Einat Nathan on Israel and Parenting Today

Einat Nathan on Israel and Parenting Today

This specially-recorded episode reveals an emotional and insightful conversation between Zibby and Einat Nathan. They discuss the harrowing experiences faced by families, particularly mothers and children, amid the conflicts in Israel. Einat, a parenting expert in Israel, recounts the real-life horror stories of families and how they’re coping with the situation. The dialogue sheds light on human resilience, the critical role of empathy, and the universal desire to help and be helped during such dire circumstances. This episode provides a raw glimpse into the impact of war on everyday lives and the enduring human spirit in the face of adversity.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Einat. Thank you for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Our last interview was a while back but was so meaningful to me. I am such, honestly, a fan and just feel — you have five kids, oh, my gosh. Thank you for coming on this special bonus episode so we can talk about everything going on in Israel and all of that.

Einat Nathan: Can I say thank you for writing me and checking that I’m okay? At these times being in Israel with everything going on, it’s so heartwarming just to see an email of someone who cares. It’s not taken for granted.

Zibby: That’s so sweet. I’m personally so worried about people I know, people I don’t know, like all of us. There’s so many of us here. What is going on? How does it feel to be there? Where are you in Israel? What has it been like? I know your son had served in the military when we last spoke.

Einat: My two sons had served in the military and finished. They’re now students at the university. Now I have a daughter in the army, which is crying all day long. They have phones now in the army. When I was in the army, the nature was smarter. We couldn’t phone our moms. I don’t know what we did. We cried. We leaned on one another. Now I get a phone call every day. It’s a video call. I see my baby girl in uniform with a gun in a helmet. Our last conversation, she was crying. She was saying, “Mommy, do you remember when you never forced us when we were young to go to after-school activities or always, when we said we want to retire, you just made sure that we don’t take this decision while having a failure or — you always let us retire. I want to retire, Mommy. I want you to come and take me home.” This was yesterday’s conversation. It’s still the same mission, by the way, because I know that five minutes after she empties her trash can over me, she’s happy with her friends. She’s safe. She gets the present of feeling belonging to someone and useful and meaningfulness.

I’m sorry, generally, for giving birth to children in this place, but this is out of my control. Then I have two more daughters at school. We don’t have school. Practically, I think they didn’t go to school since June. It was the summer holiday. Then we had the holidays. Then this war began. This is on a personal level. We live in Tel Aviv, so we have the privilege of being safe. It’s all relative. I was called for duty, since I’m a parenting expert, to help IDF, the army, families of evacuated people from the horror areas, mothers and children. Zibby, this is unbelievable. It feels like a bad dream. I feel, in a way, like you feel being in — you’re in New York, right, in Manhattan? It feels kind of like this when you’re in Tel Aviv. Except for the privilege I have to get on Zoom or to get inside the car and drive over there and give them a hug, there’s nothing we can do.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. When you work in your capacity as a parenting expert and you’re talking to the families — I know this is what you do, but what can you say? How do you help? What messaging? What can anyone do?

Einat: I think that the first basic thing is just acknowledging that this is an encounter between two human souls, one in pain and the other one with a little tank fuel. It’s always about how much you have left. This is relative as well. I think that the same way I was so excited to get your email, there is something about human empathy, even about witnessing someone’s pain, that is a huge relief. Basically, the questions that they have are, in a way, questions that no mother needs to ask herself, seriously, but then it’s the extreme questions of basic questions that we all ask ourselves. How can we protect children from evil? How do we mediate things that happen in the outside world when we don’t understand them fully? How do we talk to children so they will listen? How can we see children’s behaviors and understand the language? We all know that their job is to behave, and our job is to understand. We didn’t get the manual. It’s basically this. I think the most comforting message that I bring to mothers is that I think that we as adults, we’re screwed.

Zibby: This is your comforting statement?

