Candid Tips from Ayala Nivin’s FULL HOUSE

Candid Tips from Ayala Nivin’s FULL HOUSE

Last spring I posted an interview with mother of 14, Ayala Nivin of Ashdod. That inspirational article about the personal struggles, growth, and victories of this impressive mother of a very large family was one of the most popular articles I have ever written.

And then this past November Ayala Nivin was featured in Mishpacha Magazine. As someone who had written an article about Ayala myself, I was truly blown away by the far-superior Mishpacha article. So I posted a short excerpt from this article when it was published in November, but a bunch of moms wrote me begging me to post the entire article. Your wish is my command: here is the full-length article.

IMHO, this great JewishMOM’s inspirational story is a must-read for every single JewishMOM. (For your convenience, I have placed a line to mark the end of the previously posted excerpt of the article).

Queen Mother: Ayala Nivin’s Search for Dignity, Serenity, and Joy
by Chany Rosengarten

Ayala Nivin has a double-digit-sized family, and she nurtures her 14 children with aplomb. But it wasn’t always like that. The paradigm shift from resentful servant to dignified queen took time, thought, and a whole lot of nurturing — this time, of herself.

The Nivin Family at a son's bar mitzvah last spring


When you speak to Ayala Nivin about mothering and ask for her insights into raising a large, happy family, you hear many nuggets of wisdom. But one element threads itself throughout — royalty. “When there are tough moments,” says Ayala, “I try to connect with my inner sense of malchus, of royalty, and that really helps. It leads me to what I feel is the second commandment of Jewish mothers: Remember you are a queen.”

Remember you are a queen? The idea entices like jewelry in a showcase. I want that, I think with a pang. I’d love to feel like a queen.

But mothering children, with their strident demands and ever-evolving needs, clashes with glass slippers and tiara. As a mother of two I wonder about this mother of 14. How is Ayala a queen?

I find out soon enough, on a sultry afternoon in her house in Ashdod. As I clutch my purse and knock on the apartment door, I imagine a ruckus on the other side and promise myself to remain inconspicuous. With 14 children, five under the age of five, and a set of three-year-old twins thrown in, the house must look … well, lived in, I assume. Eleven of those 14 are boys and I can just imagine socks strewn around the kitchen floor, and a frazzled mother picking up after them.

Ayala opens the door with a chiming hello. Her smile is deep and relaxed, her eyes nuanced and warm. I step into an open foyer, which leads to a sun-bathed dining room, a wide staircase to the second floor, and an airy kitchen and dinette. Large windows filter in the sun and sky and lend the rooms spaciousness.

Ayala’s daughter is dropping matzoh balls into a bubbling pot of soup. Ayala laughs with her over their oversight in adding salt. She unties her apron strings and sits down with me at the dining-room table.
Ayala pours drinks. “My husband says, ‘Pass me the jews.’” We laugh. Her toddler settles himself on her lap. Remember, I tell myself sternly, this woman raises 14 children. But Ayala has already shattered the myth of the proverbial shmatte.

What is her secret?

“I created a motto for myself; I imagine it as my business card,” she says. It reads “Kvod Hashem alayich niglah.” Framing it into her motto has obligated her. For her, “The glory of Hashem is revealed upon you” means that Hashem, who is the ultimate King, filters some of His royalty onto her. When she connects to His will, His kingship is perceived by those around her. She hopes to filter it further, so that her children are a manifestation of Hashem’s glory.

The Journey

How did she get here? I wonder. Can she show me the way?
Coming to the beauty of her job was a process, she admits. Ayala grappled with low self-esteem, that self-inflicted bashing that gives a woman no rest. She didn’t think she deserved to be served like the rest of her family did. During a meal, she’d rush about, serving, adding salt, bringing water, and just keeping herself useful and accommodating. Only when the family meal was done, she felt it was right for her to eat the dregs of the pot, whatever was left over. Why would she deserve a full plate of fresh food, enhanced by a complete setting?

She started feeling resentful. Her husband would call her to the table to eat with the family, but she brushed him off. It became usual to see her as a servant, the image she projected. One day she woke up. “I told myself that instead of seething, I had to stop this trend I had started. I forced myself to sit and eat a respectable portion with everyone. I pushed myself, even when my child had to get up for a fork himself, even when the floor was covered in dirt, even when there were a million other things to do. I was a person like the rest of them, and if I wasn’t going to respect myself, who would?

