By: Natalie & Kim Bergman
Just two days ago, our oldest daughter Abby Bergman, completed one of the most grueling events possible: swimming 20+ miles from Catalina Island to a promontory on Palos Verdes over 11 hours and 11 minutes, much of it done at night. Meanwhile, we sit and write this from our airplane seats headed to Chicago to watch our younger daughter, Jenna Bergman perform in a play, the culmination of a summer spent at one of the top summer theatre institutes in the country as she seeks her own path, forging a trail as a passionate actor/dancer/singer, with dreams of a future in live theater and making her own mark on the world.
Abby completing the Catalina Channel Crossing: 20+ miles in 11 hours, 11 minutes, most of it swum in darkness, overnight.
We are our daughters’ biggest cheer leaders, and thanks to social media our friends and family get to come along virtually for our daughters’ many adventures. As a result, we often hear people praise our daughters and tell us what great girls we have. We have been quick to simply agree that we are lucky to have such bright, caring, hardworking and big-hearted daughters. And we are!!!! But the truth is much deeper, and given a little time to reflect, here are some of the parenting keys that have been most vital for our family.
LOVE—Sounds obvious but this is really the foundation upon which we have built our family. We have been together 33 years and have built a relationship based on loving one another with all of our hearts. From the moment both Abby and Jenna were just a plus on a little stick we have loved them fiercely, blindly and with all of our hearts.
CREATE TEAM – We have always been “the girl family”, a foursome to take on the world. We have taught by example and word that by working together anything is possible. Learning how to build, create and lead teams is something we have shown Abby and Jenna right from the beginning. We surround ourselves with people who have some role in causing what we are up to and we put ourselves out there for others. The power of a team to produce results is significantly greater than that of an individual, and both of our girls know that. For Abby to achieve her goal of swimming across the Catalina Channel required all sorts of teams and teamwork over the course of years of devotion and dedication. Our girls know that they can bring people together whom they can count on and who will have their backs.
LISTEN – This seems so simple but is so easy to skip over. How many times as parents, tired and irritable, we wish our kids would go to sleep, or be distracted by a video or good book, so that we have a little precious time to ourselves. Our daughters have from a very young age always had us there listening to them. Being heard is a powerful experience and starts so young. We remember Abby as a tiny little girl, always asking questions as she explored and sought to understand the world around her. What, why, how questions poured from her all through the day, literally. Ask any of her school teachers who would always joke with us about Abby’s questions. And we never fell back on the “Just because” response that cuts off conversation and inquiry. We always sought to answer as clearly and truthfully as possible. Jenna has always loved a good late-night conversation, right before bed, to sort out her day and gain understanding of the events that transpired. Being morning people, a nighttime conversation has often been one of the hardest things for us to hang in there and do, but we recognize that that’s the time she wants to communicate, so we stay up way past our bedtime, so that we do connect and listen and share. Our girls are used to having us listen to them, so they are very comfortable sharing and talking to us.
Jenna Bergman, in one of her theatrical headshots
RESPECT – From the time of infancy, our children have gotten our respect. We have always valued our daughters’ thoughts and opinions, and treated their point of view and input as meaningfully and as important as that of an older person. We certainly have not always agreed with every opinion, request or desire, but we have always given them a great deal of respect. And for our girls, respecting others is just part of being human.
SUPPORT – We have always believed in our daughters’ dreams. We exposed our girls to lots of different experiences (soccer, volleyball, gymnastics, dance, painting, etc) and then followed their lead. We encouraged them to try new things but also were not attached if they didn’t like something, just as long as they were willing to give it a try. Then when something did stick, we supported them in every way that we could. When Abby got serious about her swimming, we took turns being up before the sun rose to drive her to swim practice before school. We knew which Starbucks opened at 5am, knew the local homeless folks who took refuge there for warmth, or we would sleep in the car as she swam, when the pool wasn’t close enough to head home. Meeting her with a hot Chai (and always a coffee for the coach). We connected her with a great swim team, drove and sat for hours at swim meets (we do mean hours and hours), just to watch her swim for a few minutes of thrilling competition. Similarly with Jenna, it has meant driving all over Los Angeles for voice lessons, rehearsals, auditions, dance classes, acting training. We have worked to seek out the best possible opportunities for our daughters in their respective areas of passion – the best possible teams, coaches, teachers, advisors, mentors. We were their very willing sherpas!
