My teenage son watched the coming-of-age movie “Brighton Beach Memoirs” in school. He liked the film, which I took as a good sign since he didn’t like “The Chosen.” one of my favorites. I asked why he liked it. “It reminds me so much of you. You are like his mom — a typical Jewish mother.”
I paused there for a moment. I always thought that the movie had an exaggerated, somewhat stereotypical Jewish mother.
Technically, I am a Jewish mother, being both Jewish and his mom. Admittedly, sometimes I might have some typical characteristics, like pushing my child at school or making sure he dries his hair before he goes out so he doesn’t get sick. But I’m not a full-on stereotype. Or so I thought.
I actually consider myself a very hip mom. Now, using the word hip probably disqualifies me from any sense of coolness. I part my hair in the middle because I read in the Wall Street Journal that Gen Z made fun of side parts on TikTok. I wear animal print leggings and big hoop earrings. Again, maybe that doesn’t qualify for anything from a 17-year-old other than embarrassment.
I had been here with this question before. In second grade, at the parent-teacher conference, his teacher showed me his journal that was dedicated to me. “To my Mommy, who will cry and cry if I die.” The teacher was surprised; she said he didn’t have a dark side. I clarified, explaining that we lived on a busy city street. I always said that if you get hit by a car I’ll cry forever. I was guilting him to stay safe.
Using guilt. Maybe that’s a little bit of the stereotype coming through.
When telling this story to my own Jewish mom, she laughed and said that was such a stereotypical Jewish mom to say. That it must be in my genes.
That made me wonder. My grandmother and mom never struck me as typical Jewish moms. My grandmother was a second generation American born at the turn of the last century, which felt unusual. She was very proper. Although she loved her Brandeis women’s group and only had Jewish friends, she seemed WASP-y. She never cooked kasha varnishka and stuffed cabbage, but veal piccata at family events. One of my clearest childhood memories of her is when I was 4, after eating those bags of peanuts on a flight and, not having to go further on what happened on her family room carpet, her epic response to my apologetic mom: “It’s OK. You people already ruined it.” In my sliced challah family growing up, my mom seemed liked all other moms. But recently, when I couldn’t bring my son to visit her, that Jewish mom certainly came out. “I’m 85, almost 86. You have to bring him.” Enough said. I did.
If I am a stereotypical Jewish mom, do I need to dial it back? My son is getting ready to leave for Israel and then college. I never said that I wanted a doctor. But I wonder if my drive is pushing him for my goals and not his. As all Jewish moms do, we love our sons and think that they are the most remarkable people. My beautiful boy (yes, that’s what I call him in my head) started a nonprofit that I am so proud of (Gen Z Jews: Fighting Antisemitism… you didn’t think I wasn’t going to use this opportunity to kvell, did you?). It’s his organization, yet I still can’t help but suggest things for him to post about, and people to reach out to.
As I remind him a lot — OK, maybe too much — he’ll soon be leaving me. And while I’m really excited for the adventures and experiences that he is going to have, I’m a little sad for me. So much of my time has been focused on him. This period of my life is ending.
Still, I respect his boundaries. Last year, when he attended a summer program, I wanted to text him all day long and find out what he was doing. But I held back. I just texted each morning, “Have a great day,” and followed up in the evening. When he is in Israel, I will want to text him all day long. But I will put aside that Jewish mother gene and just WhatsApp him once a day.
When he was little, I always asked, “Where is mommy?” The answer that I trained him to say is, “in my heart.” He knows that the love I have for him is in his heart. I don’t need to text and call. He’s ready for the real world, and he knows if there is a bump, I’m a text away.
So sure, maybe I have that Jewish mother gene. And maybe that’s not a negative. I do know it’s time to let go — for him and me.