5: Excerpts on parenting from "The Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln," Trans. Marvin Lowenthal.
In these 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.
This resource also includes a conversation about the bird fable from the Freakonomics Radio podcast, in which host Stephen Dubner discusses with his children the question of whether children should be obligated to take care of their elderly parents.
Suggested Activity: Ask your students to 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? Does Glückel experience parenting as a sacrifice? What benefit does she seem to derive from motherhood?
Have your students respond to the questions Dubner poses to his children. Do they feel they should be obligated to care for their parents? What can parents realistically expect from their children?
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?
Sources: The Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln. Translated with introduction and notes by Marvin Lowenthal. New York: 1932. Reprinted with new introduction by Robert S. Rosen, New York: 1960, 1977, p. 119 - 120; 2 - 3.
Stephen Dubner. “Should Kids Pay Back Their Parents for Raising Them?” Freakonomics Radio. Podcast audio. October 8, 2015.