Theme #5: Parenting

Theme #5: Parenting

In this excerpts from her memoir, Glückel describes her feelings about raising children. Although there was a high infant mortality rate in the early modern period, and some scholars have argued that parents did not form close bonds with their children as a result, in the first excerpt we learn that Glückel cared deeply for her children, worried about them, and was grateful for them. Through her reference to suffering, however, we also learn that she took a pragmatic approach to parenting: she does not heap excessive praise on her children (who are the presumed audience of her memoirs) nor does she shield them from the difficulties of her experience of parenting. Rather, she at once explains to them the enormous burden of raising children and the tremendous reward. In the second excerpt, Glückel uses a fable about birds to demonstrate her belief that parenting is more about giving than receiving.

Excerpt Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln based on Translation by Marvin Lowenthal:

We put ourselves to great pains for our children, for on this the world is built, yet we must understand that if children did as much for their parents, the children would quickly tire of it.

A bird once set out to cross a windy sea with its three fledglings.  The sea was so wide and the wind so strong, the father bird was forced to carry his young, one by one, in his strong claws.  When he was halfway across with the first fledgling the wind turned to a gale, and he said, “My child look how I am struggling and risking my life on your behalf.  When you are grown up, will you do as much for me and provide for me in my old age?”  The fledgling replied, “Only bring me to safety, and when you are old I shall do everything you ask of me.”

Whereat the father bird dropped his child into the sea, and it drowned, and he said, “So shall it be done to such a liar as you.”  Then the father bird returned to shore, set forth with his second fledgling, asked the same question, and receiving the same answer, drowned the second child with the cry, “You too are a liar!”

Finally he set out with the third fledgling, and when he asked the same question, the third fledgling replied, “My dear father, it is true you are struggling mightily and risking your life on my behalf, and I shall be wrong not to repay you when you are old, but I cannot bind myself.  This though I can promise: when I am grown up and have children of my own, I shall do as much for them as you have done for me.”

Whereupon the father bird said, “Well spoken, my child, and wisely; your life I will spare and I will carry you to shore in safety”

Questions to Ponder:

  1. Provide an interpretation of the bird fable that explains what obligations parents have to their children, and what obligations children have to their parents. How do they see the bird fable as related to Glückel's excerpt about parenting young children?
  2. Does Glückel experience parenting as a sacrifice? What benefit does she seem to derive from motherhood?
  3. What does Glückel want from her children?  What do your parents want from you? Do you feel that children should be obligated to care for their parents? What can parents realistically expect from their children?

For Further Discussion:

Ask your students to use these texts to compare expectations for relationships between parents and children in Glückel’s time and in our own. What different ideas are there today about how to be a good parent? How is parenting represented in popular culture? How would Glückel's approach to parenting be judged today? What can we learn about our own lives and times by reading a memoir written three centuries ago?

Art Project idea:

Give the students a printed out copy of the above section about parenting. Using only the words from the section above, the students cut out words to make a poem about parenting. This is a fun activity and also makes one think about how they might take care of their own children one day.


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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Theme #5: Parenting." (Viewed on May 29, 2024) <>.