inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #0 of 61: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Mon 12 Sep 16 19:11
    
We are happy to welcome Marjorie Ingall, <obizuth> on the WELL, to
discuss her new book, Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to
Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children. 

Marjorie Ingall hails from Rhode Island, the Biggest Little State in
the Union. She is the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, which turns the
Jewish Mother stereotype on its head, and a columnist for Tablet
magazine. She’s also a frequent contributor to the New York Times
Book Review, and a writer for many other magazines and newspapers,
including Glamour, Self, The Jewish Forward (where she wrote a
column called “The East Village Mamele”), Real Simple, Ms., Food &
Wine, and the late, lamented Sassy, where she was the senior writer
and books editor. She’s also a ghostwriter. She was a
writer/producer at the Oxygen TV network when it first launched,
before learning that her perkiness levels were not up to a job in
daytime talk television. She lives in New York City’s East Village
with her husband Jonathan Steuer, daughters Josie (age 14) and Maxie
(age 11), and two very vocal cats. 

Leading our interview and discussion is Amy Keyishian, <superamyk>
on the WELL, Amy is an editor at Recode.net and writes for
Prevention.com. She's also a mother to 2 and stepmother to 3 more.
She's known Marjorie since her Sassy days, though really, all of
Marjorie's days are Sassy days.
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #1 of 61: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Mon 12 Sep 16 19:12
    
Welcome Marjorie and Amy!
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #2 of 61: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Mon 12 Sep 16 19:22
    
To get us started, Marjorie, what was the most surprising thing you
discovered in your research for Mamaleh Knows Best?
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #3 of 61: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Mon 12 Sep 16 19:27
    
And another question 

So, do you need to be a Jewish mother to read this book? Is this
book for all parents, and if so, why bring Jewiness into it?
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #4 of 61: behind on BADGES! (obizuth) Tue 13 Sep 16 17:10
    
hi, all -- thanks for having me! i will type in lowercase as is my 
email/well/FB wont, as opposed to professional sentence case. 

the book was definitely not intended for only jews. there was an old 
advertising slogan called "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's" 
(you can see the obit for the original copywriter, Judy Protas, written by 
the estimable Margalit Fox at the NYT, here: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/business/judy-protas-writer-of-slogan-for-le
vys-real-jewish-rye-dies-at-91.html?_r=0) 
and you don't have to be jewish to be a jewish mother. there was a very 
funny book i used to read at my own bubbe's house, called How to Be A 
Jewish Mother by humorist Dan Greenburg -- it definitely reveled in the 
stereoytpe of the jewish mother as a guilt-seeking missle, but as a small 
child i thought it was HIGH-LARIOUS. it was one of hte first grownup books 
i ever read. and Greenburg was all about "anyone can be a jewish mother." 

my book, however, broadens the lens, looking beyond the stereotype that 
was a product of the 50s-80s in America and the UK, to look at writings 
about parenting and about being a jewish woman from the middle ages 
onward. i wanted to show that contrary to the stereotype, jewish mothers 
have actually encouraged their kids to be independent, to be wary of 
authority, to have a sense of humor, and to focus on doing the work of 
healing a broken world. i think the specific values that jewish mothers 
instilled in their kids are why jews have been successful in so many 
different fields (science, journalism, the arts, journalism, comedy) both 
in times of relative acculturation and comfort and in times of great 
prejudice and antisemitism. 

i think the most surprising thing i discovered in my research isn't much 
reflected in the book, because it was TOO jewy. it was the content of 
"tkhines," which were prayer books written by and for jewish women, in 
yiddish (spoken vernacular) rather than hebrew (liturgical fancypants 
language). i knew they existed, but i didn't know how specific the prayers 
were until i started looking at them. there were prayers for having an 
easy labor, prayers for having your milk come in and being able to 
breastfeed successfully, prayers for having your business thrive and 
prayers that your kids will marry well. they're SO unlike the traditional 
classical Hebrew prayers -- i found reading them very moving. they're such 
a reflection of common female concerns that of course the formal, 
ritualistic male liturgy doesn't concern itself with at all. 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #5 of 61: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 13 Sep 16 17:21
    
Oh wow, I have heard of those women's prayer books too, but have
never seen one. It makes total sense that women's prayers would be
so specific, about their lives and issues. So not present in the
male liturgy. But I guess it didn't really belong in your book. 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #6 of 61: Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Tue 13 Sep 16 17:59
    
Wow, I want one of those prayer books! They sound amazing and yes --
an amazing periscope into another place and time. 

