Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Independent Children
Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children by Marjorie Ingall (Harmony, 256 pp. $18.75)
When Marjorie Ingall first gave birth, she balked at strangers calling her “Mama”—not only because it negated her other identities but because she “had internalized certain stereotypes about what being a Jewish mother, specifically, meant,” she writes in Mamaleh Knows Best. A columnist for the online magazine Tablet (and formerly a parenting advice columnist at the Forward newspaper), Ingall decided to explore her discomfort with the word by investigating the negative stereotype that she says describes Jewish mothers as “the original helicopter parents: clingy, needy, guilt-mongering hovercraft who always believe their precious spawn are perfect.”
In Mamaleh, she smashes those preconceptions (and bad Jewish mother jokes) while simultaneously attempting to show good Jewish mothering traits.
The book peppers her personal parenting experience with societal observations and relevant studies, and it is organized around parenting skills, such as fostering independence, maintaining discipline, distrusting authority, encouraging geekiness, valuing education and telling stories. And, most important, how to raise a mentsh.
For example, Ingall says we should “emphasize” but not “fet-ishize” education. “Many of us have lost the outsider’s perspective that has actually made us successful as a people,” she writes. “Being a Jewish mother means you shouldn’t just worry about your kids; you should be concerned about everyone’s kids. That means working to improve
“Our struggle today isn’t merely to keep our children alive,” she asserts. “or smooth their way in the world. It’s to keep our kids from becoming schmucks.”
Ingall makes a call for inclusiveness, tolerance for intermarriage and appreciating Jewish culture: “What Jewish mothers have always done is transmit values and stories. In a pluralistic world we can share our own narratives and appreciate others.”
Amy Klein is a freelance writer living in New York.