Lori Fein of Teaneck is an attorney and a Jewish nonprofit professional. She’s also the mother of a large family; she and her husband, Martin Ramirez, have five daughters, who range in age from 14 to 23. All attend, plan to attend, or graduated from Ben Porat Yosef — a Jewish day school in Paramus – and the Frisch School — a Jewish high school, also in Paramus.
Ms. Fein recently started a weekly podcast called “Mommash: The Oy & Joy of Family”. So far, 10 episodes have been released; each features a conversation with the mother of a large family.
The idea is to “celebrate the joy of family life, encourage and support those going through it, and learn what we can from those who have spent extra hours parenting, by focusing on personal experience rather than academic training or professional expertise,” Ms. Fein said. “As we say in our intro, we’re trying to provide laughs, stories, and a little walkaway wisdom for fellow travelers on this wild parenting journey, where our community and our traditions are our greatest guides.”
Ms. Fein started the podcast because she feels that “a lot of the main issues that we’re facing as a country, and really as a world, and certainly as the Jewish people, have to do with the family, and with how we approach raising our children.”
She also recognizes that raising children is not easy. “Personally, even having done some very sophisticated legal work over the course of my career, I definitely don’t think that anything that I did even compares to the intellectual challenges of how do you solve this problem of what is the best way to raise a human being, and to give them good values, and to give them the education they need, and to develop their strengths, and to smooth out their weaknesses, or redirect their weaknesses so they become their strengths,” she said. “It’s really, I think, the greatest challenge that human beings face, and it’s certainly such a big part of our heritage and our tradition.
“To me, this is the most important thing that our society is facing.”
Why did she choose to focus on large families? “Part of that was, you have to pick something, and part of it was because I really wanted to talk about our love of family life, and people who have large families are likely to be enthusiastic about family life,” she said. “I also want to give listeners who maybe aren’t finding that joy some encouragement, and maybe some tips, and some of what we call a little bit of walkaway wisdom.
“And I think the other reason is because, when you have a larger family, because you just don’t have as much time, you have to set priorities,” Ms. Fein continued. “And I think that the clarity that you get about your parenting priorities when you just simply can’t do as much for each individual kid, I think would be helpful to anybody, even if you only had one child, because, after all, all of life is about setting priorities.”
Ms. Fein also is sensitive to the fact that family size is not always a matter of choice, she said, and she is “in no way meaning to hurt, or make any judgement about, smaller families, whether or not a matter of choice.”
The podcast, she explained, is “much less about relying on expertise, and much more about relying on yourself as a parent, about trusting your instincts, and your intuition, and your gut, and understanding that as much as we all respect and rely on experts from time to time, whether it’s a pediatrician or a teacher or a psychologist, no one knows your children and your family as well as you do.”
While she was in law school at Columbia University, Ms. Fein did some work in child advocacy. She had the opportunity to see a lot of the family court and foster care and child placement systems, and she learned a lot about the nature of parental rights from a legal perspective. That experience stayed with her. “You could really see the attachment that children had to their biological parents, and vice versa,” she said. “Even when you had highly imperfect parents, parents who had gotten into a situation where it was being determined whether their children would be able to remain in their care, even then, you really could see that powerful bond between children and parents.”
The podcast explores a range of issues, including the different ways that people parent, how families deal with various challenges, and how they navigate sibling relationships and resolve rivalries. “How do you make each individual in your family feel really valued, especially when you have so much going on?” Ms. Fein said. “How do you balance when a child gets their own way versus when people have to go along with the bigger family needs?
“When you go about your day-to-day life, you usually have a relatively small circle of people who you really get into conversations with, often your immediate family and your closest friends and neighbors, and maybe some people in your professional life,” she continued. “But I feel like one of the great values of this podcast has been that it broadens your horizon to see more – more types of parents, more types of family life, more different ways that people are solving the same problems. It’s been really enlightening for me, and I’m already applying some of the walkaway wisdom in my own life.”
Another topic that comes up a lot is values in general, and specifically Jewish values, and how Judaism impacts parenting. “One of the things I’m trying to do is draw in people from all walks of Jewish life,” Ms. Fein said. “I’m trying to mix things up between observant, nonobservant, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform.”
Some common themes have emerged, she said. “While people have different practices, almost everyone said that observing Shabbat, having that as a ritual in their family in one way or another, has been a huge boon to how they approach parenting, because it gives you a schedule. It gives you a focus. It also gives people who are more observant a way of turning off the electronics, and retreating into family life, a way of celebrating that personal, direct interaction, as opposed to being so tied to our electronic connection.
“Even those who are less observant really feel like Shabbat adds a layer of fun and ritual meaning to the way their family interacts,” Ms. Fein continued. “I always say that I feel like Shabbat is my parenting partner, because it makes it so easy for the kids to understand a ‘no’ since they know that Shabbat has strict rules that we don’t break.
“And I think that having something like that in your life extends to other areas in your life as well, because it gives them a sense that there are some real limits that exist, and I think that that’s always a big help when you’re a parent.”
Most of the episodes also involve conversations on work/life balance. “How do people balance work and family, and what have they learned from their own experiences that they would pass on to their children, especially their daughters,” Ms. Fein said. “As the mother of five girls, I’ve thought a lot about my own career decisions and what I would advise them, and also how much the world has changed. Just since the pandemic alone, with more options to work from home, I think that work and parenting might get along better now than they ever have in the past.
“And then there’s also the issue of whether to be fully at home, fully parenting, at any point or not. I chose to do that for a number of years, and I definitely am very happy that I did; I think that it made a big difference in my personal life and in my children’s lives. You get to enjoy them, and get to know them, without the stress of a separate boss that you have to answer to – it’s bad enough to have to answer to a 3-year-old after all – but, on the other hand, obviously, you have the struggle of losing that income and also of losing your kind of status as a professional.”
Some of the interviews have also explored the difference between parenting here and parenting in Israel, exploring the freedom that kids have in Israel versus their parents’ need to protect them more in the United States, Ms. Fein said. Another conversation discussed adoption and the dynamic of having both biological and adopted children. Others have addressed topics as disparate as home schooling and how children with disabilities are incorporated into family life.
Ms. Fein’s own mom, Deedee Fein of Cherry Hill, “is awesome and an inspiration,” she said. People often comment on how the older Ms. Fein raised both a very close family and such independent kids.
Ms. Fein is very open to suggestions for future guests; she’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.