May 10, 2007
The new Jewish mother
Many women are carving out new territory, but some are embracing qualities they once eschewed in their own mom
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Fuchs grew up in a Conservative Jewish home in Los Angeles. "No one talked about anything besides degrees, then some sort of graduate school -- law school, medical school." Her mother was a stay-at-home mom, although she didn't want to be and emphasized a career for her daughter.
"I don't know how she thought I could get an M.D. and take care of my children," she said. "I wanted to get married , and I wanted to have children, and I wanted my Ph.D. I didn't think, 'Gee, what would I do with these children' I wanted to have? Eventually you have to make a decision."
Fuchs said she is fortunate that hers was made for her -- her research as an immunologist didn't pan out, and she didn't want to be a second-rate scientist, so she quit. "When I left science, my oldest was 15 months, and I remember the other women were all so overwrought about leaving their kids."
She is happy as a full-time mom -- and in the Modern Orthodox circles she runs in, she doesn't feel a need to defend her decision. Still, when she's out with her husband -- a doctor -- he is quick to point out that she has a Ph.D. "So they know I had another option, and I didn't have to stay home."
Does Fuchs worry about being a stereotypical Jewish mother?
"I worry about that I'm pushing my kids too hard and [whether] I am getting them on the right track. I don't think it's a Jewish thing at all. It's an upper-middle class worry. I don't think that being Jewish informs me in that way."
As far as her own daughters go, Fuchs is not quite sure what message she wants to pass on, although it's probably not the message she got growing up.
"I think we sell women the wrong message: By the time you finish your Ph.D., then you have to get married and have kids and then you have fertility problems," she said. "On the one hand, you don't want them to get married at 17, on the other hand, it's not good for girls to get married at 32."
But Fuchs' concerns are hardly Jewish. They touch on the fundamental issues of feminism -- the balancing act between career and home -- all issues taken up by all modern women.
Consider the "mommy wars" written about endlessly in newspapers, blogs and books, where committed stay-at-home moms battle stalwart working moms, or in Maureen Dowd's "Are Men Necessary: When Sexes Collide," (Putnam, 2005) which discusses whether feminism is dead and if women today are returning to age-old stereotypical mothers, like the '50s mom, undoing years of feminist struggles.
Many women, however, are embracing the qualities that they once eschewed in their own mothers. "I think there are a lot of good things about Jewish mothers," said Lori Gottlieb, a National Public Radio commentator and author who, among other things, wrote an essay in the book, "The Modern Jewish Girls' Guide to Guilt" (Dutton, 2005) about her mother, titled, "My Private Caller" ("One day I'll be dead, and then you'll be sorry you didn't take my calls," she quotes her mother as having said.) Now that Gottleib has her own child, her views are changing.
"I think there are some wonderful things about true types of Jewish mothers, good things -- adoration of our kids, an overwhelming sense of love -- we get carried away, and maybe that's a bad thing, especially when they're older. But I think our children feel loved, and that's not a bad thing. There are worse things in the world than having too much love showered on you."
Yes, like being abandoned, beaten and abused, yelled at, ignored or sent to military school -- but are methods like attachment parenting a good thing? Is it good for children to have overprotective mothers, whose primary focus is always their children?
Antler said the key is learning from the Jewish mothers of the past.
"I think what we call the hovering mother, the helicopter mother, bears some resemblance to the overinvolved Jewish mother of the past," Antler said. But there is a difference. The 24/7 hovering mother never feels like anything she does is good enough, and she always feels guilty about it.
"I think she could learn something from the Jewish mothers of the past," Antler said. "I don't think they did feel guilty. They did go to school with their children, but they didn't feel guilty about it," she said. It was just something they had to do.
"We are all Jewish mothers," Antler said.
How we perceive today's mothers stems, in large part, from how they are portrayed by the media. Ten years ago, a group of Hollywood women founded the MorningStar Commission "to look at the impact of these stereotypes on Jewish women," said Joan Hyler, a Hollywood producer.
"Negative stereotypes have a permanent and damaging impact -- be they sexist, racist or anti-Semitic. The influence of negative stereotypes contributes to a culture of xenophobia, hatred and isolation," she said.
The group hopes to influence better portrayals of Jewish women in the media, so that instead of Fran Drescher's nanny, you might have more like Debra Messing's Grace Adler, "a proud Jewish girl glamorously bouncing down the marriage aisle with her prize -- a gorgeous Jewish doctor!"