"Be consistent" - Susan Sontag's Parenting List

by Parent Co. August 23, 2015

Lists have a bad name on the internet, where websites use them to suck in viral views: "Top 10 Celebrity Bikini Fails," "5 Foods You Should Never Eat if You Want to Lose Flab!"

But in real life I love them: to-do lists, shopping lists, checklists, playlists, bucket lists, phrases-that-rhyme-with-bucket lists. I more than love them - I live by them. Umberto Eco said "The list is the origin of culture." The full quote reads:

"The list is the origin of culture. It's part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order -- not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries."

I was recently gifted a large and beautiful book called "Lists of Note," based on the site of the same name. While sitting outside and flipping through the book on a sunny day, a list of parenting rules from Susan Sontag caught my eye. I think of her as an inspiring writer and intellectual (and yes, list-keeper), but not as a mother. This, despite that fact that her son edited her journals for Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and wrote a powerful account of her death from cancer. This short list originally comes from "Reborn," a collection of Sontag's journals from 1947 to 1963. I found it moving — clearly a single mother trying to figure out how to balance raising a child with integrity, while staying true to her path in life.
  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.
More on Sontag from the American Prospect: "Why Can't Mothers Be Intellectuals?"
More on Sontag's journals and lists from the New Yorker



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