucha to New Orleans, Louisiana reflects on the blessing of children and what has inspired her over the years.
Based on an Anash.org exclusive interview with Mrs. Malkie Rivkin
Editor’s note: It is well known that pekuach nefesh, health and emotional wellbeing are of the highest priorities in Torah. There are situations where one must speak to a rav and medical professionals to make the right decision for their unique circumstances. The intention of this article is to inspire and give strength to young parents.
In 1967, the Rebbe began speaking about mivtza tefillin. In the years that followed, the Rebbe strongly pushed this campaign, setting a standard for Lubavitchers – when you see a Yid, you ask him if he put on tefillin today.
In the early years of shlichus, the Rebbe sent young couples to places where there was ‘no one and nothing’ – no resources, no family nearby, no chinuch, they rarely even had the ability to visit home.
The mesiras nefesh this required was amplified by the fact that according to logic, it made no sense. How could one raise children in such a place? And yet, looking back we can see that the Rebbe has clear vision, and that what seemed like a revolutionary idea really works.
As we can see from the above examples, when the Rebbe began promoting a concept that was so different from the norms of the time, he was establishing an expectation for the chassidim of our generation and encouraging us to be ready to go a tefach hecher.
It was no different when the Rebbe addressed the importance of having children. Al pi teva, it seems beyond rational expectation; how does one provide for many children on a limited income? What effect will this have on our marriages, our children, our own wellbeing? Yet over and over again the Rebbe tells us that we do have the kochos, and that having children does not take away from the brochos in these areas of life.
The Rebbe instilled a sense of urgency in us; for chassidim, the mitzvah of pru ur’vu is of the highest priority. You have probably read, watched videos of or listened to recordings of the Rebbe’s strong words on this topic.The Rebbe has a vision for us that is l’maala min hateva.
This can be a challenging mentality to embrace. My experiences over the years have enhanced my appreciation of this ideal and I would like to share some of them with you.
My viewpoint about having children developed organically – it was shaped by the attitudes of people around me. From an early age, it was clear to me that my parents see children as one of the greatest brochos a person could have in life.
My mother would speak about her friends who were having their eleventh, twelfth child with such awe and excitement. My parents make the effort to attend every bris, and enthusiastically participate in the simcha of welcoming a new child. The news that someone is Baruch Hashem expecting is received with great simcha.
Growing up, I went to Camp Emunah, where I was later counselor, head counselor and ruchniyus director. I had the privilege of being around Rebetzin Chave Hecht shetichye and her family, which was a huge inspiration to me.
I looked up to people who were Baruch Hashem blessed with many children. Among others, I was inspired by my aunt Henny Machlis a”h, a legendary mother who is the subject of the book ‘Emunah with Love and Chicken Soup.’ There were others whose families I watched grow as I was in the early stages of motherhood.
I’m sure there are some people who look at some families and think it’s crazy, but if you look at them and say it’s beautiful, where does that thought lead? A positive perspective is something that comes from within, it’s cultivated. You can look at these people and say that’s not for me, or you can try to emulate them in your own unique way.
Being surrounded by supportive people is helpful. My husband’s bubby a”h would take expectant family members shopping. “We have to buy ‘yomtov’ – i.e. maternity – clothes for you!” she would say with excitement. It made the mother feel special about having a child.
My in-laws cherish each new addition to the family and make their excitement very tangible. My mother in law lavishes praise and support on us when we’re expecting and after giving birth. “You’re bringing in the next generation, we have to support and take care of you.” When parents speak and act this way, it is so encouraging to young parents and parents-to-be.
I know people who would tell their parents that they’re expecting, only to be met with questions about how they would manage and if they were really up to it. These questions, though asked out of compassion and concern, may end up making the expectant mother feel more anxious and doubtful. Imagine how much easier it is to embrace each new pregnancy when focused on the brochos, the excitement, and how special this mitzvah is!
The seeds that are being planted around us, as well as the seeds that we plant for others have an impact. Even the doctor you choose makes a difference! When your doctor is non-supportive of your lifestyle of having many children it can have a negative affect on you.
Contrast that with a doctor who smiles at the end of a post-partum visit and says, “Hope to see you when you are expecting again!” or who proudly shares that they have delivered someone’s 8th, 9th child. This can be very encouraging.
It goes without saying that both husband and wife should be on the same page in this area. Any questions they have should be addressed with input from medical professionals, a mashpia and a rav. In addition, we must be very careful not to judge others in this area. This is a very private matter and there are many variables that we are likely not privy to – it is simply none of our business.
We can’t control what others say to or about us, but we can make an effort to surround ourselves (or keep in close touch) with people who support our mission and our values. Most importantly, we should realize that the most powerful voice is our inner voice – we have the power to reframe this for ourselves.
Mah shelibo chafetz – what your heart desires is what you go towards.
