Navigate to Community section

Restoring Parenting Sanity

While Colbert and Stewart face off in D.C., parents, too, hover between sanity and fear

Marjorie Ingall
October 25, 2010
(Collage: Tablet Magazine; left photo: Flickr/Bucky Schwarz; right photo: Flickr/Stacy Brunner)

(Collage: Tablet Magazine; left photo: Flickr/Bucky Schwarz; right photo: Flickr/Stacy Brunner)

This weekend, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will hold dual rallies in Washington. Stewart’s is billed as the Rally to Restore Sanity; Colbert’s as the March to Keep Fear Alive.

Parents, I think, face these two dueling forces every day. Sometimes these voices come from inside us; sometimes they come from the media and the parents around us.

Any parent who’s visited a playground recently has met a Keep Fear Alive parent. She’s the one who’ll sidle up to us, narrow her eyes, and say, “Are you sure you want to eat that? No, I’m just asking. I definitely don’t want you to second-guess yourself or be anxious in any way! Because stress can cause headaches, lack of focus, short temper, back pain, menstrual problems, acne, obesity, and forgetfulness. And if you’re stressed you might be unable to calculate the digits of pi past the first 23 places, which would really screw up your next homeschool math session! Wait, you don’t homeschool? Wow. Um, wow. Well, I’m sure your children go to the top-of-the-line private school in your—oh. OK. Well, that’s great that you’re toughening them up for the real world! I bet they could fight a bear!

“Anyway, it’s great that you’re allowing yourself to Keep Fear Alive this way, luxuriating in the Fear and rolling around in it like it’s poop and you’re a golden retriever. Because that shows you really care about your kids. Fear is love! Our rabbis have told us you can’t have ahava, love, without yira, fear! Yes, I know they were supposedly talking about God, but I think they misspoke. What they meant was that it’s impossible to be a good parent without quaking in terror at all times. And there’s so much to fear! For instance, if you vaccinate your children they will get autistic and also cry, which means that you have betrayed their trust by letting someone stick them with a needle. And sure, chelation therapy is an option—ignore the stuff from ‘experts’ like the ‘board certified’ ‘pediatricians’ at the ‘Mayo Clinic’ who say it can cause fatal liver damage, because they’re all in the pockets of the pharmaco/rationality lobby—but it’s expensive. Fortunately it won’t be a problem if you skip vaccines completely. Sure, your kid will have to rely on herd immunity from other kids to avoid measles and whooping cough—the death rates of which are highly exaggerated by the mainstream media and ‘American history’—but kids today need to toughen up. If they can’t survive measles, they can’t survive competition with China. And this is one more reason to hate illegal immigrants, because they probably aren’t vaccinated, thus diluting the pool of vaccinated kids who give our unvaccinated kids herd immunity.”

The “Keep Fear Alive” parent has plenty to sayabout shards of glass in frozen peas, hormones in nonorganic milk that will give your 7-year-old son breasts, kids getting high on nutmeg. Which your teen is probably doing right now.

But for every Colbert there’s a Stewart, urging us to restore sanity.

“Dude,” the sanity-prone parent will say, “losing sleep over an unknowable future isn’t doing us or our spawn any favors. Blaming others—immigrants, gay people, poor people—for our troubles and our children’s troubles is foolish. Take a deep breath. Enjoy the actual process of parenting your actual child. Be present. Don’t let guilt paralyze you. And let’s try to encourage everybody else to simmer down, use inside voices, stop being hyperbolic and reactionary—and let’s do that without name-calling.”

Stewart put it best. In his invitation to the rally, he said that we need more of the sort of people “who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.”

Can we stand in solidarity about this, please?

Marjorie Ingall is a columnist for Tablet Magazine, and author of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children.

Marjorie Ingall is the author of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children.

Thank you for reading Tablet.

The Jewish world needs a place like Tablet where varying—even conflicting—viewpoints can exist side by side. Our times demand an engagement with big ideas and not a retreat from them. Help us do what we do.