It has been many years since I spent the day in shul on Yom Kippur. As a teenager and young adult, I was accustomed to attending the lengthy service, praying and following along with the congregation. After my children were born, my focus on Yom Kippur changed, from attending shul to attending to my children.

It was not an easy adjustment at first. It was not so much that I resented being at home, but that I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I was not doing the things that I usually associated with Yom Kippur: praying, meditating, transcending worldliness. Instead, I was spending the day It was not an easy adjustment at firstenmeshed in very earthly concerns—what to serve the kids for lunch, how to break up the endless fights, how not to spend Yom Kippur in one fit of impatience after another . . .

Over the years, through trial and error and discussions with many mothers, I have come up with a number of techniques that make Yom Kippur with young children not only survivable, but a meaningful and spiritual experience:

1. Have a schedule in mind or write one out before Yom Kippur. Your schedule can be flexible, and you may not get to every item, but it’ll keep you from feeling that the day is stretching on endlessly.

2. Alternate with another adult. Men are obligated to pray, while women are exempt from some aspects of prayer in order to care for their children. For this reason, it is usually the mother who stays home with the children while the father goes to shul. However, there are parts of the Yom Kippur service that are not obligatory for men either. Ask your rabbi for advice on how to divide the prayers so that both parents can attend services at least some of the time. Another suggestion is to invite a friend with young children to sleep over on Yom Kippur, so you can take turns watching the children while the other one goes to shul. You can also hire a babysitter.

3. Take your kids to shul. If your children can walk on their own, or your community has an eruv, try taking them to shul for brief periods. If your shul does not offer a children’s program, lobby for one. Even if it is only for a few hours, it will give parents as well as children a welcome opportunity to participate in the Yom Kippur service for at least part of the day.

4. Buy your children their own machzor and hold a mini-service. There are many illustrated children’s machzorim with selected prayers. Children will enjoy having their own Yom Kippur service using their own machzor, supplemented by your favorite Yom Kippur melodies. Children especially enjoy belting out “Baruch Shem” after “Shema” (since it is said quietly during the year and out loud on Yom Kippur).

5. Read the story of Jonah. The story of Jonah is read in the synagogue on Yom Kippur during the afternoon service. It is also a fascinating and exciting story that children readily relate to. If you have the energy and want to be creative, have the children act out different parts of the story (“Who wants to be the giant fish?”). The story has great depth and can be understood on many levels. With older children, spend some time exploring the themes in Jonah that relate to Yom Kippur, Have the children act out different parts of the storysuch as finding our purpose in the world, G‑d’s love for all His creations, and helping others do teshuvah (repentance).

6. Play holiday-themed games. Before Yom Kippur, visit your local Jewish bookstore (or shop online!) and stock up on holiday-themed activities, such as card games, memory games and story books. Buy a few new toys and pull them out strategically during the day. This is also an excellent time to review any Yom Kippur-related art projects or worksheets they did in school. (Note: Arts-and-crafts activities are not permitted on Yom Kippur.)

7. Keep meals simple. Prepare food in advance so that you don’t have to exert too much effort. (And who wants to prepare food when you’re fasting?) A simple and nutritious lunch could include rolls, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs and sliced vegetables. You can also prepare snacks such as crackers, rice cakes and fruit slices, and keep them where kids can help themselves.

8. Take a nap if possible. After lunch, settle your kids down and go to sleep with them. It will help break up the day and enable you to preserve your strength.

9. Don’t worry about the mess. In fact, don’t worry about anything. Yom Kippur is a long day, and fasting is exhausting. Don’t waste your energy stressing over how the house looks. Toys can be picked up the next morning, when you feel more rested.

10. Let go of expectations for how a “real” Yom Kippur should look like. There are many ways to honor and celebrate Yom Kippur, and each year will be different, depending on the ages and needs of your children, as well as your own physical and emotional capabilities. Intense prayer may be out of the question for you, but you will still be experiencing Yom Kippur to its fullest.Each year will be different

The sages tell us that on Yom Kippur, itzumo shel yom mechaper—the essence of the day atones for us. Regardless of our prayers, meditation or hard work, Yom Kippur itself reveals that part of us that is always connected to G‑d, the part that doesn’t need to do anything or be anything other than what it is. This is our etzem, our essence.

Spending the day caring for your children is no less G‑dly than spending it in the synagogue. Wherever you are, you are at one with G‑d.