The Sacred Mess of Parenting


The enchanted world of children has a malleability that we grown-ups often lose the ability to see, let alone partake in. Our kids' imaginations, ideas, and play often break the mundane, black-and-white rules that we pretend govern our adult world. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg writes, "Entering into play requires giving ourselves permission – permission to let go, permission for the game not to be played perfectly, and for the money piles to get messed up, permission to be a fool, permission to let it be OK if we get to the bath a few minutes late today. It requires a willingness to jettison our usual goals and agendas to experience the process...."

We often focus on our agendas and goals for our children, limiting our imagination for their lives to a linear trajectory from preschool to elementary school to high school to college to careers and families of their own. It's a clean and uncomplicated process that eludes the reality of raising children and gives us an illusion of control. But, we know life is messy, and our children remind us of that daily. They remind us that we can create worlds and better realities. They remind us how meaningful lives begin with meaningful relationships. They remind us that holiness is often found in the messiness of life.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches that Judaism encourages us to be thoughtful in how we construct our time. He writes that, "Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious."

May our children give us permission to be messy, play freely, and use wisely every precious hour we have together.


By Rabbi Alex Kress

Rabbi Kress serves Beth Shir Shalom, a warm and down-to-earth synagogue community at 19th and California Avenue. His work centers on pursuing justice, inclusion, and good synagogue coffee.

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