EXPECTATIONS – We always expect our daughters to DO their very best. We expect them to show up, put in effort, complete what they started, follow through on their commitments. We do not expect them to BE the best and we do not constantly tell them that they ARE the best. What we have always told them is that they are the very best “Abby and Jenna” and that we expect them to bring their best self to all they do. We have never cared if our daughters had a perfect GPA or the fastest swim time, or the biggest role on stage. What has always mattered is that our children put in their best effort, so that they have no regrets and leave nothing on the table. Both Abby and Jenna have developed into incredibly hard workers – with very different styles and approaches. And both are known for how hard they work. We also expect them to be respectful, be generous, be loving to others.
DISCIPLINE – We discipline without shame. We are very clear about what we expect from our girls but we also know that they are not perfect, that they will make mistakes. We don’t take it personally when they mess up, but we do expect them to clean up their messes. We are softies by nature so we’ve never been harsh, and sometimes we fold when we shouldn’t, but our girls know that there are lines that can’t be crossed.
ETHICS -We are Jewish, and we have raised our daughters on the foundation concept of “Tikkun Olam” – which means the repair of the world. For us this means asking ourselves, how can we make the world a better place? How can we make a difference and contribute? In our family this includes the act of Tzedakah – giving to charities in meaningful ways. Our daughters have always given to charities that matter to them. Abby raised money and bought a chair at our synagogue in the name of her grandfathers who had passed away – she paid for it little by little over a few years from her allowance and from gift monies she received. For one birthday as an elementary schoolgirl, she raised money to donate to the local aquarium, as the ocean and sea life have always been a passion. Both of our daughters volunteer for a variety of causes as often as they can. Jenna most recently, has phone banked at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles to help Hillary Rodham Clinton be elected and to protect a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. Jenna cannot pass a homeless person without buying them dinner or a cup of coffee. We always feed and take care of our girls’ coaches, mentors, teammates—letting them know that we have THEIR backs, just as they have our girls’ backs. Our girls are not spoiled but they are privileged, and we have always taught them that it’s their responsibility to give back, to pay it forward to help others. They know this at a cellular level. Kim’s grandmother had a saying, “always be the good one” and we have passed that onto the girls.
FAMILY and COMMUNITY – We are so lucky to have a wonderful and close family—of origin and of creation—who surround us with love. We have taught our girls to care deeply about our community, and we actively seek ways to connect with others. We are involved locally in our home neighborhood, building friendships and relationships with our neighbors. We are involved in our city. We are involved in our professions, in our synagogue. Our daughters are used to being surrounded by loving family, community and even strangers. Our family is our team.
POSSIBILITY – We live that anything is possible. We know that sometimes there are challenges but we continually teach our girls that the world is full of possibilities to create and own. We have always taught our girls that they can lead with intention. That they can set their minds to something and reach for it. We have taught them to be bold.
We are almost completely “empty nesters” and it is really true that the time flies. We are not perfect parents by any means and we were blessed with two amazing kids. We probably over parent them at times, we certainly overindulge them, we are often too forgiving, we put them first more than we maybe should and looking back we are not even sure how we had the energy to parent as intensely as we did. We spent more time and money on our kids than many would choose to do, or could do. We probably didn’t say no as much as we should have. We are headed to a time that will be just the two of us, like the 10 years we had before Abby was born, and we look forward to that time together. But we have no regrets. We have always parented Abby and Jenna with our whole hearts and souls, a bit of magic, a great deal of good luck and wonderful fortune, and mostly just always, no matter what LOVE.