Being a Parent is Not Easy

[This talk was given on May 15, 2018 for the Florence Crittenton Services Luncheon.]

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are mothers in this Hall. Today we celebrate the mothers of Florence Crittenton.

In Jewish homes, mothers are central. So much so that on Friday nights as we welcome our Sabbath, we recite a Proverb to honor them – Proverbs 31.

My four siblings say Proverbs 31 to my mom each and every Friday night when we are together. It starts like this:

Esehet chayil, mi yimtzah — a woman of valor, a woman of strength, who can find her? For her price is far above rubies.

The Proverb then goes on to enumerate the roles that a woman of strength fulfills. Yet we don’t need to look into the Bible to see what a woman of strength does, we can simply look around this room.

A woman of strength, who can find her? One can find these women of strength at Florence Crittenton Services.

We can find them in the women who run Florence Crittenton – Diane Thompson, Sarah Hyde, Katie Becker, and so many more.

We can find a woman of strength in the memory of the woman who first brought me to this Board – Fay Greene.  She was gorgeous and elegant and energetic even at the age of 92.  We all would say, “When I grow up I want to be just like Fay Greene…” She, herself, was a Lucile Giles Award Recipient. I am honored to follow in her footsteps.

One can find that woman of strength in the memory Lucile Giles – whose incredible gifts of generosity have enriched and transformed our community and continues to lift us up each and every day.

Most of all, one can find that women of strength in the Florence Crittenton clients, the women who come here during their pregnancies – to learn and to work to be their best and the best moms possible for their children.

The past Sunday was Mother’s Day – a day when we celebrate the first woman of strength in all of our lives – our own mothers.  There is a Yiddush Proverb that teaches that God could not be everywhere so God created mothers.

Florence Crittenton supports those mothers and has done so for 115 years.

As I was writing this talk I looked up the biography of Florence Crittenton expecting to find another woman of strength. But instead I found that Florence Crittenton never had that opportunity.  She was a young girl who died of Scarlet Fever in 1882.

Her father, Charles Crittenton, in his grief and to honor his daughter’s memory, set off on a cross-country philanthropic journey. He was an affluent New Yorker who went from town to town giving donations of $500 to set up homes for women and children in need.

Florence Crittenton was built on taking trauma and tragedy and turning it into blessings and new life. And Florence Crittenton Services of Charlotte does that just that.  98% of the women who are blessed to find their way to Crittenton have experienced trauma. It is here where we turn things around and turn a painful past into a bright and blessed future.

Being a mother is not easy.   Being a father is not easy. Parenting is not easy.   I know. I have two teenage boys. We simply do the best we can and we do it even better with the help of others.

How do we measure success as a parent? That usually happens at the end of one’s life.  I sit with families bereft over the loss of their loved one as they tell the stories capturing the values by which their parents lived and loved.

How do we measure success of an agency such as Florence Crittenton Services? We measure its success based on how it lives up to the following five values: compassion, hope, accountability, inclusion, and respect.

The first measure of Crittenton’s success is compassion. In Hebrew, the word for compassion, rachum, shares the root with the Hebrew word, rechem, which means womb.

Erma Bombck wrote, “It’s not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.”

Florence Crittenton in Charlotte serves 75 pregnant moms a year not with judgment but with compassion.  The vast majority of these moms come from chaotic and dysfunctional backgrounds and Florence Crittenton is the home that offers them stability.

Imagine being a pregnant teen – perhaps without a permanent home to shelter you, perhaps without a partner to help you, perhaps without parents to support you. Then imagine being welcomed into Florence Crittenton’s warm embrace. Florence Crittenton is that home that stands at the center of these women’s lives enabling them to deliver healthy children.

Which brings us to the second value of hope.

In Hebrew, the word for hope is tikvah. Hope is so central to the Jewish people that our homeland Israel’s national anthem is called Hatikvah – meaning “the hope.”  For us as Jews, who have endured Crusades, pogroms, persecution, and ultimately the Holocaust, Israel was our hope of a home and of a successful future.

For Florence Crittenton clients, as well, hope is not some abstract goal is it physical and it is real. Florence Crittenton provides an actual home and exceptional programs that create the promise of a successful future.

