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Worry Like a Jewish Mother

Simple guidelines for making moms neurotic, from Marge Simpson’s favorite magazine, Fretful Mother

Marjorie Ingall
May 22, 2012
Fretful Mother debuts on The Simpsons.(Twentieth Century Fox)
Fretful Mother debuts on The Simpsons.(Twentieth Century Fox)

Dear Writer:

Thanks for your interest in contributing to Fretful Mother Magazine! As the leading source for articles designed to explain to moms why everything they’re doing is wrong, Fretful Mother is the premier outlet for your fear-inducing, anxiety-instilling, guilt-fomenting stories. Remember our motto: It’s hard enough being a mother. We’re here to make it harder.

Before you pitch us your ideas, we want to make sure you strike the appropriately urgent tone. Our writers’ guidelines will help you craft a piece that will instill in our readers the perfect blend of doubt, neurosis, and terror!

The kinds of stories we like at Fretful Mother:

1. The Killer Hiding in Your [Fill-in-the-Blank]: Things in your medicine cabinet that can kill your child, things in your garage that can kill your child, things in your backyard that can kill your child, why it’s dangerous to live in the city (sex offenders, traffic), why it’s dangerous to live in the suburbs (drunk drivers, drunk soccer moms), why it’s dangerous to live in the country (bears), why it’s dangerous to live (the Internet).

2. That Thing You May Not Have Known to Worry About: We welcome lists, quizzes, and charticles that prove the reader’s child is gifted, followed by listicles about what the reader with a gifted child needs to worry about (boredom, the child being in a classroom with less-gifted children, the fact that the reader wants her child to read Kafka and Malamud while she herself only reads Fretful Mother and 50 Shades of Grey). Also lists, quizzes, and info boxes that invariably prove that the reader’s child is developmentally delayed, followed by a litany of things the reader with a developmentally delayed child needs to worry about (i.e., everything).

3. How to Balance … : We love glib, facile 800-word pieces on serious issues that will invariably be contradicted by other 800-word pieces elsewhere in the magazine. Good topics include tantrums (how not to give in to terrorism but also how to soothe a child quickly), food (how to avoid creating body-image issues and eating disorders that will destroy your daughter’s life while simultaneously avoiding the trauma and repulsion of having a fat kid), intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards (how to appropriately reward a child for good behavior without bribing a child for good behavior, and no, we don’t know the difference either—that’s part of the fun!).

4. Why Other Mommies Are the Devil: We welcome all agita-causing stories about breast vs. bottle, working outside the home vs. stay-at-home mommydom, IVF vs. adoption, crying-it-out vs. attachment parenting, midwifery birth vs. hospital birth, accommodating food allergies vs. oh-my-god-you-neurotic-freak, chores vs. allowance, and any other hot-button issue that will make women turn against other women, because that is how we are awarded our year-end bonuses from both the Liberal Media and the Republican National Committee.

The kinds of stories we don’t like at Fretful Mother:

While we love stories that hinge upon worrying about whether one’s child is meeting developmental milestones, please do not discuss actual developmental disabilities. They are what we call “downers.” Exceptions can be made for anything we deem “inspirational,” which generally involves a child who is blonde. Articles about rampant consumerism, things you don’t need for the nursery, and why banking cord blood is expensive and pointless tend to distress our advertisers and thus are to be avoided. Any disparaging mention of a publicity-hungry celebrity mommy and her army of (unmentioned) nannies and baby nurses is unacceptable, because that celebrity may have a publicist we need to suck up to in order to get another celebrity for an insanely Photoshopped cover in the future. Recipes and articles about healthy eating are great as long as they increase motherly insecurity about all the things a reader’s child refuses to eat, but they must not conflict with our ads for Uncrustables and Lunchables. (To be safe, avoid insulting any product ending in “–able.”)

How we handle investigative pieces:

We like to think we publish must-read pieces the caliber of any you’d find in Time magazine (See Time’s recent cover story “Are You Mom Enough,” a k a “TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES!”) or the New York Times (see “The Opt-Out Revolution,” a k a “Ivy-League-educated white lawyers have lots of choices!”), with the exact same hard-hitting reporting on attractive women of privilege and focus on making all women feel horrible. (Do not pitch that tired trend piece about women trading their babies for Birkin handbags. We did that one already.) Remember, if you’d like to pitch a hard-hitting piece longer than 1,200 words, contact our sister magazine, Smothering Mother, where some of the most popular stories have included, “Are Bees Building Hives in Your Diaper Genie?,” “The Deadly Truth About Oxygen,” and “Is Your Baby a Suckaholic?”

Whom to quote in stories for Fretful Mother:

All mothers quoted in stories must use their real names, be under 35, and be willing to be photographed. Please be sure to include a blonde, a person from one of those states in the middle, and a woman who is a nonthreatening ethnic minority. No fatties. All experts quoted must be M.D.’s or Ph.D’s. Jews preferred. Why? Because our picky Jewish readers (you know how “they” are!) will only be swayed by another Jew—preferably one with as many letters after his name as possible—and will thus be unable to write off your article as “goyish nonsense,” while our gentile readers will take everything Jewish experts say as (pardon the expression) gospel. After all, who knows more about being fretful than a Jewish mother?

Familiarize yourself with our house style:

Before you pitch, please be able to write in our voice (chirpy, sisterly, narcotic) and pay attention to how it has been deployed in some of our most successful pieces. (One such story was referenced on The Simpsons, when Marge held up an issue and said, “According to Fretful Mother Magazine, if Maggie doesn’t talk at age 1, we should consider a corrective tongue extender!” That tongue-extender piece really tapped into the competitiveness and free-floating anxiety that is our stock in trade.) Also, please remember that fathers must never be quoted in stories; at Fretful Mother, “Men aren’t parents, only predators!”

Payment schedule:

We pay upon publication. When you hand in a piece, it will be ignored for months, but after a 36- to 54-week window, we will call you with extensive edits and a request that you turn the piece around in two days because we’re going to press imminently. You will need to do a top-to-bottom rewrite, because your lede is stale and the ethnic person is too ethnic. We will then hold the piece again. Your editor will be laid off or move to another publication. This cycle will begin anew an additional two to four times before you beg for a kill fee.

Thanks again for your interest!

With love and retouching,

Fretful Mother Magazine


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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 a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

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