Ask Miriam | Can I Bring a Small Child to Shiva?

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Dear Miriam,

An acquaintance’s mother passed away, and I am easily able to attend a shiva visit, so I would like to do so. My question is whether it is appropriate to bring my toddler to the shiva house. Would a young child’s presence be appreciated at such an event, or would it not be received positively? I am leaning toward taking him because of child care logistics and thinking that a cute kid would brighten everyone’s mood, but I just want to make sure it won’t offend any of the family.  

Signed,

Tough Times, Cute Kid

Dear Times,

Just a few weeks ago, I answered a question about the basics of attending shiva, so for anyone who wants to read that one first, go ahead. For the author of this question, though, it sounds like you have the basics down. Your question is both practical (should I bring my kid to shiva) and philosophical (how do we balance the tension between the end of life and the beginning of life).  

Practically, it’s usually fine to bring a kid to shiva, and you’re right that it can lighten people’s moods. Make sure you bring some toys and snacks and that you’re prepared to make a quick exit as needed. 

Keep in mind, though, that shiva can be loud, crowded and emotional. You know best if that is an environment where your child will shine, if it will stress him out or if his behaviors might stress you out. A crying or rambunctious kid isn’t an ideal addition to a shiva house for anyone involved. Try to avoid attending during a minyan time, when there will be more quiet attention needed, and the house is likely to be more crowded than at other times. 

It may also be helpful to check in with someone who has been to this particular shiva house already (but not one of the mourners). Ask if the house is set up to accommodate kids, and if they think the family would appreciate having a toddler around. If any of the mourners themselves have kids, having another parent and toddler there could be a good distraction and also provide a minute for the parents to take care of themselves while the kids play. 

Philosophically, shiva is about the full cycle of life, and having kids there can remind the mourners of that in a beautiful and powerful way. There are wide-ranging opinions on kids making noises in synagogue services, and some of that may extend to other Jewish rituals as well, depending on the family. Funerals are probably a no go for toddlers, as would be a shiva house where, God forbid, a child has passed away. 

Going to shiva is a huge mitzvah and, even if bringing your kid means you can only stay for a few minutes, in this case, that’s still the right thing to do. Every shiva house has a different vibe, so you really won’t know until you get there, which I hope you do.

Be well,

Miriam

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