Nurture the WOW: Spirituality and Parenting
Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting by Danya Ruttenberg (Flatiron Books, 320 pp. $24.99)
In her new book, Nurture the Wow, Conservative Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg explores the mundane and mystical, frustrating and fascinating, physical and philosophical aspects of raising children. Using self-deprecating humor and situations from her own life, Ruttenberg ties the act of parenting to the practice of prayer and spirituality. She also questions preconceived and deeply embedded notions of how to be spiritual. “It’s possible that our kids can be important teachers who help us better find the doorways to the transcendent,” she writes.
Before her first child was born, Ruttenberg prayed the fixed liturgy three times a day. “Then Yonatan was born. My prayer life tanked,” she writes. She asked herself, “Was having a kid going to keep me from accessing the holy?” Ruttenberg describes a harrowing day that culminated in her 1-year-old vomiting during a bath. She was almost out of patience when she prayed, “Help me,” and something amazing happened: “I remembered that I loved him and that I was the grown-up and that we were going to be O.K.”
Ruttenberg realized she had been praying for a while, not only by asking for help when things got rough, but “at those times when we’re able to look at our kids and think: Wow.”
Ruttenberg based her insights on Jewish and other religious texts, aligning specific aspects of child rearing to covenantal relationships, empathy, importance of community, joy and awe. For example, on the repetitiveness of parenting, she writes, “Over and over and over: cut grapes, wipe noses. Pick up the dump truck. Wipe nose again.” Referring to the Jewish philosopher Max Kadushin’s term “normal mysticism,” she said there is “an engagement with the holy that permeates every activity.” Ruttenberg writes that she is often “bewildered by the short strangers with bad table manners who live in her home,” but instructs that one of the most important things we learn from our children is how to be in the moment, even when it’s messy.
Nurture the Wow is Ruttenberg’s journey to a revelation, “the idea that caring for children could be a core, crucial, even cornerstone aspect of one’s spiritual and religious life, that loving and caring for them should be integrated into one’s spiritual and religious expression.”
She makes a case that the thread that binds us to our children is the same thread that binds us to our spirituality. “Sometimes our children themselves offer the way in,” she writes. “And sometimes how they change us is the way in.”