“I had this habit of reviewing the nitty-gritty details of a hurtful encounter. If my husband asked me why the seudah was not ready, I’d stew. I’d think that he hardly recognized what I did the entire morning. I’d chew over my anger toward him. As much as it would pull me down for days, I couldn’t give it up.

“I remember how I mourned my loss of control when my husband offered me cleaning help. I resented his offer, felt he thought I couldn’t do it all on my own. I jumped into it anyway, because I knew it was right. But I had to rationalize, telling myself that I was giving orders, switching roles from laborer to supervisor. Today, I am okay with taking household help. Who says I’m perfect? Am I supposed to have a sparkling house with 14 children?

“I had the awareness that I wasn’t functioning the way I wanted. As a mother, I had this need to be available all the time. I over-gave and it started feeling uncomfortable. I wanted to use my qualities and personality and I wondered why giving was becoming a source of stress. I didn’t know how to blend everything together. When I had the guts to make changes, I saw a difference. Changing my outside habits and patterns of thinking transformed my inner world into a better place.”

Ayala’s brush with adversity also pushed her to seek answers. Her first set of twins were born in the 28th week and one of the babies did not make it. Ayala felt forsaken. A few years later, she was pregnant with twins again, and she was so happy to be compensated. However, she only carried one of them to term. This time, the blow was heavy. She felt confused. If she was meant to give birth to one child, why was she tested twice? She needed answers, craved calm.

Defying the Voices

“We all have difficult times. Adversity brings us down. A lack of strength, negative voices, and being overworked sucks us away from our vitality,” Ayala says. “I needed to make the giving process a joyful, organized one. I knew my nature was to give and nurture, so why was I getting stressed?

Ayala with her baby Batsheva. This was her 1st daughter born in 16 years!

Ayala Nivin with her youngest child.


“I often heard that voice, coming from society, that schlepped me down. ‘Don’t bend over backward for others or they’ll step all over you.’ ‘Career is the yardstick for success.’ ‘Don’t be dependent on others.’ These were making me sluggish in my motherhood.

“I made a conscious decision not to go there. The results were so beautiful. In the absence of negative thoughts, self-affirming messages filled me. Today I know that wallowing in negativity is not for me. I feel above that, too regal to let myself sink”…

(This is the end of the previously posted excerpt)
——————————————————–
Ayala worked on finding her own voice. “During my pregnancy, I was out on the couch, without strength to move a limb. I wondered if I was crazy … I realized that my self-doubts come from outside myself. When I was asking myself how I would have strength to deal with this, it was my mother’s concern coming through. When I asked myself how I would continue to give to the other kids, society’s stigma against large families filtered into my own perceptions. But when I asked my own inner voice what I truly wanted, the answer was clear. I wanted more children.”

Ayala was looking for ways to make motherhood joyful. She is naturally a happy, positive person, and she wanted the daily grind of motherhood to be saturated with light and simchah. Running after kids on low energy felt exhausting, and Ayala wanted meaning and beauty. She imagined what a positive person looked like. She found the answer in herself.

Royalty means connecting to oneself, respecting that self fully, listening to what it — you — truly want, to what Hashem wants, and filtering every action through that calming prism. A mother with nobility lives in a palace, where she reigns as queen.

It was in recognizing that she is a daughter of the King that Ayala began thriving in her role as a mother. Instead of a roller-coaster ride careening between each child’s needs, mothering became a ride toward herself. Ayala’s feelings of aristocracy and her connection to Hashem spilled over to the family. When she looked at her family members positively, they lived up to that image. It was inner work, but it worked.

Lunchtime kicks in as one by one, the children bound in the door. They find Ayala and come to her for a hello and a hug. I marvel at the calm. Her three-year-old twins come in from day care with a mischievous glint; the baby wakes up and settles in her sister’s arms. The boys settle down to a plate of soup and then head off to different corners of the house, to play with music, toys, and each other.

