My wife insists that we embody different elements of the traditional stereotype, though we tend to view that stereotype as generally empowered, empathic, impressive, and impactful, rather than with the opprobrium it often accrues. (And, just to tweak her point a little, get us a dinner table and we are tied for being the most clichéd food-pushers in the world.) She says that to be “a Jewish mother” is a multivalent thing, that it doesn’t necessarily mean anything in particular for our little girl. Sure, I concede. There are as many different kinds of Jewish mothers as stars in the sky. Woody Allen and Henry Kissinger and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were all raised by Jewish mothers, and the results tended to vary. But still. But still.
I was raised by a strong Jewish woman and so was my wife, and our daughter will get all that devotion and wisdom and tickling and strength and silly songs and the knowledge of how to fold a hamantasch just so… but she’ll get it times two. For her, the knowledge that “a Jewish mom” can mean different things at exactly the same moment won’t be intellectual or theoretical. It’ll be bone deep, instinct of the highest order. She has one Ima and one Mommy and they are as different as they are the same. I can’t tell if I’m jealous or a little sad for her; her lessons about life and love and the way to pound a schnitzel will be divorced from gender in a certain way, simply because we’re an all-female household. (The joke that’s not quite: how is she ever going to learn masculine conjugations in Hebrew?!)
And for my wife and me, the same tension holds. How do I feel about being one of two Jewish moms to my little girl? I love both my parents very much and am close to both, but some things have always been “Mom” conversational topics (and some, of course, “Dad” ones). Will it be weird when my wife does some of the “mom” stuff with our girl? Will it be a little off for my wife when I do so?
One of the pleasures of being a lady partnered with a lady has always been the ability to just be myself, and ignore completely any lingering doubts or whispers about what a woman should be in a relationship. It was about being able to inhabit my womanhood without feeling, or defining, it in opposition to anything. Maybe we can make it the same strength as parents: without having to worry about being the right kind of Jewish mom, we can each just be the kind of parent we want to be to our wonderful, loveable, squeezeable little goofball. Certainly, we can make all the tell-it-to-your-therapist jokes we want.
Happy Mother’s Day, however you apostrophize.
Mel Weiss is the Co-Director of Summer Programming for the Center for Small Town Jewish Life. She lives in lovely Maine with her wife and daughter.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.