Marjorie, I've loved your work since your Sassy days, as you know,
and still have my copy of The Field Guide to North American Males on
my shelf next to Irma Kurtz's books. I'm so pleased to be
interviewing you about the natural progression from your excellent
parenting columns, this amazing book, "Mameleh Knows Best." 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #7 of 61: Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Tue 13 Sep 16 18:02
    
I would love to kick this thing off with a topic that I know you and
I disagree about: The phenomenon known as "helicopter parenting."
(Hey, it's a Jewish-ish book, what would a discussion be without
some good-natured arguing?)

I tend to see media representations of this style of parenting --
the idea that today's parents are incredibly coddling, to the point
of hobbling their children -- as overblown. Do you see an
overstatement of this trend, or do you think helicopter parenting is
really A Thing, and can you talk about how you arrived at that
conclusion? 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #8 of 61: Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Tue 13 Sep 16 18:03
    
And I"m very sorry you're feeling sick. I was looking forward to
seeing you here in SF on Thursday! Please feel better soon! 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #9 of 61: Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 13 Sep 16 18:42
    
Just riffing back to the "tkhine" thread at the beginning, there is a 
wonderful compilation,

Seyder Thinkes: The forgotten book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women, 
translated and edited by Devra Kay back in 2004.

Slightly more recently, Aliza Lavie published "A Jewish Woman's Prayer 
Book," which was derived from a host of such books back in Europe.

Thought I'd provide some references for those who want to pursue one 
aspect of the subject =not= covered so much by <obizuth>'s book.
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #10 of 61: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Tue 13 Sep 16 19:18
    
I am looking forward to reading this even though I do not have kids
and am only nominally Jewish! 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #11 of 61: Scott Underwood (esau) Tue 13 Sep 16 19:26
    
I'm neither Jewish nor a mother and my kids are grown, but I'm looking
forward to following along.
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #12 of 61: Dodge (dodge1234) Tue 13 Sep 16 19:37
    
Me, too.
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #13 of 61: Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Tue 13 Sep 16 20:39
    
I'm so glad to hear it!
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #14 of 61: It's all done with mirrors... (kafclown) Tue 13 Sep 16 20:55
    
I'm Jewish and a father, but everything I've read by Marjorie has been 
great, so I'm tagging along also!

Let me ask you, at some point, to address the Jewish father, who is 
usually not very present, and certainly not as present as the Jewish 
Mother, or is stereotypically a quietly suffering mealy mouthed 
guy railroaded by his wife and her demands.
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #15 of 61: behind on BADGES! (obizuth) Wed 14 Sep 16 08:29
    
ari, you know the old joke: a jewish kid comes home from school and says 
"Ma! Ma! I was cast in the school play! i'm playing a jewish father!" his 
mother replies, "you march right back there and tell them you want a 
SPEAKING PART!"

i do think there is a nebbishy jewish man stereotype, for sure. but i 
think it's generally not tied to FATHERHOOD, the way the jewish mother 
stereotype is tied to motherhood. and i think the nebbish in jewish humor 
is frequently portrayed as more clever and witty than his bullies. i think 
that's reflected in jewish-american comedy, too -- the jewish nerd hero 
(the real-life version of which is jon stewart), which has no female 
equivalent. it's a specific kind of misogyny that fuels the jewish mother 
stereotype. 

amy, i often feel that you feel PERSONALLY ATTACKED when i use the term 
"helicopter parenting," and labels are odious, so i will try to avoid for 
this convo! but i do note in the book that the history of parenting 
literature has ALWAYS since its earliest days had two opposing threads: 
child-centered and parent-centered. ann hulbert's brilliant book Raising 
America is a look at generations of child-rearing advice, and the strict 
vs lenient divide has always been there. that said: the research is very, 
very strong that letting kids solve their own problems and not rushing in 
to rescue them and letting them fail sometimes is essential to their 
development as moral, self-sufficient, resilient human beings. i go thru 
some of that research in the book. and the history of jewish parenting, 
counter to the jewish mother stereotype (which is a product of a small 
blip in a vast history), is actually one of encouraging kids to take 
risks, to flee the nest, and to explore. that's why, i argue in the book, 
jews have been so successful in so many different fields, in times of 
terrible anti-semitism and in times of relative comfort and prosperity. 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #16 of 61: Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Wed 14 Sep 16 15:53
    
Of course I feel PERSONALLY ATTACKED! It's all about me, didn't you
get the memo?

