She nags! She complains! And please: Nobody is good enough for her son (who’s a doctor or a lawyer with a Harvard degree, of course). The stereotype of an overbearing Jewish mom has existed through the ages. The careers of Philip Roth, Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld would be dead without them.
Journalist Marjorie Ingall wants to explore and dispel those myths in her upcoming book, “Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children.” The accomplished journalist (Tablet Magazine, The New York Times, the late, lamented Sassy magazine) talked to JewishBoston about motherhood, stereotypes and carving out the time to live a creative life.
My kids are older; they’re now 11 and 14. I always want to say to people whose kids are little, who are in the trenches: they get more self-sufficient! I’ve also been writing for a long time. When my kids were small, I worked part-time, and we had a wonderful caregiver. People want parenting writers to parent and somehow write around the edges. Writing is an actual job! I also had that fantasy of being able to work while the baby was in a Moses basket, typing with one hand and breastfeeding with the other. We had a great caregiver, and I remember realizing that I was being ridiculous and crying when she was the first person to give my daughter a manicure and not me. If you’re so blessed as to have a choice, there are wonderful things about being a stay-at-home mom and about being a working-outside-the-home mom. You can’t have everything all at once, though.
Periodically, people would ask me about writing a collection of columns, but you really can’t do that anymore. I needed to have something new to say, and I didn’t want to write a parenting book when my kids were little. I felt I didn’t have the perspective that I do now.
Why a book about Jewish mothers?
My younger child is obsessed with “The Big Bang Theory.” One of the nerd’s moms is a stereotype of a screaming, neurotic, food-obsessed, direct pipeline to an old Philip Roth character that hit its heyday in the 1950s through the 1980s. But when comedians do the Jewish mom inflection, it’s still there. And now there are these women creating Jewish moms on TV, in shows like “Transparent,” “Broad City” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
How much of this is personal for you?
My kids get to OK what I write. I have such respect for writers who will just go balls to the wall, talking about liking one kid more than another, or suicide, or wishing a kid was gay, or loving your husband more than your kid. It’s useful to read those things, but I can’t do it. If I were writing a straight-up memoir, it’d be way more dishonest. Other people are more interesting! I went through this juggling of making the book erudite and historical and funny. My idol is Mary Roach, who does that really well.