Do we, as Jewish mothers, love our children “too much”?
Arguably, the fact that I react to that statement by saying, “There’s no such thing as too much!” says all you need to know. Of course, I also feel that way about fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies.
The question is inherently posed by “The Jewish Daughter Diaries: True Stories of Being Loved Too Much By Our Moms,” edited by Rachel Ament. It’s a quick-read book of essays that vary widely in quality, but are all about the experience of being a daughter to a Jewish mother.
One of the strongest contributions comes from Kveller’s own Mayim Bialik, who recounts her memory of her mother telling her, whenever she was passed over for a part, friend, or date: “They’re just jealous of you.” If people teased her? “They’re jealous of you,” her mother would console her. Leading Mayim to inwardly reply, in her essay, “Actually, the way my mother told it, I was indeed a fantastic, gorgeous person and I am surprised I did not become jealous of myself.”
Another great essay in the collection is Meredith Hoffa’s “Ladies Who Lycra,” about the perpetual mother-daughter battle over clothing, and a mother’s worst fears. This piece is a wonderful example of the bottomless depths of mother-love. What distinguishes the love in this piece is not the stereotypical “neurosis” of the Jewish mother–kind of an offensive stereotype, I’d venture–but rather, the unique brand of humor with which we Jews see each other and ourselves. Over the course of a few pages, Hoffa makes her reader fall in love with her mother.
In “Jewish Mom Genes,” Mara Altman writes about having the antithesis of the stereotypical Jewish mother–and finding out that her mother had deliberately made herself un-neurotic because her own mother had been so overbearing. It’s a thoughtful piece that weighs stereotypes against individual experiences, and, perhaps contrary to the premise of the title that we all share similar experiences, individual voices win the day.
I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that some of the moms in these essays sound either too cookie-cutter or, alternatively, batshit crazy. I don’t want to single any of them out, for fear of being tracked down and having my nail polish remover replaced with acid, but…yikes. There are essays in this collection that cover the well-worn ground of moms calling too frequently, moms demanding that their daughters get married and have children of their own, etc., etc.
And this is where I’m going to venture the fairly uncontroversial opinion that there is a big difference between loving and being overbearing. The latter is undesirable; the former, there really can’t be enough love in the world.
Sometimes, we all know, loving your children “too much” just means that it is painful to do so–that by the very nature of giving birth to people separate from yourself, sometimes you have to watch people you love make mistakes, trip and fall, and break their hearts. And loving them too much means your heart beats with theirs and you feel their pain as well as their joy. It’s good, it hurts, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything.