The Parenting Chatzitza: A Lesson in Letting Go

Recently I had the honor to be on a Beit Din overseeing the conversion of a new born. Clearly the main role in this ritual is verifying the parents intent to raise the child in a proper Jewish household. Are the parents committed to educate the child to be upstanding , observant, and devoted member of the Jewish people. There is also a technical element of the ritual. We need to make sure that the child completely submerged into the mikvah. The child needs to immerse completely without a chatzitza. This is a foreign object or even the body itself in an unnatural position that interposes between the body and the water. If someone has a chatzitza on their on her body when they go to the mikveh in order to purify themselves the tevilah is ineffective.

As is the case with of a conversion of a minor, one of the parents went in with the new born. We inspected the child to make sure they did not have a chatzitza. A new born does not know to close their mouth when going under water. So we instruct the parent to blow in their face to startle them. They will inhale, then they can dunk the child without risk. Just before the parent did the ritual, another Rabbi on the Beyt Din said to the parent, ” When you do that, you will need to let go for a second.” In this case, the parent of the child is himself a chatzitza. Regarding the tevilah if the parent did not let go it would have been ineffective.

I paused for a moment realizing the profundity of what he was saying. The act of parenting is the act of supporting, connecting, loving, and cleaving to a child. And at the same time the act of parenting demands that we learn to let go over time. As I learned from my teacher Dr. Betsy Stone, pediatrician and parent-infant therapist D. W. Winnicott, wrote:

While it is hard to imagine this being the case for a new born in a pool of water, this is complexity of parenting. How do we support and frustrate our children so that they grow? When we pause to think about it, we are but young creatures awash in a galaxy in which we could easily drown. There is a depth of realizing that even those that love the child most might be a chatzitza, a barrier to their growth and development. We cannot be helicopter or snowplow parents. We need to prepare the child for the way, and not the way for the child. Gradually we need to let go so they can fall but not fail. In the process of they will adapt, tolerate the frustration, learn to swim, and emerge pure.

-See resource I made with Dr. Betsy Stone –Eating Makes Us Hunger: Yearning for More in 5783

-See related source sheet – Chatzitzah: Lesson in Parenting

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