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Susan Sontag in 24 March 2002 in Weimar, Germany. Jens-Ulrich Koch/AFP/Getty Images
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Parenting Advice From Susan Sontag

With the High Holidays and school year in full swing, one of our foremost Jewish intellectuals lays out ten tenets—initially for her son—for taking care of your kids

Marjorie Ingall
September 16, 2015
Jens-Ulrich Koch/AFP/Getty Images
Susan Sontag in 24 March 2002 in Weimar, Germany. Jens-Ulrich Koch/AFP/Getty Images

Are you familiar with Letters of Note? It’s a gorgeous coffee table book based on a blog of the same name by British writer Shaun Usher, who has a knack for finding weird, lovely, moving, important, and funny letters written throughout history by famous people and not-famous people. And now there’s a companion volume, Lists of Note, from Chronicle Books, also based on an Usher blog, which features lists compiled by everyone from a 9th-century Tibetan monk, to Albert Einstein, Julia Child, Tina Fey, and Roald Dahl. It too is a delight. You should get it.

One of the lists in the book particularly resonated with me during this High Holiday season. Rosh Hashanah arrived on the heels of entirely too much familial togetherness. The summer has finally limped to a close and all our beloved children are (BARUCH HASHEM) back in school… but now suddenly they’re back out and underfoot again and my patience—not overly ample to begin with —has deserted me.

I shall therefore ponder the advice of Susan Sontag, my intellectual and Jewish hair icon who will now be my parenting role model as well.

Here are her “Rules of Parenting”, written in her journal in September 1959, when her son David Rieff was seven. Perhaps she too was suffering from seasonal maternal intimacy, needing to jot down a little reminder to herself about how to be a civilized, disciplined, kind, loving, encouraging parent with boundaries:

1. Be consistent.

2. Don’t speak about him to others (e.g., tell funny things) in his presence. (Don’t make him self-conscious.)

3. Don’t praise him for something I wouldn’t always accept as good.

4. Don’t reprimand him harshly for something he’s been allowed to do.

5. Daily routine: eating, homework, bath, teeth, room, story, bed.

6. Don’t allow him to monopolize me when I am with other people.

7. Always speak well of his pop. (No faces, sighs, impatience, etc.)

8. Do not discourage childish fantasies.

9. Make him aware that there is a grown-up world that’s none of his business.

10. Don’t assume that what I don’t like to do (bath, hairwash) he won’t like either.

Good advice, right? (Even for those of us who enjoy bathing.) Pick up the book for more insights and suggestions for living. Just don’t follow Albert Einstein’s rules for his wife.

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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