It is normal to feel overwhelmed; perhaps your body aches, your house is a mess and you’re so tired, with barely a moment to yourself – and you may need to express that. However, if we can remind ourselves of what a brocha this is and what a special thing we are doing, it can really help us embrace it, and it makes it easier to smile even about the hard things.
If the focus is on how crazy and difficult it is, it is so much harder to handle those difficulties. When it is reframed as a goal and dream, one of the most important and fulfilling things you will ever do, it will actually give you more energy and strength! Of course, on a practical level, getting whatever help is available to us is a key component to managing, and something the Rebbe advised people to do.
I have met so many people who say that they wish they would have had more children when they had the chance. We may not be rich with money, but with our children, we’re millionaires!
Some will have a harder time with this than others. What if you aren’t the most nurturing person, or being a parent wasn’t a dream you always had? Maybe there are things that are important to you that you are sacrificing, and that’s hard.
So give yourself a big pat on the back with each child that is Baruch Hashem born. Tell yourself that you are amazing – you really are! Surround yourself with even more positive reminders that this is one of the biggest brochos. It’s one of the most important things you will ever do, and no one else can do it for you!
Sometimes we need to re-examine our mindset. We may feel that we are sacrificing ourselves for the sake of having children, out of a sense of duty. Focusing on the joy and nachas our children bring us and the aspects of parenting that fulfill us is a powerful way to reframe these thoughts. Instead of feeling forced, we can feel empowered.
Don’t forget to validate yourself – yes, it’s challenging sometimes, and it’s okay to recognize that.
Hands Full… of Blessing
Find the why that inspires you, and put reminders of that why in front of you. Words have power- actually saying the words to ourselves helps. “This is such a brocha. I’m so blessed! I have the strength to do this, and to do it with simcha even when it’s hard.”
When greeted by passersby with a stare and comments like “You certainly have your hands full,” a smile and “Yep, full of lots of fun and blessings” is a great reply!
Different things may come across your radar over the years. After I already had several children ka”h, I was at the Ohel and saw a sicha where the Rebbe talks about Matan Torah and the words ‘Anochi Hashem Elokecha.’ Matan Torah is taking place in front of 600,000 men plus women, children and seniors, yet Hashem is speaking in the singular! It doesn’t make sense grammatically.
According to p’shat, this is because Hashem is speaking to each person individually. Here, however, the Rebbe related it to having children. When the little child is born, you tell him right away, you were singled out at Matan Torah! Every child that’s born is so precious and special.
Several years ago I bought Blossoms of Blessings, an anthology of essays by women writing about why they feel blessed to have large families and how they cope. I read it every so often, and it inspires me. One woman wrote something that really struck me: she would say, “I need a heter, I need a heter!” Her mashpia said to her, “Give yourself a heter to not have a spotlessly clean house. Get a heter to have pizza for dinner, or to make a few simple mishloach manos.”
It can be an amazing paradigm shift. Often we have expectations of ourselves (or of life) that are unnecessary and maybe even unrealistic. Letting go of expectations can allow us to embrace the brochos of having children.
One of the traps we fall into is that when there’s stress in the home, we attribute the problem to the size of our family. Someone once shared with me that when she had to take one of her children to a psychologist, her mashpia cautioned her not to let the psychologist convince her that this is a result of her having many children. If that were the case, there would only be a few therapists in the world, for large families.
The reality is that it’s a booming industry – many people are struggling for various reasons. It’s possible that the structure of large families can exacerbate some issues, but let’s not idealize and convince ourselves that if we had less children, we wouldn’t have these struggles.
Unfortunately, there are hardships in this world. People struggle with parnassah, nachas, sholom bayis, mental and physical health – regardless of the size of their family. In fact, the Rebbe clearly tells us that having children actually brings more brochos into our lives!
We don’t have to look so far back to realize that going l’maala min hateva does not diminish our brochos in the gashmiyusdik realm. Think about how we, as chassidim, enter marriage after barely getting to know our spouse. We would think that the ‘way of the world’ should work and ours should fail, but we see this is not the case. On average, yiddishe marriages are healthier, happier and stronger, with Hashem’s help.
Looking at the finances, the numbers often don’t add up. Perhaps you need to buy something for the family, and you don’t know where the money will come from. That’s when you can turn to the ‘Third Partner’. Similarly, when it comes to tuition, we must include our Third Partner and choose what’s best b’ruchnius for our child, trusting that He will come through for us even though it makes no sense logically.
Relinquishing control and embracing Hashem’s plan is very empowering. May we all have many revealed brochos to embrace! May all who are awaiting the brocho of zara chaya vkayama be blessed immediately with the fulfillment of this brocha. May each of us be blessed with banei, chayei and mezone in full abundance, with chassidishe nachas and happiness in all areas of life, as we merit Moshiach now!
Photo credit: Rivkie Vorst