This question came to my mind unexpectedly, while I was looking through the window of my office, waiting for my boss to provide me with the 25th round of changes to the next year budget. Even though this exercise was completely useless, because the 26th round was coming tomorrow, I felt guilty. Feeling guilty for me is like eating or breathing- everyday necessity. If there is no apparent reason for it; it’s not a problem, I can always make up one. I blame my mom for it – my Jewish mother.
My mom loves my sister and me deeply and unconditionally. We talk every day. If my mom calls and I am not home, I feel guilty. She would come up with some horrific scenarios in her mind and worry herself to death. She would feed us and our families until we can’t get up from the table. If I don’t try everything she cooked and complement, I feel guilty – it hurts her feelings. I don’t remember hearing “Good Job” from my mom. There is always something small (or big) that could be done better. She compares us to others, but somehow fails to see that we grew up to be independent and successful people. First, my mom seems surprised that her kid actually has accomplished something; second, there is always someone else who has achieved more. She is worried that we don’t think everything through before making an important step. When I told her that we were buying a house, she asked: “Are you sure you have money for it? What happens if you lose your job?”
My parents’ primary goal was to make sure we had food, clothes and roof over our heads. They wanted us to get an education that would lead to stable jobs – with “stable” being the key word. It’s OK to be stuck at a job you hate, as long as you get a paycheck. Everybody is doing it. We talked about politics, books, but never about personal matters. I could not imagine having a conversation with my parents regarding alcohol, drugs, sex. It was not something you discuss at a dinner table.
My parents wanted us to have a good life – stable, calm, risk free, without any major ups or downs. They did what they knew how and were comfortable with. They are great people, and I’ve learned a lot from them. They shaped a person I grew up to be.
In my opinion, my mom is a partially “Jewish mother”. She definitely overfed me (too bad I was naturally skinny) and always put me first; but, she also instilled a feeling of guilt in me, worry about non-existent problems and doubt about my abilities. She was never overprotective, or wanted something back in return for her “hardships” of raising me. I give her a lot of credit for not getting too involved in my life after I got married. She could comment on minor things, but she stood away from my relationship with my husband, kids, career choices, money decisions. In some areas of raising my children I follow my parents, in others I take completely different route. As probably any parent, I constantly question my approach to disciplining my kids, and decisions I make on a daily basis. I may think that I handle things the right way at the moment, but the next day I realize I’ve made a mistake.
Which brings me to the question at hand: am I a Jewish mother? Sure, I am a mother and I am Jewish, but these are not the only prerequisites for obtaining this Honorary Degree. In fact, you don’t even have to be Jewish to qualify for a “Jewish mother”. I am yet to figure out if this is an insult or a complement. I guess it depends on the circumstances.
I’ve decided to look what others think about it, and came up with the following “Jewish mother Syndrome” definitions:
The stereotype generally involves a nagging, loud, highly-talkative, overprotective, smothering, and overbearing mother or wife, who persists in interfering in her children’s lives long after they have become adults and who is excellent at making her children feel guilty for actions which may have caused her to suffer. The Jewish mother stereotype can also involve a loving and overly proud mother who is highly defensive about her children in front of others. Like Italian mother stereotypes, Jewish mother characters are often shown cooking for the family, urging loved ones to eat more, and taking great pride in their food. Feeding a loved one is characterized as an extension of the desire to mother those around her. Lisa Aronson Fontes describes the stereotype as one of “endless caretaking and boundless self-sacrifice” by a mother who demonstrates her love by “constant overfeeding and unremitting solicitude about every aspect of her children’s and husband’s welfare[s]“.
Jewish mothers an unstoppable force of nature that will feed you, pamper you, and pester you at the slightest provocation. known to spout Yiddish randomly.
be warned: if you come to my house, you WILL leave with a full stomach and a bag of leftovers.
Based on Richard W. Malott at Western Michigan University who spent fair amount of time studying this syndrome: “The Jewish-Mother Syndrome: You can never do it right; no matter how hard you try. So you try harder and harder, because, if you don’t, you’ll feel even more guilt. Successful people seem driven by this guilt, fear, and anxiety. Without his own Jewish-mother syndrome, we would never have had the world’s most brilliant, insightful psychotherapist Sigmund Freud. But, without their Jewish-mother syndromes, Dr. Freud’s patients wouldn’t have needed the world’s most brilliant psychotherapist. Nothing is free. So what happens to the unfortunate who have not had a good Jewish Mother? They will have a low rate of empathetic behavior, and they will also have a low rate of other productive professional or work behavior. Those who have had moderately effective Jewish mothering will start fearing failure at the beginning of the month when the task is assigned and will start to work on it right away, with the immediate results of a mild decrease in their fear, and with the long term results that they complete a high quantity of high-quality tasks on a timely basis.”
