There were a few regularly-used Yiddish words in my house when I was growing up. Like the word “kvetch” to refer to my great-aunt, later dubbed “Aunt Kvetchie,” who was a known complainer.
Or “you are such a klutz” – as in uncoordinated. I heard this one often. An accurate description of my always bumping into things, not the least bit athletic self. And “what a schmuck he is” – my dad describing someone who was a real jerk.
One Yiddish word I didn’t learn until I became a Mom is “kvelling” – when a person is bursting with pride and pleasure. As in – “His mother was kvelling over his early admission to Harvard.” Kvelling is done by all mothers, Jewish or not, when discussing their children.
In my lawyering years, I ate lunch several days a week around a conference room table with younger female colleagues. There was a lot of kvelling among us. My friend, Lisa, would tell us about her daughter’s star soccer skills. And Michelle would let us know that her son got an A on a tough social studies test. Denise was naturally thrilled when her daughter was elected class president in 6th grade. I shared my kids’ accomplishments as well. And when your kids are young, you have lots of achievements to kvell about. It isn’t boasting or bragging; you are just proud of your child. And okay, I’ll admit, maybe a little back-patting.
When Lisa, Michelle and Denise’s kids were in elementary school, mine were of high school and college age. Kvelling gets a bit trickier as your kids get older. Especially if your kid happens not to be on the do-not-pass-go direct path from high school to early admission into Harvard, then on to elite grad school or Wall Street or a fancy internship.
What happens to kvelling if your kid is on his or her own very different path?
By the time one of my kids was in high school, we were on a first-name basis with mental health struggles. In college, the same mental health challenges grew worse. An elite grad school, Wall Street or a fancy internship did not seem likely (although hope does spring eternal).
Since I’m not one to sit back and watch life happen, I sought out other parents whose young adult kids were also on different paths to adulthood. I didn’t find one, so I created a support and resources-sharing group in 2008 at my synagogue. Called – wait for it, very clever name coming – “Parents of Young Adults who Struggle,” we have met monthly for the past nearly 6 years to share our stories, to talk about the roller-coaster rides that our kids put us on, to strategize on how to cope as parents and to laugh. Lots of laughing. We even have our own Facebook page.
In our support group we kvell often.
One of us will say how thrilled she was that her son managed to get up on time and get to his doctor’s appointment. Yay, we respond. Or that another remembered to take his meds. Terrific, we cheer. Or that one’s daughter is taking a class at community college and hasn’t dropped out yet. Great news!
And while this different kind of kvelling was going on, I was still having lunch on weekdays with friends whose kids’ accomplishments were of the more typical variety. While my work friends were true pals, I wasn’t always comfortable talking about my kid’s struggles. I was dealing in two parallel universes here – I was certainly happy for my friends and their kids, even if I couldn’t always keep up in the kvelling department.
But when minor (to me) problems were shared – a son got a B- on a test or a daughter didn’t make the soccer travel team – I had some trouble summoning up the required murmurs of sympathy. “You just have no idea what real problems are until you’ve met some of the people in my support group,” I would think.
So the next time you are having lunch with friends and the talk turns, as it often does, to what your kids are doing and the kvelling begins — one of the moms is happy that her daughter aced the SATs, the other’s son just got into law school, a third mom glows about her daughter’s engagement — and you see that one of your friends around the table is sitting silently, fiddling with her drink, just waiting for that part of the conversation to pass?
Consider that quiet mom. She loves her son or daughter just as much as you do. Smile at her, and ask how her child is doing. She may need to do a different kind of kvelling.
Nancy L. Wolf blogs at Witty Worried and Wolf.
(A version of this essay first appeared on her blog and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.)