My grandmother used to say that a mother’s wisdom is the world’s greatest gift. Of course, she would often remind me of this right before ‘gifting’ me her advice on everything from the benefits of fiber, to how to keep a husband, to the best way to clean my kitchen floors.
In honor of my late grandmother, I asked five local Jewish mothers to share their wisdom for Mother’s Day. Practical, humorous and philosophical, their advice also sheds light on the Jewish perspective of motherhood.
Rabbi Kenneth Brodkin of Congregation Kesser Israel explains Judaism and motherhood go hand in hand. As a mother cares for her child, she plants the sense of a greater being who loves them. “This is why a mother, an Eim, is the figure who plants the seeds of Emunah, or faith, in a child,” says Brodkin.
Faith was a common theme in my interviews. Jen Feldman, a mother of two and the development director at Congregation Beth Israel, says she tells her children they must have faith their lives will turn out even better than they imagined. “I repeatedly tell my kids to remember that life is a party and everyone is just waiting to be invited,” says Feldman.
Barbara Cohen, mother of two, shares the importance of having faith in your parenting skills. “Trust your instincts! Mothers receive lots of advice, just take a deep breath and trust your maternal instincts, they won’t fail you.”
Having faith in the maternal instinct also helps prevent a very Jewish problem – motherly guilt. Mothers should never feel alone, says Linda Cohen, author of the lovely book, 1,000 Mitzvahs: How Small Acts of Kindness Can Heal, Inspire and Change Your Life. “No matter what stage your children are in – the wonderful or the challenging – everything will change,” says the author. She also encourages moms not to feel guilty asking for help or getting support.
In addition to discouraging ‘mother guilt,’ she brought up another important theme – food. “Share food together, meal time is crucial and valuable.”
Allison Sherman, mother of two teenagers, also cheers family mealtime but cautioned, “Do not be a short order cook. Serve one thing for dinner and that’s it. Don’t worry – they will eat when they get hungry enough.”
Referencing the wisdom of King Solomon – “Educate a child according to their path” – Brodkin says, “We have the opportunity to see what is unique about our children. Our parenting has to reflect the ‘path’ of each unique kid.”
Barbara Cohen says Jewish wisdom also tells us: “Our children are a gift on loan to us from G-d … with strings attached.” For her, strings are finding the balance between protecting them and letting them become self-reliant – one of the most difficult challenges for a parent.
Feldman believes mothers can find the balance by standing firm in their principles. “If you model the behavior you want in word and in deed, then you have passed on to them a truly strong moral compass.”
Predictably, many of the women echoed my grandmother’s sentiment by wishing they had listened to their own mothers a bit more. Feldman reminisces, “My own mother gave me great love, advice and support. In hindsight I wish I had better believed what my mother told me was the emet, the real truth.”
And, of course, the real truth is that motherhood is one of the few gifts that keeps on giving.
Vanessa Van Petten is a freelance writer and speaker who lives in Portland. She specializes in human relationships with a focus on youth and family.