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Gluckel of Hameln: A Mother for the Ages

Gluckel of Hameln: A Mother for the Ages

Gluckel understood a childrearing mystery: Why don't our kids love us more?

by

Mother's Day, even though not specifically mentioned in the Talmud, should be a Jewish Holiday considering the fame of the Jewish mama in song and story.

Raising kids today is no picnic and mamas need all the help they can get. They would certainly benefit from a counseling session with a 17th century Jewish memoirist – a prodigious mother named Gluckel of Hameln (with that name you gotta be good). Does the city sound familiar? It should. It's Hameln of Pied Piper fame.

This worthy woman lived many centuries ago in Germany; the product of a well-to-do family who was given in marriage at the age of 14 to a prominent merchant. The adolescent wife blossomed into Motherhood and produced twelve children. But even more important than enriching her obstetrician, she somehow found time to write her memoirs. They reflect a talented and bountiful mother, who thoughtfully leaves us a legacy in the form of her memoirs – full of advice to her children. And us.

Her reflections naturally mirror the values of her times. Gluckel was a stay-at-homer whose primary profession was childrearing. Her memoirs, directed at her kids, exhort them to be able parents: “We should, I say, put ourselves to great pains for our children, for on this the world is built.”

Long ago – over 3 centuries ago – Gluckel understood a childrearing mystery that we haven’t yet figured out. Why don’t our kids write more often, or call – say once a week? Why don't they love us more?

Every three months, Citibank corresponds with a note and a new credit card.

For eighteen years we fill their little minds with wisdom, wipe their little runny noses and load up their little arms with presents. And what do we get in return? Bubkes!

Every three months, Citibank, no kin whatsoever, writes a cheery, chatty note attached to a new credit card. That beats your Eli’s correspondence record.

And every night during supper, the phone is ringing off the hook; complete strangers – not your kids on the line. "Hi, Mrs. Roberts, I just wanted to tell you of our new rug cleaning service... And our people will be in your neighborhood Tuesday, Mrs. Roberts... only $75." Even if you have no rug worth cleaning because your kids ruined it ages ago, it’s nice to know somebody cares about your rug and you.

Let’s face it, no matter how many presents you give them, your kids will never reciprocate with the constant, intense love you demand.

The great puzzle is why? Particularly since you’re a prince of parents – generous, entertaining, caring, an all 'round fascination to the rest of the human race. (Citibank is not your only correspondent. There’s Amoco, Chemical Bank, and the restaurant that sends you a coupon redeemable for a free iced tea.) Well, this is the puzzle that Gluckel of Hameln examined and explained.

In her memoirs, she tells us of a mother eagle who must ferry her brood over a stormy sea to a new nest. Four fledglings depend on her – four perilous trips. She fights a head wind; her wings grow weak, and there’s far to go. "Do you love me?" the mother asks her first offspring, "and will you promise to repay me for this?"

“Yes, I swear," pipes the child.

The mother knows a lie when she hears one. She drops her burden into the sea. Same story with eaglet two and three. But number four gives the universally honest answer for offspring of every breed. "Mother," he says, "I can only promise that when I have my own children, I shall do as much for them as you have done for me."

The debt will be paid in full, but only to your grandchildren.

The debt will be paid in full, but only to your grandchildren.

The weary mother knew the truth when she heard it. So she fought the wind and her fatigue and brought her child and the father of her grandchildren safely to the shore. There’s a lot of wisdom in that parable. Love has gravity like planet earth. Generation-wise, it flows down easier than up.

So Mothers, console yourself. Your kids, who never even send you a postcard, will likewise receive no postcards from their loving, but busy kids. Moreover, one day over a nice cup of tea at the kitchen table, they’ll ask your advice on this problem: “Mom, I’m telling you they never call or write. I send presents – nothing comes back. What is it with kids?”

Sip your tea, look thoughtful, and offer some commonplace ideas that won’t work. Then tell Gluckel’s moral about the eagle.

Published: May 11, 2002


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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) L.S., August 8, 2010 5:44 PM

Gluckel was no stay-at-homer!

Gluckel truly was an eishes chayil; she was NOT a stay at home mom! After her husband died, she herself worked as a merchant to support her fourteen children, 2 of whom died, and 11 of whom she lived to see marry. She was a very savvy business woman who earned a nice income and did business with Jews and Gentiles alike. She also mentioned that she and her siblings--both men and women--had a Jewish AND a secular education--and speaks of the importance of it. Fascinating read!

(7) chaya rochel brodsky, March 9, 2009 9:11 PM

Praise for Gluckel

i read her diary twice in college and never forgot her. i am so glad to see that people are writing about her now. Thanks to anyone who keeps her memory alive. Write to me, if you like to.

(6) Jane, September 4, 2003 12:00 AM

Brought guilt and shame onto me; For this is what exactly i'm doing to my mom. Thanks for making me realise.

(5) Rivka Shlesinger, May 22, 2003 12:00 AM

Disappointed

Dear Folks,
First of all Glickl did not live in Hameln, she lived in the cities of Hamburg and Altona, 2. she wrote her memoires at the age that people are pensioneres, 3. she was fare away from being a "stay-at-home-mother", she was a businesswoman of national influence who dealt whith other jewish merchants throuout the country. The big difference is, that children had no TV and not every toy they wanted, the structure of family-live was different and children where educated to respect their parents. Moreover Glickel educated her children to be G-d-fearing jews. I think this is the major lesson we should learn form Glickl.

(4) Marsha Jones, June 8, 2002 12:00 AM

Loved it!

Brought a tear to my eye. Thanks!

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