Last spring, I brought my son dinner one day a week after track practice — dropping it off at school because he had somewhere to be after track on those days.
After the third or fourth time, he told me that while he appreciated the dinner drop-offs, I should not do this anymore. He reminded me he is in high school and not first grade, and he can manage just fine by himself. He rolled his eyes when he told me this and said, “You are such a Jewish mother.”
There are many things I do to elicit the Jewish mother eye-roll from my kids. I’m definitely always pushing food. I remind the kids to bring a sweater when they go out even though they are old enough to figure this out by themselves. I butt in to their business and offer them unsolicited advice. I pretend I am laid back but I want them to keep working harder, and they know this.
I can fuss. I am overprotective. I am an expert worrier. I worry they don’t sleep enough. I worry they don’t eat enough protein. I worry they haven’t seen their friends in a while. I worry they’ve been out too much. I worry they won’t want Judaism in their lives when they are older.
But in my defense, my kids know I love them unconditionally. I care deeply about their interests and what’s going on in their day-to-day lives. I think they are wildly creative. I value their menschiness more than I do their GPAs, even though they don’t always believe it.
I appreciate who they are and not what I want them to be. I’d rather they shine than me. I kvell over every cool thing they do. I show my love through food — surely there are worse things.
I wear my Jewish mom badge with pride.
The formidable women who came before me — my grandmother Florence Cantor from Minsk, my great-grandmother Anna Fleishman from Kupin, my great-great-grandmother Yenta Kopit from Lyantskorun, all my Jewish mother ancestors … and even my Jewish mommy friends — they are all a part of me. Our shared collective history is powerful. When I make my grandmother’s chicken soup, light Shabbat candles and, yes, even when I push my kids to reach high, I carry all these women with me. They inspire me.
The stereotype of the Jewish mother is not an accurate portrayal of real Jewish moms
The stereotype of the Jewish mother is not an accurate portrayal of real Jewish moms, and certainly not any moms I know.
Marjorie Ingall, in “Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children,” suspects that “post-Holocaust anxiety was part of why the Jewish mother became a caricature, paired with American Jews experiencing a time of increasing suburbanization, assimilation, and Jewish economic advancement.”
At the same time, the Jewish mother’s one-dimensional status was firmly planted in our imagination by male American Jewish writers. The insufferable, guilt-inducing and infantilizing mother portrayed in books, TV shows, and films, however, is simply not who I am.
Even if it’s usually with a bit of sarcasm when either of my kids calls me a “Jewish mother,” I take it as a compliment.
“Within Jewish culture,” writes Joyce Antler in “You Never Call You Never Write! The History of the Jewish Mother,” “mothers held great importance. In her role as the ‘Woman of Valor,’ celebrated in Biblical verse praising her familial, communal and religious undertakings, the Jewish mother assumed primacy in the preservation of the Jewish people.”
Today, Jewish parenting methods are, according to Ingall, in line with modern parenting research, “fostering children’s creativity, kindness and intellect.” Whatever my failings as a mother may be, I’m thrilled to belong to a club that, Ingall claims, is “responsible for the outsized success of the Jewish people.”
I’ll admit to hovering a bit too much. And I could probably stand to let go a little. But there is much about Jewish mothering to celebrate. Besides, my kids are teenagers. Aren’t they supposed to be annoyed with me no matter what I do?