I am wondering how I can celebrate Shavuot when all the events in my area are late-night celebrations that don’t really accommodate parents of young kids, especially since my spouse has to work a night shift that night. Do I go for a little bit? Do I not go at all and eat cheese at home by myself? Is there some third option?
Parenting on Shavuot
In 2013, when I had a 2-year-old and a 2-month-old, I wrote a column entitled, “How is Shavuot like Parenthood,” (correction below) so you should read it as a sort of consolation prize for the fact that you probably can’t have the Shavuot celebration you long for. Even though my kids are now 4 and 6, if I weren’t in charge of a huge community-wide Shavuot celebration (to which you are all invited), I would never even consider staying up past midnight, let alone all night long.
The resurgence of communal Shavuot celebrations, particularly the Tikkun Leil Shavuot — learning Torah all through the night — is great for the Jewish community in many, many ways, However, one way in which it is not is making parents of young children feel isolated in their holiday observances, when they know large segments of the community are together while they are home doing bedtime.(The one exception is for parents who have newborns around Shavuot. Since they would likely be up much of the night anyway, they can enjoy the communal company during their 2 a.m. feedings for one night of the year.)
From personal experience, I know it would be difficult to get to one of these all-night events as a parent under the best of circumstances, but your spouse’s work schedule makes this especially prohibitive. You could hire a babysitter even for a couple of hours so that you could be part of the communal celebrations and still come home early enough to be able to parent your kids the next day.
Another idea is to invite a few friends over to learn Torah with you in your house (and maybe eat cheesecake) during the hours after your kids go to sleep but before you yourself need to go to sleep. Even if these friends are hoping to go to some communal all-night Tikkun, you can tell them they’d be doing a real mitzvah by joining you for a bit. Consider preparing some juicy discussion topics that would be less likely to appear in a communal learning environment.
If you have other parent friends in a similar situation, you could also organize something of your own during daytime hours. Invite a few other families with kids to meet in a park during the day on Shavuot for an ice cream social. Get together for an early holiday dinner and ask the kids to imagine what it was like to be at Mount Sinai. Read over this list of Shavuot-inspired activities for kids and see if anything speaks to you.
I hate it when people say this, but it’s also true: Your kids won’t be little forever. Some day you’ll be able to celebrate Shavuot with them, or alone, or however you want. I’m not saying you’ll miss being confined at home while everyone else is out eating blintzes together, but there will also be plenty of other opportunities in your life to learn Torah and to gorge on dairy in a communal setting. I hope whatever you end up doing this year has some good parts to it, and that you don’t just eat cheese alone.
Chag sameach, and be well,
“How is Shavuot like Parenthood” correction: We don’t read the Song of Songs on Shavuot. We read it on Passover. It’s hard to believe that this column has been posted for four years and no one ever corrected me on that mistake, but I’ll chalk it up to my own sleeplessness when I wrote it and everyone else’s compassion for said exhaustion. We famously read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot as well as, of course, passages from the Torah about the Ten Commandments and chapters from the prophets about revelation. My apologies for the mistake. You should still consider reading Song of Songs, though, if you want a good source for my previously-suggested juicy discussion topics.
Wow! Thank you for thoughtfully and compassionately addressing an issue I’ve been struggling with for the past 10 Shavuots!