Jewish parenting strategies

Mon, 21 Nov 1994 11:06:40 -0600

To respond to Eve Pinsker:
Of course, you're running into big problems trying to contrast "Jewish"
with "Gentile" parenting strategies. As long as this discussion remains at
the level of anecdotes, we're okay. The degree of variability within the
two groups you are trying to define is enormous. It might make more sense
to look at the phenomenon of "first-generation" parenting among those groups
concerned with social mobility.
With regard to anecdotes, my own Jewish mother-in-law clearly believes
I was not *smart* in pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology, completing it (at
Harvard, no less), or working my tail off to pursue and receive tenure at
a major university last year. The fact that I am earning less than many
high school teachers she knows (she taught English in the Philadelphia
public schools), and in fact far less than I might have earned as a doctor,
attorney, or stockbroker, is a sure sign that I am *stupid* when it comes to
acheiving success in this life. She and her friends sing the praises of
the sons and daughters who are financially successful. Unfortunately, the
ones who become professors of physics, mathematics, or even anthropology
are the ones who have wasted their time and talent. My dissertation never
wound up on a coffee table. For my mother-in-law, the only worthwhile aspect
of my degree is that now she can introduce me as "Doctor"!
For my mother-in-law and her social group, being *smart* means being a
"mensch": giving one's spouse, children, (and mother-in-law) financial
security and material comfort. Happiness, intellectual stimulation, and
contributions to the greater social good ("What have THEY done that they
deserve so much of your time and energy?") are good goals, but clearly
secondary to the former.
I would like to re-emphasize, these values are NOT Jewish values. They
are particular to first generation immigrants who learned about American
culture from Hollywood movies and fashion magazines, studied these resources
carefully, and mapped out clear strategies for social mobility and "success."
Whether or not this was a *smart* approach is difficult to answer.

John Hoopes
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Kansas