Sins of the Parent

Franny Silverman
August 26, 2013
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And so, after all these things happened, the god tried something on Abraham.
GOD:   Abraham
ABRAHAM:   Here. I. Am.
GOD:   Take your son, your one and only, the one you love, that Isaac, and get going to the land of Moriah, and offer him up, as a burnt-offering, on one of the mountains there, the one that I say.
And Abraham woke up early in the morning, saddled up his donkey, and took two of his young workers and Isaac, his son, chopped the wood for the burnt-offering, and got up and went to the place that the god told him.
Genesis 221:1-3

As a first time parent approaching the high holidays, the universe has revealed to me a whole new world of “sins” to which I’m now suddenly susceptible — all basically to be filed under the category of: Screwing up Your Child.

My baby will not yet be 3 months old at the time of publication, however every day I am made more and more aware of how I can, and probably am, messing her up for life.
The newest sin brought to my attention is the empty praise sin. It goes like this:
Baby does something like burp.
I say “good burp!” As if there’s such a thing as a bad burp. Oh wait– there is, sort of, when she’s older and maybe on a date. Oy.

Baby poops.
I say “nice poop!” As if some poops are not “nice.”  As if “nice” actually means something here.  As if not pooping would result in some sort of torturous punishment from her evil mother.

Baby smiles or coos or claps or rolls, etc…
I applaud. As if her action is some great achievement — which it is to me, even if she’s done it before, even if it’s just a normal growing milestone. But just as the vague praising of her bodily functions could be setting her up for high anxiety/low achievement or inflated sense of self/deflated sense of menschlichkeit, so too could my nonverbal cues be teaching her that being smart means don’t try things that don’t come easily. Like math.
Sin. Possibly double sin.

Other parenting sins include objectifying my baby by calling her pretty, adorable or gorgeous (which she is,) forcing her into society’s construction of a gender binary  by dressing her in frilly pink things (even though that’s what people buy her so it’s really just me being thrifty,) and of course setting her up to be a monarch or a stereotype instead of an Oprah or a Hillary — by calling her the “p” word.

And the list goes on… sleeping sins, feeding sins, childcare sins, toy sins. Yup.
The sin of giving your child the wrong toy to play with.
You might know this one as the developmental/flame-retardant/plastic vs wood sin.

There’s even the family size sins: every child deserves a sibling for socialization/camaraderie/to share a parents’ oppressive love vs. zero population growth.  A sin no matter what you do. A Sin/Sin situation.

And as my baby grows older, the potential sins increase exponentially.  Any parent knows that.  As a new parent I already know this because:
1. Like you and everyone else, I am screwed up in part because of my parents’ sins (the sins they didn’t know they were committing, of course.)
2.  Most parents will offer their unsolicited advice on how to curb your sinning ahead of the time and then remind you that you know best and don’t listen to anyone.  Kind of like God telling Moses to sacrifice Isaac and saying “Psych!” at the eleventh hour.
Poor poor Isaac– so many sins wrought on that fella.  Abraham was more concerned with passing the test with his Big Papa than he was with screwing up Isaac for life– Ishmael as well, for that matter.  Of course all through the lens of modernity, right.  But even the Rabbis couldn’t completely accept Abraham’s blind devotion to God without considering how it affected his son. Midrash suggests that Isaac was so traumatized by the event that angels brought him to paradise in heaven to recover from his PTSD.

Screwing up children is clearly a biblical sin– both epic in proportion and highly common among our ancestors.  (Favoritism, neglect, shame, and deceit among the top sins chosen by the chosen parents.)This year in considering why we read the story of Abraham almost-sacrificing Isaac on Rosh Hashanah,  I can’t help but wonder if it’s only to relieve parents, particularly new parents, of the sins of self-hatred, guilt, shame, fear and distrust of one’s own intuition. The sins that really get in the way of being the best parents we can be.

So I turn to my daughter, and I look into her deep blue eyes that haven’t yet changed to the dark roast brown of her parents’, and maybe, as a first symbol of her independence, never will.   I ask for forgiveness for anything I may have done to hurt her whether I realized I was doing it or not.  She gazes back at me, drools, coos and flashes a big toothless smile.  And that’s enough for me.

Thanks to my friend and sister-in-law and new-mom comrade, Mara Leventhal, for the “sin”-sharing talks that led to this post. In this season of forgiveness, I hope you’ll forgive me for borrowing sentiments from our email exchanges 😉
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Franny Silverman is a Brooklyn-based actor, theatre-maker and educator. She is a co-founder of warner|shaw, and received Indiana University’s Jewish Studies Program’s 2012 Paul Artist-in-Residence for warner|shaw’s The Latvia Project. Franny has created and performed numerous new work for stage and ritual settings around the country as a founding company member of both Storahtelling and Northwoods Ramah Theatre. Performances with other companies include Brave New World Rep, The Culture Project, Estrogenius, Terranova Collective, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Epic Theatre, Passage Theatre Co, the Ontological-Hysteric, Little Lord, CUNY Grad Center, New Worlds Theater Project, NY Fringe Festival and Jewish Plays Project. Franny’s interactive seder installation,UnSeder|DisOrder, was presented by Chashama’s “Process is Fundamental” and she is the director of Ayelet Rose Gottlieb’s song-cycle Mayim Rabim/Great Waters (BRICLab, PS122, Wexner Center, Chicago Cultural Center). Franny is the Director of Youth Education at Brooklyn's progressive synagogue, Kolot Chayeinu. She is also a new mom to Sunhillow Belle.

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