I’m debuting a new term here on the blog–”Rabbi Mom.” As your child’s primary spiritual teacher, you’re always in teaching mode. Remember Deuteronomy 6? It commands parents to teach their kids about God when they get up in the morning and go to bed at night, and when they’re at home or out doing life in the world. (And by the way, “Rabbi Mom” isn’t actually just moms. There are some pretty great Rabbi Dads out there, too!) That’s a lot of teaching and reaching. Getting burned out isn’t a possibility; it’s a take-it-to-the-bank promise. And it’s not a one-time thing, either. There are going to be multiple times when you’re straight up burned out as a spiritual teacher, so we gotta plan ahead to avoid Rabbi Mom burnout.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Deuteronomy 6:4-7
What Does “Rabbi Mom” Even Mean?
Why “Rabbi Mom”? It’s the perfect picture of what should be happening at home. I don’t know if this is still how it works with rabbis today, but historically, when a rabbi took a student, it was major. The student followed the rabbi everywhere, watching and copying everything he did. How he studied Scripture, how he taught it, how he prayed, how he washed his hands, how he interacted with different people, how he ate, etc.
Hauntingly familiar, isn’t it? If you’ve had a toddler at home, you know darn well that kids do this naturally! In fact, there’s not a mom out there who hasn’t reached the point (um, daily?) of needing her child to back off for a minute and give her some space. When going to the bathroom with the door closed becomes your staycation, you’re in it. And when they start copying everything you do, it’s both cute and terrifying. So…yeah. The rabbi/student relationship looks a whole lot like a parent/child relationship. As Christians, that’s a huge leg up in doing the discipling we should be doing at home. And along the way.
Know this: Discipling kids is playing the long game.
It’s a lot of time and energy to teach your kids how to read and understand their Bibles, how to pray, how to minister to others, how to seek God in daily life, and how to become more like Jesus every day. There will be times when you’re brimming with ideas and energy. But there will be times when you’re running on empty. You’re out of ideas, or in a demanding season of life, or nothing seems to be working with your kiddo. Burning out doesn’t mean tagging out, though, so you’re best offense really is a good defense.
Simple, Powerful Ways to Avoid Burnout
Here are some ways to avoid that burnout, or to avoid staying stuck in it:
Be in community.
We aren’t meant to do this big job alone, and we can’t. Obviously, you have to stay connected to God throughout. And listen to Him. But you also need other people, especially other parents who are where you are or ahead of you. Other moms in your situation are a great source of new ideas, encouragement, and commiseration. God wired us for community, and we need relationships with other believers. There are things in community you can only get from community. It can be your Sunday School class, your MOPS group, your best girlfriends, or a Bible study group. If you’re not in one right now, you’ve got to make finding one a priority. If you wait until you’re in burnout mode, it’s too late for this round of burnout. It’s critical to build relationships before you are in dire need. And guess what. Your being in a community puts you in position to help someone else when they’re in burnout. Your community needs you as much as you need it.
Moms are pretty darn awesome. But you can’t give what you don’t have. Nobody is that awesome. Think about how you charge your phone every day to keep it juiced up. You have to keep yourself charged, too. You do that by feeding yourself with Bible study (either in a group or on your own, if you have the skills) and consistent prayer. Think about it. If you’re not praying to the One who created you and your child, and Who knows every single thing about your child including his future, you are rejecting the absolute best source of wisdom about your particular child. And if you aren’t studying God’s Word and growing in your own understanding, what exactly do you plan on teaching your child about the Bible? And oh, you just wait and see how sweetly God will minister to you in your time with Him!
Don’t just feed yourself spiritually–have a feast!
Trade off with your spouse.
If you are married, and your spouse is a believer, you’re in luck! God’s design for families is two parents sharing the work of rearing godly children. It’s not all on your shoulders, and it’s not all on your spouse’s shoulders. That means you don’t have to know everything, and you don’t always have to be “on.” God knows what He’s doing, people. Even more than that, because women are different from men, you each have something unique and important to teach your kids. And you probably do it in very different ways. All of this means that your child benefits over and over and over.
Mix it up.
That’s not just your child. Sometimes, it’s you! When you find something that works, it’s such a relief. You know what to do and how to do it, and then you’re making it happen. Even within a week, you’ll want to have a variety of things you’re doing. For example: praying at certain times, praying spontaneously, games, songs, movies, Bible study, Bible journaling, Sunday School, VBS, telling a Bible story, etc. You will have several of those in a single week, and that will do two things: 1) It keeps things energetic and interesting, and 2) It makes spirituality organic in your life because it pops up in so many different ways. You’re teaching your child to keep his head and heart bent toward the Lord, and talking about Him in different ways accomplishes that.
Be aware, though, that what works now isn’t going to work forever. There may be a day when you need to do something different, and there will definitely be a day when you realize your child has grown past what you’ve been doing. And it’s time to find something else. When you first start to feel prompted to change things up, do it sooner than later. Try not to let it get stale for your child. And as your child gets older, you’ll be able to get more input from them.
Keep the big picture of growing up in mind.
When discouragement is burning you out, remember this: Your child is growing up, which means he’s in a process of constant change. What’s discouraging right now is probably related to that. Can’t figure out how to get her interested in Bible study? Can’t keep his attention for more than ten minutes? She suddenly refuses to do hand movements to songs you’ve been singing for three years? He is way more interested in doing Bible study on Wednesday nights with his friends than with you? It’s growing up. All of it. And that’s just part of the deal. That’s how God made kids, so you just ride the wave. Rely on God to discern if something is a real heart issue, but it’s usually just the fact that your child is changing. All the time. For 18 years. Be flexible, and course correct as best you can. (If you’re in community, this is where those moms with older kids are your new best friends.)
So, Rabbi Mom, there you have it. Burnout is inevitable, so expect it…and plan for it. But it never has to be permanent, and it’s one of those paradoxical gifts. It’s hard and makes you want to bury your head under a pile of pillows, but it’s also a gift because it drives you back to the Lord and keeps you dependent on Him.
How old are your kids? Have you hit periods of burnout yet? What was the one thing that got you past it? Tell us in the comments so we can add it to our tool belts!
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