I think our parenting styles are similar -- my older daughter is, at
this moment, puttering around the kitchen making her after-school
snack, which somehow involves both oatmeal and saltines while
simultaneously narrating the process for her imaginary YouTube
channel -- but I do feel like not you, but the more general
helicopter parenting brouhaha leaves out any knowledge of the darker
experiences that led many parents to be more watchful than our
'70s-era predecessors. That's why I get all crabby about it. 

I love this perfect passage:

"Baumrind's research shows that kids do best when parents have high
expectations for their behavior, but also provide support when
needed, so that kids learn self-control and maintain
self-motivation. Those awesome parents are the authoritative
parents, also known as The Jews." 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #17 of 61: Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Wed 14 Sep 16 15:54
    
I also love the story of when you (and I!) were little and Jimmy
Carter was excoriated for "lusting in his heart." Your mom's Jewish
lesson is that Carter's religion punishes you for having the
thought, while ours rewards you for resisting the thought. 

This story talks about balance and understanding that we're not
perfect. So how do you balance between freedom and restriction? How,
as a parent, do you find your version of that spot? 

Also: How do you stop worrying what others are thinking when your
kid is being annoying at the grocery store and you know you'll be
judged no matter what you do?
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #18 of 61: behind on BADGES! (obizuth) Wed 14 Sep 16 16:58
    
you tell yourself "i will be judged no matter what i do." if you whisk the 
kid out while they are screaming, you will be judged. if you try to reason 
quietly with the kid, you will be judged. if you smack the kid 
upside the head repeatedly you will be judged (deservedly). i tell the 
story of the Hells Angel -- i live across the street from the clubhouse -- 
yelling at me because i left the house pushing josie in a stroller without 
a sunhat on. HE NEEDS A HAT! i could have stoppped to explain to the Hells 
Angel that josie always pulled her hat off and threw it mightily into the 
street, and i'd been thru too damn many hats, but WHY. also people who 
judge you are taking one satisfying moment in their day to feel superior 
to you, and then they go about their lives. (you can change that to "their 
miserable lives" if it helps.) you can tell yourself you're doing a good 
deed by giving them that brief feeling of satisfaction in their judgy day. 
IT'S A MITZVAH! 

once baby josie hurled her hat off and a celebrity chased it down and gave 
it back to me, which was nice. now i forget though whether it was liev 
schreiber or philip michael hoffman. one of them. 

as to how you find that perfect place between too much restriction and too 
much freedom, it's an ongoing balancing act. it changes, according to your 
anxieties, your child's needs, your family's collective needs. but 
honestly, dr spock gave the best parenting advice: trust yourself; you 
know more than you think you do. 

i didn't want to write a book that made people feel bad. i wanted them to 
see that i struggle too, and mothers throughout history have struggled, 
and it's not LIFE AND DEATH if your kid forgets their lunch (jews have 
known from LIFE AND DEATH, and THIS AIN'T IT) and you learn to choose the 
hills you want to die on WHILE ALSO deciding what things you really care 
about and then sticking to your guns. damn, that metaphor got 
militaristic. but when parents waffle in front of their kids, or say "five 
minutes!" and then repeat that every five minutes for an hour, or say no 
and then cave, i think that's not good. the Talmud says, "never threaten a 
child. either punish him or forgive him." 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #19 of 61: Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Thu 15 Sep 16 07:00
    
I don't know how you can possibly mix up Liev Schreiber and Philip
SEYMOUR Hoffman. (Unless it was Philip Michael Tomas, in which case
even more.) 

I love the idea that allowing some sour-faced schmuck some
satisfaction is a mitzvah. 

Any thoughts from our esteemed audience as I gather my thoughts this
morning? 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #20 of 61: Helen Donlon (hdonlon) Thu 15 Sep 16 07:03
    
There's something so beautiful about the idea of Josie flinging her
hat into the orbit of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and him stopping to
rescue and return it. I hope it *was* him.
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #21 of 61: Scott Underwood (esau) Thu 15 Sep 16 08:02
    
I liked that, but even more I liked that a Hell's Angel, a member of
a group that disdains helmet laws and, at least in my state, tend to
wear half-helmets modeled after German military gear, stopped to tell
a stranger to put a hat on her kid!
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #22 of 61: Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Thu 15 Sep 16 11:04
    
I'd like to point everyone to a magnificent sentence I have never
before seen in a parenting advice book, and I've read my share:
"Feel free to ignore me, this book's authority figure." 

I feel like rather than an advice book, readers should see Mameleh
as a ... an opinion book? It's very "here's what works for me and
might work for you. have a think." 

