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August 26, 1988 - Image 62

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-08-26

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Jewish Mothers

Continued from preceding page

mothers of yesteryear were
providing their young with a
precious anchor of stability.
In his research on family com-
munication, University of
Rochester psychiatrist Lyman
Wynne has shown that mix-
ed, uncertain communication
by parents can lead to psycho-
logical turmoil in children,
which, in turn, distreses the
parents. Wavering and weak
messages, it would seem, not
only confuse children but
threaten the stability of the
parent-child link. In contrast,
unambiguous, explicit com-
munications can help
strengthen both the children
and the family relationship
The late comedian Sam
Levenson believed that he
and his brothers and sister
gained enormous strength
from growing up in a home
where, despite chronic pover-
ty, the convictions of mother
and father were never in
doubt. "Their position," he
wrote in his memoir Every-
thing But Money, "had been
unequivocally stated and con-
sistently maintained on what
they believed was proper con-
cerning dating, marriage,
smoking, drinking, cosmetics,
manners, hours, money,
clothing, elders, play,
teachers, books, dancing, ly-
ing, cheating, driving, clubs,
sex, errands, movies, jobs
homework, punishment, obe-
dience, friends, cleanliness,
language, truancy, study . . ."
Looking back, it seemed to
Levenson that the substance
of the messages he received
may have mattered less than
the style in which they were
delivered. "My parents
weren't always right," he con-
cluded, "but they were clear."

Creating an appetite
for learning

On one subject especially,
the mothers of yore left little
doubt about where they stood:
the importance of education
and intellectual achievement.
They made crystal clear from
the start that knowledge was
the key to the future, and
they instilled in their young
a willingness to work hard at
the tasks of learning. Little
wonder that so many of their
children went on to become
extraordinarily accomplished

How did these mothers do
it? Not by em•olling their
children in fancy nursery
school programs or by buying
them truckloads of educa-
tional toys. Instead they made
certain to let their kids know,
beginning in infancy, that
their accomplishments were
certain to bring one of the

most gratifying prizes life can
offer: the approval and love of
Mother. They sensed correct-
ly that children tend to grow
up with a powerful urge to
achieve when even the most
rudimentary demonstrations K
of competence are rewarded I
with attention and affection.
There was, in the home of (
my own childhood, a palpable
sense of parental pleasure in
our day-to-day intellectual
development. The slightest <
evidence that learning was
taking hold in me or my sibl-
ings produced in my mother
exhibitions of unalloyed joy,
and each time we showed pro-
gress — a clever insight, a fact
remembered — we were
rewarded with abundant
displays of esteem and
My parents and their con- K
temporaries were remarkably
skilled in techniques for shap-
ing achievement behavior.
Our conditioning took place
not in a self-conscious or pro-
grammed way, but naturally,
as,part of every day life itself. <
In giving our schoolwork
their unswerving attention,
often without fully
understanding its content,
• our parents let us know how
deeply it counted. In shower-
ing us with warmth and affec-
tion for long-division pro-
blems • successfully solved,
with awe and admiration for
history dates memorized and
delivered in a single breath,
they provided episodes of
learning overlayed with love.
It is more than symbolic
that homework and meals,
reading books and eating
snacks, were often ac-
complished at the dining
room table. "Push over the
papers and eat," my mother
would say as the failing after-
noon light merged with the c'
evening darkness: a brilliant
behavior-shaping ploy in '`
which nourishment for the
mind and body were delivered
together. As I write these
words, 35 years removed from
the living presence of my
mother, my senses are ravish-
ed once again by the aroma of
meatballs, perched atop a
pyramid of potatoes, oozing
gravy on tomorrow's spelling

A sense of

Not surprisingly, we
children grew up feeling we
owed our mother our best ef-
fort. Such a mother, who has
given you her all, you
wouldn't dare let down by not
trying hard. Richard Cohen,
a well-known syndicated col-
umnist in Washington, D.C.,
notes that it still matters to
him what his parents think of

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