There is Sarah’s House for girls as young as 14 and up to 21 who are in foster care so that they can keep their babies with them and raise them.

There is the aftercare program that follows women who were in the maternity program after they leave. Social workers ensure these moms and their babies have what they need.

And there is Legacy Hall that offers girls 16 to 21 who are aging out of foster care a program that teaches independence skills and keeps them on track with their educational and employment goals. We are so proud of the work of their staff and participants, many of whom are here today.

Florence Crittenton celebrates its partnership with the Department of Social Services in providing hope and fulfilling the role of lifting up our next generation. As it cherishes its partnership with its donors – with so many of you and especially with the Levine Foundation whose current challenge grant and continuous steadfast support offer so much light in the midst of dark and hard times.

The third measure of our success as Florence Crittenton Services is accountability.

The first question God asks in the Bible, is “Where are you?”

Adam and Eve messed up. They ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, became aware of their nakedness and hid.  God knew where Adam and Eve were but nonetheless asks, “Where are you?”

As I thought about it, I often ask that question of my teens. The truth is (and don’t tell my kids this), I have this app on my phone called “Find Friends.” I can know where they are. And sometimes when I notice that they are not where they are meant to be, I casually text them and ask, “Where are you?” so they will be accountable and move where they need to be.

Parenting means asking questions of our kids – even when we know the answers. Parenting is about teaching accountability.  Florence Crittenton has been that metaphoric accountable parent.

Florence Crittenton has been accountable to us as faithful stewards of our funds. And Florence Crittenton has been accountable to our community’s moms whom it serves – holding them accountable for fulfilling their commitments.

The final two values by which we measure Florence Crittenton are inclusion and respect.

Inclusion is about justice.  Is the playing field level? Does everyone have equal access and opportunity? Not only do the majority of the clients whom they serve come from really difficult homes and really difficult life circumstances but many are dealing with the oppressions inherent in our systems – systems that left them behind in life even as they took their first breath.  Inclusion is about acknowledging the privilege that our society provides some and working to create equity for all.

Florence Crittenton works every day on inclusion.

And lastly, Florecne Critten Services values respect. In Hebrew, the word is kavod as in kavod ha’briyot and kibud av v’em.

Kavod ha’briyot means honoring every one of God’s creations. Our tradition teaches that we were all created from one human being so that no person can say, “My ancestor is greater than yours.”  We are called to honor every soul that comes our way and Florence Crittenton does just that.

And kibud av v’em means honoring our father and mother.  It is not on just one or two days of the year – on the Hallmark holidays of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – it is every day.

Respect and honor are likewise an everyday and every moment lived value of Florence Crittenton.

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day.

A joke is told of three elderly Jewish women living in Miami who gathered for their weekly Tuesday afternoon Mahjong game: Mrs. Kaufman, Mrs. Ginsberg, and Mrs. Greenstein. Silently, without a word passing among them, the women take their seats. They select and arrange their tiles.

The first, Mrs. Ginsberg, gave a sigh.

Next, Mrs. Greenstein gave an even deeper sigh.

And then, the third woman, Mrs. Kaufman, said with exasperation “Oy vey.”

“Now ladies,” Mrs. Ginsberg remarked, “I thought we agreed that we wouldn’t discuss our children.”

Being a mother is not easy.   Being a father is not easy. Parenting is not easy.

There is an African proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child.” This notion is reflected also in Judaism.  The community is responsible for helping to raise all children. Through our support of Florence Crittenton Service we accept our role in becoming that village that helps these moms.

How do we measure success as an agency?  The FCS board has created measures of success – compassion, hope, accountability, inclusion and respect. And for far more than a century has been measured up well.

Proverbs 31 asks, “A woman of valor, who can find her? For her price is far above rubies.”

Once can find that woman of valor in this room, in this agency, in the women who have lived at Florence Crittenton and been served by Florence Crittenton — who have been blessed with motherhood.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day may we give generously in honor of the mothers of yesterday and today, so that we can continue to celebrate the mothers of tomorrow.  Amen.