I can't stress enough what a fun read this book is. I hope everyone
has bought a copy and will buy copies for friends. It should be read
by all the eyeballs. 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #23 of 61: Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Thu 15 Sep 16 11:12
    
You know what I want you to expand upon, Marjorie, because I think
our cohort on the Well will relate to it: This idea of "fragile high
self-esteem" and "secure high self-esteem." Can you explain the
difference, and what makes our self-esteem secure? 

I'm going to go out on a limb and say, many of us are re-parenting
ourselves and filling in some stuff our parents forgot, and I think
this is a job that we can do anytime -- making our self-esteem more
secure and less dependent on others. 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #24 of 61: Ruth Bernstein (ruthb) Thu 15 Sep 16 12:05
    
I think that is a really good question! 

I have another one, regarding a sort of recurring issue with my very
lovely 14yo child, who is dreamy and artistic and witty and social,
but not competitive--at least not right now. The child is about to
enter the high-stakes world of getting into schools (our location
has a few schools that are private and our town has great public
schools). 

He is so non-competitive that I sometimes feel that I should break
it to him that he will not automatically get into every school, even
though he is quite bright, unless he works very hard and even
develops a talent. 

This seems to go against every instinct he has, and as a person who
has worked hard to overcome her natural competitive instinct in many
cases, it also seems unnatural to me. Mammeleh, you know best: how
would you talk to my kid about this fact of life in our competitive
little town? 
  
inkwell.vue.491 : Marjorie Ingall Mamaleh Knows Best
permalink #25 of 61: behind on BADGES! (obizuth) Thu 15 Sep 16 14:54
    
ruth, the way you describe your kids in the parenting conf, i have great 
fondness for them and i also relate to them. 

do you think your dreamy artistic witty social non-competitive kid will 
CARE if they don't get into every school? why precisely do you want to 
warn them about it in advance? do you think doing so will make the kid 
work harder? in other words, what's your motivation, and whose mishegas is 
this? i actually think it's GOOD for kids to learn before they got to 
college that other kids are smarter and willing to work harder than they 
are. 

i just typed an anecdote about a friend who was blindsided in college by 
no longer being the smartest guy in the room. then i remembered that 
inkwell is public! so uh, to be maddeningly unspecific, the research on 
competitiveness is pretty clear that if you teach a kid to see the brain 
as a muscle rather than intelligence as finite and fixed, and you teach a 
kid to be competitive ONLY with their own standards rather than other 
people's scores, you will end up iwth a kid who is both motivated and 
unlikely to be crushed by failure. teach a kid to value hard work instead 
of achievement. process not product, as the teachers and artists say. 

which brings us into intrinsic and extrinsic self-esteem. a kid who has 
internalized that they are worthwhile and good and ok and loved and 
capable is a kid whose self-esteem is intrinsic. a kid whose self-esteem 
is extrinsic, based on other people's assessments and grades and test 
scores and opinions about their looks and fashion choices, is a kid whose 
self-esteem is more likely to be fragile. the reason many studies have had 
conflicting views on whether self-esteem is really such an important or 
even good thing is that they fail to distinguish intrinsic and 
extrinsic self-esteem, secure and fragile self-esteem. it's vital to 
have a core awareness of self, of one's strengths and weaknesses, but also 
of one's essential validity as a human being. if your self-esteem is 
utterly dependent on what others think of you, you're more likely to do 
bad things to preserve their good opinion of you...and to shore up your 
own (teetering) good opinion of yourself. like cheat. which makes your 
fragile high self esteem even more fragile unless you can delude yourself 
that you DESERVE all the stuff you haven't really worked for. 

some kids are just not driven by the desire for good grades or the urge to 
be the best in the class. (i'm with you. i was one of those kids too, and 
believe me, i get that having a kid who is not that way is kinda 
baffling.) if your kid is ethical and kind and sweet, and has a few things 
they are passionate about, even if those things are not the things that 
will get them into teh best school, that may be both a comfort and a bit 
of a disappointment to you. it is fine for it to be both. your kid sounds 
like a really great kid. 

i am happy to hear other people's stories about, as amy says, "reparenting 
ourselves." one of hte ways i hope the book reaches non-jews is in talking 
about how we define ourselves not only in alignment with but also in 
opposition to our parents, our longtime family history, and our religion 
or lack thereof. i remember doing a piece for Self about couples 
therapists who specialize in tensions around money, and one talked about 
how each member of a relationship comes to the relationship with their 
parents and grandparents and great-grandparents attitudes toward money 
baked in, and you either internalize or reject your predecessors' 
emotional responses to money. i think that's true of parenting, too.
  

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