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Susan Sontag’s Advice to Raise Children


There are benefits in the wisdom of others, especially in those with the precision and passion for “fair causes” as Sontag did.

It’s hard to surpass Susan Sontag’s intellectual magnetism. Even though she wrote about film, disease, or Walter Benjamin; her intelligence, as Juan Villoro stated, was always a form of pleasure. That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised that even a list about how to raise children —that subject that nobody has authority to speak about and which by definition is subjective— is also delightful.

There is no doubt that being a parent is hard, and that only based on empirical knowledge, personal value systems and a wide margin of error, we can learn to bear this endeavor in the best way. But we benefit from the wisdom of others, especially of those who have the precision and passion for  “fair causes” as Sontag so strongly did.

Naturally, she did not conceive this list for publication. It’s one of the many that she systematically wrote in the first person to order the world for herself, and which after her death her ex-husband Philip Rieff published in two volumes entitled Reborn: Journals and Notebooks.

The list reads as follows:

Be consistent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not discourage childish fantasies.

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

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

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