As a Jewish woman, mother and psychologist, I have heard the “Jewish mom” stereotype be used on many, many occasions.
Apart from my own two daughters, a lot of my clients have talked about conflicts associated with having a “Jewish mother figure” in their life — whether it be a biological parent or not. During sessions, the two descriptive words that come up most often are demanding and overbearing.
In some instances, the conflict revolves around education, and the burden they feel placed on them to achieve future vocational success (demanding). In other instances, the conflict revolves around personal boundaries, and the “leash” that they feel has gotten too tight (overbearing).
There’s a reason the “Jewish mother” is depicted as a sort of comic book “Wonder Woman” character. She will go to great lengths to protect her children, wiping out anything or anyone obstructing their path, and coming to their aid at even the slightest hurdle. In some cases, this ‘protector’ trait is incredibly useful for her children’s future success, but in others — not so much.
This is because the over-emotional guidance, or hand-holding, can eventually become a developmental issue for a child who needs more autonomy. In an effort to safeguard her child’s bright future, the mother (or mother figure) may have inadvertently caused her child more stress, embarrassment, and an unnecessary over-reliance on them.
But I’m here to tell you that being a “Jewish mother” doesn’t have to tip the scale in a negative direction. You are allowed to be demanding and overbearing (at the appropriate times). You are allowed to have high expectations. And you are not just allowed but you are required to care!
Yes, sometimes we care to a greater extent than our children would like. My kids are adults now, but from time to time they still tell me things like: “Eema (mom in Hebrew), you need to stop thinking ahead for us!” Yet, they also call me at any time of day they please with complaints, requests, and life advice. They know I’ll pick up when I can. They know I’m always thinking of them (even if sometimes it’s a bit “too much”).
So, here’s my question to you:
If your kids expect a lot from you, isn’t it okay to expect a lot from them?
Life is about balance, and after all, we’re trying to raise balanced kids! In the world of parenting, structure (aside from love) is one of the most important pillars of raising well-balanced kids. And although we wish it were easier to build structure, structure is a tight web of daily, weekly, and yearly expectations (or good habits) stacked on top of each other. This is why quality parenting is hard work, it’s tough, but so are Jewish mothers!
You see, there is nothing inherently “wrong” about having high expectations as a Jewish mother. As long as they’re not unrealistic, high expectations will nudge your children in the direction of flourishing. But in order for that to happen without setting your kids back emotionally, you have to hold yourself to the same high standard. Ironically, there is perhaps nobody better equipped to do so than the “demanding Jewish mother” herself.
So, I say it’s time to lean into the “Jewish mom” stereotype. Just as you demand the best out of your children, demand the best out of yourself. Find ways to practice being a more balanced parent — pushing your kids when appropriate and then pulling back to give them space when necessary. It’s never easy to course correct, but the practice will help you raise more grateful, resilient, and happy children.
In psychology, this is what we call moving from a fixed mindset (that your abilities are set) to a growth mindset (that your abilities can develop). Over the years I’ve expanded the definition of the “Jewish mother” from something negative and fixed to something positive and growing. Being a “Jewish mom” can mean a lot of things, and I hope you can accept my new interpretation with open arms.
At the end of the day, your children don’t need Wonder Woman (though I’m sure they’d be pleased to meet Gal Gadot).
They need their mom, their Jewish mom.
Dr. Tal Leead has over 25 years of clinical experience and runs her own private practice in Southern CA.