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Giving My Children Something More Than I Had Growing Up

June 7, 2017 | by Rachel Barmatz

Despite having less than I did as a child, I’m giving my kids a greater love and understanding of their Jewish heritage.

Like many millennials, I am concerned about the economy and how it affects my family life. My husband and I have at times earned more than twice what my mom and dad did (adjusted for inflation), but have never lived half as "well."

I can blame part of this on the rising costs of living and education. Another part can be ascribed to choices that we have made, like getting married young (and penniless!) and having four children close together rather than two children spaced out by six years like my parents did. And most significantly, the decision my husband and I made, independently, to become fully practicing, Orthodox Jews.

I'm happy with our choices, but I feel some guilt about shortchanging our kids when I compare their childhood to mine. All parents like to imagine that their kids will have a better life with more opportunities than they had and failing to live up to that goal is a disappointment.

When I was born in 1986, my parents had already owned a home for nearing a decade. One of my parents had a Bachelor's Degree and the other an Associate's Degree. Both graduated without any debt by working menial jobs through college or by getting help from their parents. They had decent enough jobs. My mom worked as a Lab Technician/Researcher and my father worked as a Department Manager of various grocery stores and then as a Tractor Trailer Driver after a change of career. They were hardworking, conscientious, and dependable employees that overall liked their jobs, but by no means did they have particularly lucrative careers. And yet I look back and see that we lived in relative abundance and that our money went a lot further than it does today.

My parents had employment benefits and affordable heath insurance covered by their employers. We owned a timeshare and spent at least a week every year at a beach condo. Since my parents did not get home until dinnertime, we would often eat out several times per week and order whatever we wanted off of the menu.

When my mom gave birth to me and my sister, she was able to take a year off from working. My sister and I attended private school and could choose whatever extra-curricular activities (horseback riding, tennis, art and music lessons, ballet) we wanted. We each had two American Girl dolls and even visited Disney World and Disney Land.

Our investment in our kids doesn't come from the coolest new toys. It comes from a deep sense of Jewish pride and a connection to our Jewish heritage.

Today I can't even fathom the idea of affording a time share, healthcare costs, lengthy maternity leave, student loan payments... the list goes on. My kids aren't getting vacations, grand birthday parties, or resume-building extra-curricular activities, and on the rare occasion that we go to a restaurant (a harrowing and generally unpleasant occasion when you're with four small children), we're conscientious about the price.

I look back on how I was raised and appreciate that I was extremely privileged and had zero concept of it. I just thought this was “normal.”

So besides the basic necessities, what are we giving our kids? Well, there is one key area I feel we are actually surpassing our parents and that’s instilling Jewish values and living a Torah-observant life. Our investment in our kids doesn't come from the varied experiences that money can buy, the coolest new toys and wildest gadgets, not from pricey summer camps and private guitar lessons. It comes from something we consider more valuable: a deep sense of Jewish pride and a connection to our Jewish heritage.

My husband and I didn’t grow up Orthodox; we had a sense of our religion and culture, but knew little about the gamut of mitzvot or how one might actually incorporate them into daily life. We were an American and an Israeli before we were Jews. Our wonderful parents spent every effort to provide for us materially and educationally, for which we are eternally grateful. Now my husband and I are hoping to give to our kids something more than that, something that we both discovered on our separate ways to adulthood. We want to share with them the beauty of Jewish life, Israel, our homeland, the magic of Shabbos and the Jewish holidays, Torah scholarship and Jewish character traits and values.

Along with ensuring their independence as upstanding, generous, and whole members of society, a top priority for us is to ensure that they will pass on the tradition that we nearly missed out on and that they will consider themselves Jews first and foremost. With God's grace and our hard work, in the future we'll offer our kids more in the way of what money can buy. But until then, I'm grateful for the opportunity to try to give our kids something more than what we received, a stronger Jewish identity, a comprehensive, stimulating Torah education, and a profound love of their heritage and their people.

This trumps all the “extras” of childhood.

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