The other day I was talking to my son’s swimming coach, asking her to make him work hard. She said: “You must be a Jewish mother. I have three boys myself, all grown up now. They are successful because I’ve made them work.” I believe in working hard, and doing your best. Laziness and/or ignorance drives me crazy. I don’t like leaving assignments to the last minute. If there is a problem in school –academic or otherwise- it should be communicated; otherwise, I don’t have an opportunity to help, and my kids have to take full responsibility for the outcome. Is that a lot to ask of a kid? Probably, but I believe that if they don’t learn discipline and work ethics at the young age, they won’t be successful. My standards and expectations are high. I want my kids to be challenged. I make them work. I scream if they don’t listen, and then feel bad about. It is really hard to compete with U-tubes, X-boxes, I-pads, etc, but this is a topic of another conversation.
I don’t overfeed or nag. I would never blame my kids for anything I have to “sacrifice” for parenting them. That is because, despite the common belief, I don’t sacrifice anything. If you choose to do something, you take all of it – good and bad- without complaining. It applies to careers, sports, hobbies, friendships, but somehow society has a different set of rules for parenting. If one buys a luxury car, everybody understands- he enjoys driving it-money well spent; if he pays for his child’s college – he sacrifices. Well, knowing that my kids get a good education gives me more pleasure then driving a luxury car. Children do not choose to be born, nor do they choose how they would be raised, so they don’t have to pay for it.
I try not to be overly protective, but my husband compensates for it. No amount of scientific evidence is enough for him to prove that cold weather doesn’t cause flu epidemic. He is willing to go above and beyond to dress my teenager into something warmer than his classmates are wearing. Putting a basketball hoop on the driveway took months of intense negotiations. What if the ball bounces off to the road? So he clearly fills that part of a “Jewish mother” requirements.
I believe in pursuing one’s interests in choosing a career. I tell my kids that I don’t care whom they would become as long as they are good at what they do. There are no limits as to what they can accomplish. This concept is foreign to my parents. They believe I have to point my sons in the “right direction”.
We talk about everything. I don’t believe that telling the truth about my mistakes and weaknesses impacts the level of respect my kids have for me. It strengths our bond, reinforces the concept that nobody is perfect and it’s OK. We criticize each other constantly, make jokes. My 8-year-old can grill us on how many times we got drunk or if we ever tried drugs, and he would get an honest answer. I remember when my older son came back from an overnight camp trip, and started telling me about how the bunch of boys found a bra in the woods nearby and worshipped it in the bunk. When I told him that I didn’t really want to know all the details of this ludicrous act, he said:” But mom you wanted to know everything.” There is no elaborate philosophical or educational tactic behind it; I just get a kick out of hearing their opinions and take on things.
My son feels guilty when he is not doing something he is suppose to do (like school project). He blames me for that (sounds familiar?). “Mom, I feel bad about it. Are you happy?” he asks me. I try not to overdo the guilt thing.
A lot of parents I know consider raising kids to be “the job” –exhausting and all-consuming. For me, even though it’s quite overwhelming and stressful at times, parenting is mostly about fun. Based on the definition that goes against the very core of a “Jewish mother” term. Nevertheless, I still consider myself a “Jewish mother”.
In my opinion, the term evolved through the years. We live in a more open and inclusive society. The corporal punishment is replaced by a more lenient alternatives. Being grounded in the room with an iPhone and a computer, or spending 30 minutes in a detention doesn’t do much disciplining. Parents don’t have as much influence on the kids as they have had before due to abundance of information coming from all the different sources. You can’t protect your kids from it; only to teach them to deal with it and make the right choices. At the end I am pursuing the same goals as a traditional “Jewish mother” does; I just have updated my methods a bit. I don’t know if my approach will bear fruit or back fire. Time will tell. To me a “Jewish mother” is a mother who is crazy about her kids. I am definitely one of those, just more liberal one.