The Daily Grind

“I almost never check off every task on my to-do list. The dishes can wait until tomorrow.” Even keeping up with every child’s medical needs, from pediatrician, to dentists, to well-baby visits, is mammoth.
When we think of royalty, we picture a queen sitting on her throne, bedecked in a (dry-clean only) gown and expensive jewelry, with an entire host of servants bowing to her wish. This image is far from the reality of a mother in work clothes, cooking supper and scrubbing the dishes clean afterward. But there is majesty in the world of thought and action. “A real queen knows her place, and knows clearly who she is and why she is doing her work,” Ayala explains.

“I have learned that in order to raise a large family, and feel like a queen, the clutter must be cut. For those who are friends with their garbage and with the local gemach lady, this is easy. For me, decluttering and throwing away what I didn’t need was hard work.”
More importantly, this works in the emotional realm. “When difficult emotions set in — anger, resentment — I imagine a little garbage can in my brain. I send all negativity that clutters me into that bin. If I can’t let go yet, I’ll close it in a box, to deal with later.”

People think that in order to mother a double-digit family, with children ranging from ages 1 to 20, you must have certain qualities. That’s not so, says Ayala. Hashem sends tools to whoever needs them. A large family gives a mother more experience, more space to learn from her mistakes, and a wider palate of temperaments to connect to. This is certainly a place to stretch and grow. But every woman has an inner place with the answers that are right for her. It has nothing to do with how many children she has. “When I raise my children, I grow with them.”

Refuel and Recharge

How does she refuel her spiritual batteries? “I give myself time, mostly in my imagination.” Ayala has a tinder laugh, alive and igniting, and her hazel eyes sparkle. She goes to an oil painting group and writes continuously about her feelings and perceptions. “I used to write a lot when I needed to express my feelings. Today, reading those poems in retrospect, I can’t believe I wrote these things. I see how valuable these struggles were. They must have been so valuable then, in Hashem’s Eyes, but I didn’t feel it. Having a connection with Hashem is what saved me. I always asked Hashem for answers. He is the One Who keeps our head above the water.”

Ayala believes that for many mothers, this place of expression lies in the skills they have, or the pastimes they love. “For one person, it is in painting that she expresses her voice. For another, it is sitting with friends in the park. We all must have something we enjoy doing for ourselves.” In addition to her writing and painting, Ayala uses her inborn creativity in the kitchen, and by giving homemade gifts to her children. Every area of her home is infused with the fruit of her self-expression.

Vacations are important, too. Ayala enjoyed going to a mother-and-baby home after giving birth. It was a privilege she felt she rightfully deserved. This year, she mustered the courage to attend a four-day mother’s retreat, without hiding behind the excuse of a newborn baby. “It’s about respecting my needs. When I came home, I felt bad that I hadn’t slept at the retreat, and that I needed to rest from my vacation. But I told myself that that’s okay, I was allowed to go out just for fun, even if it meant coming back tired.”

On a spiritual level, Ayala’s community is an important aspect of her vitality. She found a role model in the Rebbetzin of the Pittsburgh chassidic community of Ashdod and inspiration in the monthly learning sessions. “Being part of a community and having a moreh derech is a tremendous help. I don’t profess all the answers to chinuch. But I know I can turn to the Rebbe for guidance. It’s like an insurance policy. I have the Rebbetzin to talk to. In the shul, we feel like family. And the Rebbe is the ultimate picture in the art of royalty.”

Investment Partners

“Husband and wife must be on the same page about a large family,” Ayalah avers. Both descended from Holocaust survivors, Ayala and her husband feel it is their mission and pride to bring more Jewish children into the world. “My husband sits at the Shabbos table, one child hanging from his side, another one saying a dvar Torah, and a third one running underfoot, and he loves it. We feel that we are investing in the diamond market. Each child is a precious gift. We feel very fortunate.”

Occasionally, Ayala and her husband go away for Shabbos, alone, revitalizing their relationship is the key to keeping the ship afloat and giving Ayala the emotional resources to nurture each child. It is this aspect of her role that takes up most of Ayala’s thoughts. “Did I succeed in instilling values in them? Did I raise them with love? Do they have positive associations with the life they know? That is the purpose, to raise happy children. I need to keep myself happy, because the kids mirror my moods. I don’t have to say much. If my values are alive in me, they will radiate. I want to give them nourishment, physically and spiritually, and be aware of where they are holding.”

