Academic Summary of
In Search of My Jewish Mother
The Educational Value
The Jewish Mother Syndrome Is a Metaphor
• Much of the important work, time
management, and self-management we do is
not directly controlled by the natural
• It’s not controlled very much by self-praise.
• It is controlled by escape from aversive
conditions (thoughts and feelings) that are a
result of our upbringing.
• These thoughts and feelings were programmed by
our parents, usually unintentionally.
• If our parents did not have these aversive thoughts
and feelings, they will probably not be able to instill
them in us.
• If our parents were hard working, super-
reliable, super-conscientious, proactive, non-
procrastinating successes, then probably we will be.
• If they were not, then probably we will not be.
Even Jewish Mothers Need
• So, to have a Jewish mother, you need a
Jewish grandmother and great
grandmother, back and back and back.
Subtle Jewish Mothers
• Jewish mothers can be effective by criticizing
themselves and others, without directly
– Even trivial little self-management techniques
such as the kitchen timer can stick with us for life.
Best performance management
– often puts contingencies on accomplishments, not
effort—product, not process.
• Unintentionally, our parents will even set unrealistic
performance standards for us, like working for 50
years, or a life-long marriage.
• And they will program values in us that we can’t
overcome, even though rationally we know they are
– Be a real man.
– Don’t be neurotic.
– Don’t be a dumb ass.
– Don’t be trailer trash.
– Don’t be a loser.
Sabotaging the Jewish Mother
• But even if one parent is a fairly effective Jewish
mother, that effectiveness can be sabotaged by the
other parent, unintentionally or otherwise.
• Guilt or a performance contract may be enough to
get us out of bed early
• but not enough to keep us on task, for example:
– the waylaid drum practice
– the waylaid writing tasks.
Substitute Jewish Mothers
• But Jewish mother surrogates can continue
setting unrealistic performance standards for
us, the rest of our lives, for example:
– Whaley’s daily 6-mile runs,
– His daily 3-hour writing session,
– Michael’s teaching to the age of 77
– Books saying you should grow your own food.
What do you do, if your Jewish mother
wasn’t too effective?
• Use performance-management contingencies.
• Write your own behavior-analytic autobiography.
• Search for your own Jewish mother.
• And grandmother.
• Do you have them?
• Who were they?
• Talk to your folks about it.
• Talk to your friends.
• How successful was your Jewish mother?
• What did you get?
• What didn’t you get?
• You happy with what you got?
• Why or why not?
• And may your Jewish mother be with you.