As a New Mom, I'm Tired of the Jewish Mom Tropes – Kveller
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As a New Mom, I’m Tired of the Jewish Mom Tropes

Stereotypical Jewish mom guilt in the media plays into a tired and lazy trope rooted in heteronormativity and sexism. 

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When you think of a Jewish mom, what comes to mind? Pop culture seems to offer one overwhelming vision: The “Jewish Mom Guilt” phenomenon plays out on TV (see: Helen Seinfeld, Naomi Bunch, Joyce Brewster…), on comedic greeting cards, on wildly popular Instagram accounts. The neurotic figure of the hovering Jewish mom is an omnipresent, and arguably beloved, element of Jewish culture. But somehow, it’s always irked me.

Then, this past July, I underwent an utterly chaotic and magical transformation into motherhood. Now I’m a Jewish mom — and this media insistence on Jewish mom guilt has started to feel personal. I believe that the cliché plays into a tired and lazy trope rooted in heteronormativity and sexism. 

But Jewish moms haven’t always been portrayed this way.

According to Nathan Abrams’ “The New Jew in Film,” the 1960s saw a sharp shift in the representation of Jewish moms in American media. We went from caring and loving Yiddish mamas to something completely different. “With her meddlesome, domineering control that exceeded the boundaries between proper parental concern and overprotection, as well as pleading and excessive anxiety, the Jewish Mother was blamed for the Jew’s own sense of vulnerability.” Looking at the cultural moment that the 1960s represented in America, this swivel to a negative and harmful trope wasn’t just limited to the Jewish community — it touched all moms across TV and film. While the Jewish mothers we saw were fraught and problematic, their behavior was also deemed responsible for the “mama’s boy” trope that soon followed. As Abrams put it, “immaturity, maternal over-dependence, hypochondria, undue fearfulness, and other assorted phobias” were the consequence of this trope. 

While male-dominated writers’ rooms created these tropes, the second wave of feminism was in full swing in the U.S. In short, Jewish moms were being blamed for a crisis in traditional masculinity just as women started gaining some legal and social ground in America. Color me suspicious.

I’m not saying that I don’t see where the Jewish mom guilt stereotype comes from. Earlier in my life, my experiences on the receiving end of it left me feeling responsible for other’s trauma and people-pleasing, at times sacrificing my own well-being. 

But like many millennials (I’m a 27-year-old Jewess of color living on a kibbutz with my Mizrahi husband), I took it upon myself to park my butt in a therapist’s office on the regular to unpack some of the more unsavory parts of my youth: narcissistic exes, learned trauma responses and, of course, the relationship with my parents. In the back of my mind, I felt like I was also working on these things so that I could break some patterns if I ever became a mom. 

Nearly nine months into my own motherhood, I find myself (thankfully) with a few quiet moments sprinkled throughout the day to reflect on motherhood (imahood, I suppose) — on the type of parent I want to be and don’t want to be. And my feelings towards the cultural phenomenon of Jewish mom guilt have only soured further. 

I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t have my own quirks and triggers, but as a mom, I feel like it’s my job to work through that and limit the impact it will have on my child. If I despised feeling responsible for my parents’ happiness, why would I ever carry on that behavior myself?

As a mother to a son, I am uninterested in playing any role in raising someone who would seek a romantic partner to parent them, rather than carry the load 50/50. It’s a sexist pattern that produces (in the realm of heteronormativity) incredibly lackluster partners and fathers who don’t carry their load in the ever-demanding job of being a parent. 

Despite this heavily ingrained stereotype, I feel really hopeful about my generation becoming moms. I think, overall, we are more aware of generational missteps and eager to correct them. (Plus, more of us have hauled our butts to therapy than our parents.) 

It’s easy to look at some of the big-name Jewish moms in television and film and think fondly of them — I would be lying if I didn’t say a joke or two of theirs got a chuckle out of me. But I want to do my part in not romanticizing and adopting the stereotype as my own. 

My wish is for media representation to catch up with this changing tide in parenting. I want to see more Jewish moms tackling their anxieties and doing the work to not make their children responsible for their happiness. In short, I want to see more moms like me on the big screen.

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