Einat: Yes. Hold on. Hang with me. I’m saying that because we get the full picture. When you look at children — when I say children, I’m talking about the twenty-four, twenty-five years that it takes for their brain to fully develop. When you look at children, you see that nature has done the best job to protect them. All they need is for us to be okay. That’s a different view on things than this fearful view of, we can never correct for them. We can never take the clock back. They have experienced something that will harm them for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t have to be that way. I hope it gives us as adults a reason to step up, to do our job. This is the first job that we need to do because we’re responsible for these mini adults or uncooked brains. They’re helpless. We are their . We know from research — you remember the movie — I think it was Life is Beautiful with Roberto.

Zibby: Buongiorno, Principessa!

Einat: Yeah. They can walk through fire as long as the adult that walks with them is this safe harbor of good narration of the happy ending or the safe place or just being able to give space to everything.

Zibby: I was snuggling with one of my kids this morning. He was like, “I’m so glad you’re my mom.” I was like, “Oh, thank you. Why?” He’s like, “Because I know you can protect me.” I was like, “Yes, I can. You’re safe with me.” Then I’m thinking, I don’t even know if we’re safe. I was telling a friend of mine this morning, a friend who’s not Jewish — she was like, “I don’t understand this whole thing. Why do people hate Jewish people so much?” I’m like, “I can’t even go there, but deep in our DNA, every occasion Jewish people get together, we relive the past so it doesn’t happen again.” In the Holocaust, when all the signs came, as we learn about over and over — I remember asking my mom or someone, I’m like, “I don’t understand. Why did they not leave when all these things were happening with the stores and this and that?” She’s like, “That was their home.” I was like, “I would’ve left.” Now here I am. All these things are going on outside. When do we know how to leave? When do you know how to leave? You’re in Israel now. From the outside, it looks like, oh, my gosh, how are you going to be okay? How is anyone going to be okay? How do we know when to leave? How do you decide?

Einat: This is the best question. I was talking to my partner, my husband, the father of my children. By the way, let’s talk about men because I feel so bad for them. I’m sorry for the gender thing, but when you’re in war, it’s so obvious that they need — he needs a gun now. He needs a gun now, not for revenge, not for some politics. He needs a gun now to protect his family. He doesn’t have a gun. He’s watching the news all day long. I’m in the place of, my gun as a mom is joy and baking and music and volunteering with my children in getting things for people that just ran from their homes without shoes. I was telling him — listen, we didn’t have a word since this war began because we’re taking care of people, small people, big people, people that need help. “I just need to know that when the time for us to run away will come, you will tell me. This is your zone.” As an optimist, this is my job. If you want to take care of children, if you want to really be the good narrator, you can’t think of the option that something will go wrong.

The day before yesterday, I had a meeting with — this was so surreal. We went over for me to talk to all the mothers of Kibbutz Be’eri, which is one of the kibbutzim who suffered from everything, really. It was monstrous. They ever survived. They were evacuating to the Dead Sea, to a hotel. You step into a tacky hotel, and you see a kibbutz, people with dogs and mothers with babies. Something is wrong with the picture. When I sat down with the moms, the narration that kept on showing up is the mind not being able to grasp all these hours that they were inside the shelters with the children. The men, some of them were out there with guns. Some of them just stayed out to see if the terrorists are moving in close. They were saying, “We never thought this could happen. We are living in an area that — we had rockets. This is a heaven-on-earth place. Our children were born here. We were born here.” The men are getting gadgets for the shelters all day long. She said, “It’s like your men with their vehicles or Jeeps or whatever. They’re so proud of the shelters. I’m taking my three children to the shelter. Then I hear a saw. In five seconds, they drill a hole, and I see the gun of — I’m smiling to my children. We’re facing the wall just so the bullets will miss us. Then I smell that they’re burning my house. My husband is not there.” She’s talking about it like they’re talking about you going shopping for cheese.

She says, “So I take my camera, and I take the photos out on the balcony to see if there are terrorists outside. I understand that I can’t stay in the shelter because we’ll be burned. I tell the children, ‘Listen, we need to jump from the third floor. Let’s play a game. It’s going to be okay.’ All I’m thinking about is, once we jump, how do I run that they don’t get me?” She jumps with her three children. One of them has his two legs broken. There’s a man coming to help her because he was at the balcony just watching for his family. He runs over to pick her eleven-year-old son to run with him. She’s telling her small daughter to close her eyes because everything is full of bodies. She sees friends from her kindergarten just lying there. They run. Then they get on the bus. Then someone shoots on the bus. More stories and more stories and more stories. Then she opens her phone, and she shows me the — we have WhatsApp here, so there’s groups of moms, moms’ soccer, moms’ ballet. She shows me the list of the ballet class. Only two girls are living. The ballet teacher is dead. The kindergarten teacher is dead. “How do I tell my five-year-old daughter that the entire kibbutz was wiped out when I was still holding her inside the shelter and telling her that we’re playing a game?” This is happening in 2023. What?

Zibby: So, so terrible. It’s unbelievable. It’s like they are all in shock still also, right? Isn’t it the brain’s protective mechanism at the beginning?

Einat: Yeah, sure. It’s amazing to watch the children. You can see a couple of things. You can see children that had been given the present of resilience. There’s no other word. They’re cautious, but they can play. They can laugh. They can take a couple of steps away from the mother. You see the ones that have nothing, just emptiness. I was asking before we came over if there’s anything they need that we need to — they get everything. It’s not just the fact that — I believe that any person, anyone who has ever gave birth to children and cared about helpless creatures, even animals — by the way, they left animals. The children are talking about their cat. Every person, all you want to do is just help. The unity of human kindness and the open heart and so many good people just surrounding them, so they practically have everything because you can take care of shoes for children or whatever. We were having a Zoom conversation the other night with another evacuated area. They started raising the issue of small children that — how do you say got rid of the diaper?

Zibby: Toilet training.

Einat: This is it, yeah. They were free. They were trained. They were regressing back to wetting their beds. I was telling the moms that it’s not a good thing to bring back the diapers because maybe they will feel that it’s a failure. We need to be somehow glad that regression is happening because we don’t want to see the full-blown regression of nothing or of muteness. By the way, a lot of kids stop speaking. We don’t want to see the, everything’s okay. We want to see something regressing in order for joy to exist, or heavy emotions or tantrums or being on the edge or being angry at silly things or wetting the bed, in order for this to ventilate. I was just giving proportions and saying that it’s a good thing. They just need to give space for it. When I was talking to this mom, she said, “Listen, they evacuated us to this hotel, and there’s nothing we can put on the beds. All the children, all ages, are wetting the beds.” I brought two hundred special sheets for beds.

Zibby: Oh, my goodness. I so appreciate you telling us here what is going on there. I am so honored to talk to you, who is there literally comforting the people going through the most unspeakable things that you are speaking of. The work you do is godly. It’s amazing. Anything that we all can do to help you, to help other people there, just know that we are fully behind you. We’re just here for you and sending our love.

Einat: I think that the biggest present of all — it comes from adversity at any size. The biggest present is to understand what kindness really means and just to be able to practice some self-compassion. This is it. When you say, I’m grateful, and when you talk about me helping, I don’t feel like I’m helping. Do you see what I’m saying?

Zibby: I know.

Einat: I know. This conversation is helping the helper. A mother that was running with her kids without shoes, she is helping someone else. This is something that is universal. As long as we can feel like we can take care of someone, and someone can take care of us — it’s a chain. Then everything is okay because we are all somehow connected. The big fear is to be left alone. This is the hostage situation. I can’t even begin to talk about this. You see the relativity of it all? It doesn’t take an expert. When your friend is coming in the middle of the night crying knocking at your door, you don’t say, listen, I need to consult someone about how to comfort you. It’s the look. It’s the eyes. It’s the, oh, my god, tell me. This is it. It’s all that our children need. Instead of protecting them, isolating them, thinking that our job is to do something for them or to take away negative emotions or to shield them from anything — it’s not. We just need to mediate it in a human way.

Zibby: So beautiful. Einat, thank you. Thank you for coming on the show. Thank you for sharing.

Einat: Thank you for enabling this conversation.

Zibby: Please stay in touch. Please keep us posted, me posted, whatever. I’m here. I’m sending love.

Einat: Thank you so much.

Zibby: Bye.

Einat Nathan on Israel and Parenting Today

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