Parenthood taught me a great many things. It taught me to function on far less sleep and far more caffeine than I thought was humanly possible. It taught me to take multi-tasking to new extremes. It taught me to avoid candy stores at all costs.
But perhaps most painfully, it taught me what it truly means to feel helpless.
From those long nine months of pregnancy, through childbirth, and then on and on through nursing and potty training and education, parenthood forced me to accept that not everything is within my control. I could obsess over nutrition all I want, read every childbirth book out there, go from one parenting workshop to another… But at the end of the day, my kid’s health, birth, and personality were never fully up to me.
I was forced to accept this truth when I lay strapped to a hospital bed, carted into an emergency C section, my “I want a natural birth, I want to breathe and walk through the pain” birth plan a crumpled, irrelevant piece of paper in my bag. My desires and efforts, I realized then, would never be enough again.
Helplessness is a terrible feeling. But it can also be the bedrock of growth. When God created the heavens and earth, explains the second version of the creation story in this week’s parasha, “No herb of the field had yet sprung up; for God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.” (Genesis, 2, 5). It took man noticing the need for rain and praying for it, explains Rashi, to cause change. Adam had to try and till the ground and fail. He had to realize that the plants required something beyond his powers. Only then, upon accepting his limits and helplessness, could he pray for rain – and bring about the completion of creation.
Adam’s helplessness in that foundational moment was not a weakness. It was rather what pushed him to go beyond the bounds of physical existence and his own self, and change reality profoundly in the process. When Adam prayed, he shattered the walls between the spiritual and the physical aspects of reality. He brought physical needs into our conversation with God, and brought God into the human experience of physical life. And in so doing, he allowed life to evolve on earth, and completed creation as God’s partner.
We often say that parenthood is a partnership with God. Our sages described each child’s creation as a joint venture of three parties – the mother, the father, and God Himself. But perhaps the true meaning of this partnership, and its full potential to transform our life for the better, can only come to light when we accept our helplessness and seek help.
The Twelve Steps Program speaks of hitting rock bottom as a necessary precondition for healing. Only when we accept that we can’t heal ourselves, it suggests, can we seek help from some greater power and make progress.
Parenthood isn’t normally that dire. We can live our lives quite happily even as emergency C sections, challenging children or morning sickness expose the limits of our control. But maybe we can achieve more by embracing these moments than we do by ignoring them. Maybe we can use them to grow beyond ourselves, and seek partnerships around us – and above.
The first version of the creation story places a man and a woman in a complete world with the instructions to fill and conquer it. Their existence is self sufficient, empowered, and in my opinion – dreadfully lonely. All they do is live side by side, following the call of their nature, unaware of anything beyond.
It is only the second version of Adam, the one that prays for rain, who is instructed to go beyond conquering, and “work and take care” of the world. It is no coincidence that from the two versions of Adam, only this one goes on to develop an actual relationship with Eve by addressing and naming her. Caring for others can only come hand in hand with accepting our own limitations, and all the ways we are incomplete.
As parents, we are entrusted with an awesome burden of care. And we can choose how to carry it.
We can follow in the footsteps of the first version of Adam and rely wholly upon ourselves as we carry our burden.
Or, like the second Adam, we can embrace the helplessness, imperfections and needs that come with caring, and open ourselves up to meaningful relationships with other people, with greater powers, and eventually – with our children themselves.