Sisterhood Blog

'Having it All' as an Ex-Hasidic Woman

By Frimet Goldberger

  • Print
  • Share Share

Lean in, Sheryl Sandberg, another feminist bites the dust and realizes she can’t “have it all.”

This epiphany came as I boarded a Delta flight from Montego Bay to JFK two weeks ago. My husband and I took a weeklong trip to magnificent Negril Beach, or what I like to call Paradise, Jamaica, to celebrate two momentous occasions — our 10th wedding anniversary and my graduation from Sarah Lawrence College. We spent our days basking in the warm Caribbean sunshine, drinking one too many strawberry daiquiris, and reveling in the freedom of being unplugged from everyone and everything. What resulted was a week of epic discoveries about myself and my family, as well as the realization that, in pursuit of personal ambitions, my priorities may have shifted. Somehow along the way, I went from being family-first to career-first.

The fierce drive to get places, to transcend the limits of my predestined path in life as a stay-at-home mom, is something I have been struggling with ever since I left Kiryas Joel, the Hasidic enclave in upstate New York where I grew up. I use the word “struggle” not to derogate ambition, but rather to explain why I find it increasingly difficult to find a work/life balance as a girl who became a mother before she was ever a woman.

I was 19 when I gave birth to my son, as is the custom in Hasidic communities where boys and girls marry in their late teens and immediately start a family. Most of my friends and classmates were in the same boat at that age — engaged, married, pregnant or even already parenting one or two children. My husband and I never felt alone, nor did we question our maturity in rearing children at such a young age. I was a good, happy mother cooing over my bundle of joy, which soon became bundles of joy when my daughter arrived 22 months later. There were no big academic or career aspirations to worry about; no “having it all” dreams to chase; no Facebook and Twitter to update as I wiped goo off my children’s faces. I spent my days combing customers’ sheitels (wigs) — a task that put extra cash in our pockets but did not bring personal satisfaction — and matching ruffled socks to my children’s clothing. I cooked dinner in the morning, cleaned my floors obsessively and tended to the children most of my days.

It all changed when we left our Hasidic community. I no longer derived satisfaction from the things I had done before. I was now free to dream. There was a whole new world out there, a world in which success is measured by outward achievement, not the simple, yet essential, stay-at-home work mothers do that keeps the wheels of the world turning. I became a dream-chaser, stretching myself thin to “have it all.”

To live life in reverse, to be thrust into parenthood prior to building a secure foundation as an adult, means sacrifice every step of the way. The sacrifices I made having children at a young age were not entered into consciously, nor did they feel terribly sacrificial. In my little world, I was an adult at 19, and I was certainly better prepared to handle the endless challenges of parenting than your average secular girl at that age. I realized only after I started my new life outside Hasidism what I had given up by becoming a young mother: beginning a career and finding financial security without the responsibilities of parenting.

Courtesy of Frimet Goldberger
Frimet Goldberger poses with her children at a pumpkin patch.

For all the rewards of academic success and finding my creative voice, for doing the things I am passionate about and telling the stories that I feel need to be heard, there is a price I pay. Yes, I have taken immense pride in my dual existence — being a loving mother and wife and pursuing my dreams in the professional world. But, in pursuit of “having it all,” I may have fogged up the proverbial glasses and lost sight of my priorities. To be sure, my children are always well taken care of — they always wear clean clothing and eat warm, home-cooked dinners, receive copious amounts of positive motivation and discipline, are showered with hugs and kisses and spend many hours of quality time with their parents. We are also fully involved in their school’s affairs and I take great pride in having a freezer chock-full of home-baked goods for them to enjoy. And of course there is the goo to wipe.

However, I am no superwoman. The time and effort it takes to “make it” in the real world is all-consuming. It is nearly impossible — no, positively impossible — for me to give 100 percent in both arenas. My biggest nightmare is to look back on my children’s’ formative years and realize I could have given more, I could have spent more time with them, I could have been a more present parent. I fear I am living this nightmare right now.

On that plane ride home from Jamaica, my husband and I spoke about our resolutions for this new decade of our life together. My resolutions are now hanging all over the walls of our house — one of them scribbled in purple ink is “Family is first.” Ambitions be damned, I am committed to being here for my children first.

Gender is not the barrier that is holding me hostage and preventing me from the coveted life of “having it all.” No woman — or man — can “have it all.”

But perhaps we can have what we have, and take pride and joy in it.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In, Having it All, Jewish, Hasidic, Frimet Goldberger

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.