Rung by Rung: Climbing the Ladder of Motherhood

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This is the final post of a series of excerpts from the book of the year Mothers to Mothers: Women Across the Globe Share the Joys and Challenges of Jewish Motherhood by Julie Hauser (Artscroll), a collection of honest and colorful interviews with 30 Orthodox mothers sprinkled with insightful and inspiring mothering advice from respected educators and rebbetzins.

Enjoy this week’s excerpts:

From the Introduction to Mothers to Mothers by Julie Hauser:

The Ladder of Motherhood

The women complimented each other on the food they enjoyed at the Sheva Berachos dinner.

“Who made the delicious challah rolls?” someone asked.

“Chana did.”

“How did she have time? Didn’t she just have a baby?” one of the women laughed.

Eyes shifted to Chana, who happened to be seated next to me.

“Must have been your first baby!” one woman teased, knowing Chana had just given birth to her 12th child.

“Oh, no,” Chana answered, in all seriousness. “If it were my first, I never could have done it! I didn’t have anything straight when it was my first.”

Several years ago, this scene would have been a mystery to me. I would have wondered: “How could the mother of twelve children find it easier now to bake 35 rolls? Wasn’t it easier when she just had one baby?”

However, having grown as a mother and having heard the perspectives of more than 30 women during interviews for this book, I can now understand that no stage of motherhood is simple, everything is new, everything is an adjustment. A new mother watches the world through a lens that shows all other mothers knowing what they are doing, except for her. She is baffled by the fact that tasks and errands that used to take five minutes now take 90 minutes. She might even wonder how anyone can make dinner and brush her teeth on the same day. She may feel daunted by the news that Hashem just appointed her CEO (chief executive officer) of this company, without ever having worked her way up the “corporate ladder.” She is the one in charge, without much experience in fulfilling her responsibilities. It is a scary place at the top, especially when the ladder feels shaky.

This book is about constructing, fortifying, and using that ladder. Not for a way for a mother to escape downward, but as a way to make her way up to the next level. This figurative ladder is made of the support systems, attitudes, and perspectives a woman must find — and adjust — for success “at the top.” This book’s aim is to contribute to every mother’s ladder, no matter which stage of motherhood she is currently experiencing.

One Mother’s Story: Yael

I don’t think I’ve amazed myself, but sometimes I’m impressed with myself.

Comparing myself to others, which I have done plenty of in the past, is what I call an “outside job.” It is something that only now, years later, I see as the worthless activity that it is. I have judged based on externals: how many children she has, at which age she had them, which schools they went to.

Comparing myself to myself along the timeline is a much more fair and truthful endeavor.

Really, it is an inside job. In other words, the questions become: How often am I taking a moment to be more patient with a child who is aggravating me, how often do I stop and make eye contact, do I crouch down to my toddler’s level once in a while? … [Good mothering] is very internal work, and one with results that show up when the children grow older. What one invests when they are seedlings sprouts forth when they emerge, fully themselves.

So I’ve learned to leave off the comparing, which is entirely superficial and false, and concentrate on that soul standing right in front of me, waiting to be seen.

Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein: The Ladder: One Step at a Time

Yaakov Avinu had a dream of a ladder, not an elevator, not an escalator, not steps. Not a ramp, and not a road. And I guarantee the angels do not really use a ladder. So why did Hashem put a ladder in this dream? Because a ladder is one step at a time… A person has to realize that Hashem doesn’t expect you to fly or to jump. He expects you to climb the ladder of life. It’s one rung at a time. You have to lean your ladder on Him.

The Ladder: Always Looking Up

The ladder is the only thing that, whether you’re going up or down, you are always looking up. If you go down on a road, down an escalator, down stairs, you look down. You go down a ladder, you go down climbing backwards. Hashem was telling Yaakov: You’re going to go through a lot. No matter what you go through, no matter whether you’re going up or you’re going down, always look up to Me. Hashem is on top of the ladder. Every person should know: you don’t have to be a winner all the time, you don’t have to be the best in the world, you have to climb that ladder one rung at a time, and you have to know Hashem is waiting on top, and you’ll get there. Another thing about a ladder is you never look back at the steps you took already; you look forward.

A ladder: you go one rung at a time; your whole body is on the ladder. If you slip, you come down a couple rungs, but you can go back up. But if you turn around, and look back or down, you have to take one hand off the ladder and you end up falling off the ladder. On a ladder, when you climb, you always look forward.

So the lesson is — don’t look back. If you look back, you’re halfway through the ladder and you start to think, “I’m done — look how many steps I did, 150 rungs.” You’re going to stop. On a ladder, you’re always looking at how far you have to go, not how far you went. For a person to grow, one must always look up the ladder. You can’t be satisfied with how far you went. Because if you’re satisfied with how far you went, you’re not going to grow anymore. In Judaism, we know there’s no stopping; you either fall or you gain. So on a ladder, you’re always looking for the next rung. One more rung — okay, one more rung — okay. That’s how a person grows. That’s why Hashem showed Yaakov Avinu the ladder.

Always look ahead. Don’t live in your past. (I know psychology believes: go backwards, go into your pain, work it out. That’s not Judaism!) Judaism is, learn from your past. People who came out of the Holocaust looked forward. They have children, they have families. If you keep going to the dark place or looking down, you’re going to stay there. Don’t look down; look at what’s ahead of you. Look at what you can accomplish. Look what you can do about the things in which you have no choice. The parents you have and certain things in life are not your choice; your only choice is what to do with it. It is your choice how to look at it, what to do with it.

The Ladder: Going Up and Down, but Always Leaning on Hashem

Hashem’s saying, “Yaakov Avinu, teach your children: They’re going to go up, and they’re going to go down. And they’re going to go up, and they’re going to go down…It doesn’t say anywhere in the dream: “Yaakov Avinu, I’ll see you on the top of the ladder.” Yaakov Avinu slept and he saw his children, and he saw Eisav go up and Klal Yisrael go down. Klal Yisrael went up, Eisav went down. That’s a Jew’s life. Going up and down. But as long as you know that you’re leaning on Hashem, there’s nothing to worry about. You don’t have to WIN in life! You have to try.

Some people say that only losers say “You don’t have to win.” Wrong. Winners talk about not having to win. Winners understand. A real good coach understands. They don’t have to win, but he wants 100 percent from his players.

Transcribed from a speech from Kol Haloshon, published with permission from the speaker.

Photo courtesy of user krystal.pritchett


  1. Oy, wow!

    That short introduction paragraph made me feel, “wow, someone understands!”

    Thank you!

  2. Julie Hauser

    Nechama- so glad to hear this resonates with you. Go treat yourself to the book for Pesach!

    Thank you, Chana for including my book on your fabulous blog.

    Julie H.

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