Ayala snatches quality time with her kids when she can. She takes them out, or she sits and talks with each child individually. She works to ensure that they have good associations with having a large family. “People imagine a large family as if they can’t have it all together. It is very important to me that each child looks presentable, and that the children appreciate their image.”

If Ima is sometimes out of commission with a pregnancy, they shouldn’t feel deprived. So she gives them of herself, and talks openly about her wishes and struggles. One of her daughters thinks having a large family is fun. The other daughter is conscious of their family size, mirroring society’s lack of appreciation for this gift. “So we talk about it.”
I come away with a new gift, the value of mothering. It’s not easy. Nobody promises that bringing neshamos from birth to maturation is as simple as watering plants. But Ayala shows me how to saturate the position with meaning and self-expression. Mothering can be royal, the hard work rewarding. It’s how each woman values herself that makes the difference.

Ayala Nivin’s Candid Tips from One Mother to Another

• Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Spilled juice is not the end of the world — nor is an impatient retort. If I lose my temper — and it happens — I note it to myself. I acknowledge my mistakes, so that I can work on them. There can always be a good day tomorrow. Despair, and even discouragement, is counterproductive. It is only for those who think they are perfect.
• Talk to Hashem. Connect to Him from a place deep inside. Reach within, and trust that place. It is a place of kedushah and royalty.
• “Take Thy Vitamins” is a holy commandment for women and a simple remedy for sagging strength. It gives me the physical strength to stand at the helm of my ship, while holding newborns and carrying pregnancies.
Accept your limitations. During pregnancy, there are mornings when I simply can’t go on. I lie down, and that’s it for the rest of the morning. When a ship is in the vortex of a storm, the first thing its captain should do is switch off the motor and stop fighting the waves. Sometimes I am that captain. I can stop, let go, and then, from a place of calm, slowly ease my way around the storm. Respecting myself means respecting my limits.
• Cut down on Shabbos preparations. I never, ever bake on a Friday. Sometimes, when the cooking has all been completed the night before, it’s hard not to bake that one cake. But I imagine the cake five minute after it’s eaten. Will anyone really remember it? A calmer Erev Shabbos will certainly go further than a slice of cake.

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16 comments

  1. Caroline Bass

    Yes, wow! So inspiring. What an amazing woman, mother and wife.

  2. Amazing woman!!!! Very inspiring, kind of made me realize we can all be regal.

  3. Is there any way we can read the complete article online (does Mishpacha have a paid online version or anything?) I don’t live in a place where I can pick up a copy.

    • i hope to be able to post the complete article when this week’s issue is no longer for sale later this week, IY”H

  4. I read the article and really was inspired. I found it interesting that there was no mention at all of her husband and his groundbreaking classes which have changed tr lives of so many women. Do you know if he had any input in his wife’s amazing journey towards self-acceptance ?

    • It must be a joint effort, because they speak the same “voice”: he says the ideas that she is quoted saying here!

  5. Is it possible to post the article now? I missed the boat and don’t think I’ll be able to get a copy now 🙂
    I most admire Ayala’s courage to share her very personal struggles with the world. The tremendous impact it has in helping so many woman is immeasurable and may the Nivnins continue to shep much nachas from their beautiful family in this zchus!

  6. How super duper inspiring…Thanks Chana Jenny- we can all use words of wisdom like these and I absolutely LOVE the motto- “kvod Hashem alayich niglah” that is binding and oh so flattering to think that Hashems glory is reflected thru us moms- we should be zoche to illuminate our homes with Hashems glory using these tips and finding the tools to be as serene and royal as a true queen at least most of the time…

  7. dahliaperach

    can share this article on my blog linking it to here?

  8. I really needed to read this. I’m getting bogged down by my 3. Makes me feel like – 3?! She’s got quadruple that amount, for her this would be a VACATION! (but she’s also got big girls to help… maybe having 3 LITTLE ones can be slightly more draining?!)

  9. Indeed…when they are small and consecutive its rough..like the begining of any big project..it gets easier as time and experience gathered go on…just the building of a clear connection with the almighty as she says is mandatory…as well as some excersize (my advice) to keep u levelheaded and happy.. Loved her husbands personal development course..it is an absolute must…

  10. This is beautiful. Thanks for the chizuk.

  11. special family.

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