The ProsenPeople

Interview: Marjorie Ingall

Sunday, May 14, 2017 | Permalink

with Nat Bernstein

Jewish Book Council had the opportunity to talk with Marjorie Ingall about the importance of reading for pleasure, Mark Twain's philosemitism, the history of marketing books to Jewish women, and her parenting guide, Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children, an excellent and enjoyable resource for Jewish and non-Jewish parents alike.

Nat Bernstein: Nefertiti Austen recently wrote an essay about authoring parenting guides for women of color and how no publisher has embraced that market. Do you see the same scarcity for Jewish women, or has Judaism staked a claim on a parenting technique that has a wider appeal in the publishing world?

Marjorie Ingall: Publishing is constantly seeking the widest audience humanly possible. For Mamaleh Knows Best, there was a constant pushback from my editor, who kept asking, “Why do you want to talk about Philip Roth all the time?” For her, it was not universal; she wanted a book on how to use Jewish parenting to make a good goyish child. And I understand that: publishing is so risk-averse now that a niche market is not going to get you a book deal. I can imagine the same thing is happening if publishers assume that only black women will buy a black parenting book. But the stories of my black mother friends—especially mothers of sons—and how the kinds of worries they have are not anything like the kinds of worries I have, that would be beneficial for all Americans to read.

NLB: Since we’re talking about how to market books, can you share more about the history of marketing books and reading to Jewish women?

MI: When publishing became more scalable—when printing presses became more widespread—in the late nineteenth century, it created a colossal market—and not just within the Jewish community—of translations into Yiddish of popular books, a lot of them Romance novels. I write for the Times Book Review, and I think it’s hilarious that the Times pretends that the Romance genre doesn’t exist. Romance is a humongous part of the publishing market, and that was true in the late 1800s, too! Jewish women drove popular fiction.

We also have, in our spiritual line, tchines, these prayer books written by and for Jewish women, and that too was a huge market. They included prayers for a healthy pregnancy, prayers that your child will marry well, prayers for successful breastfeeding. All of this stuff was part of our culture, and it would be cool if more Jewish women knew about it. There were early marketing attempts to get women to buy these tchines: “Women! If you only have a few pennies, isn’t this a good way to spend them, for your own spiritual enlightenment for the whole future?” (If this is something that interests you, the index in the back of my book will give you a lot more places to go with that.)

NLB: You have a really lovely and clever chapter on spirituality, in which you observe that taking your kids to religious services is like taking your kids to a restaurant?

MI: As your kid gets older, you teach them how to behave. I don’t believe you should whisk your kid out the first time they make a peep, but you also don’t let a kid scream and disturb everyone else’s spiritual experience. The only way to acculturate a kid is by giving them the experience: no one is born knowing how to behave in shul! One thing I think the Orthodox Jewish community, in particular, has done really well is tolerating noise and chaos in shul. The first shul I went to with my baby—I wanted to join a Conservative shul that was closest to my house—I was getting such a fisheye when she made any noise that I never went back. I tried joining the family service, but I felt that it was cliquey. I found another congregation where the women in front of me kept turning around and making googly eyes at Josie out of delight, and that’s such a small thing, but it made all the difference.

NLB: In one of the early chapters of Mamaleh Knows Best, you point out that “The world is constantly telling us we’re doing parenting wrong.” Is that “we” specific to women?

MI: Yes. We’ve all seen the dudes in the playground, and everyone says, “You are so awesome for babysitting your kids.” You’re not babysitting, it’s your child! We also see the eight zillion Disney movies that all miraculously have missing mothers. It’s not just Jewish women, it’s all women who are told that however they’re doing things is wrong, which is a function of misogyny. It’s not unique to the Jewish Mother stereotype: if you troll Buzzfeed and all these other media sites now, you see Tiger Moms and black moms—it’s a mom thing, which is a problem.

NLB: It’s interesting how much this anxiety over perpetual perfection is transmitted to kids—you write that you “worry that kids today don’t want to be beginners, don’t want to be imperfect, don’t want to ever to look clueless.”

MI: We are always newly shocked when there are cheating scandals at all these fancy schools, but it happens because we have told these kids that they’re not allowed to fail. Surveys of American teenagers in general show that they see their parents as saying one thing and really thinking another when it comes to what their values are: when it is “be Number One at all costs,” you set up your kid if not to fail, then to certainly think I have to do whatever it takes to be Number One.

NLB: I love the Yiddish proverb you discovered: “The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except the best.” You include it in a chapter about teaching kids to distrust authority, which I imagine runs counter to a lot of the parenting advice out there?

MI: Kids are expected to know what they want to be really early, and aren’t encouraged to mess around and explore and be dreamers and figure out what they really love and value. I don’t think our culture, or the pop culture they absorb, helps them with that. One of my regular rants is about live-action TV aimed at kids, where being a quirky, weird, geeky kid is a subject of mockery. Historically, Jews have been geeks, and it’s been really good for us! We should encourage our kids to have obsessions and passions and not be embarrassed about them.

Always having a little bit of distance and viewing authority with a gimlet eye has always been a good thing for the Jews, as well. It is certainly counter to the stereotype of the Tiger Mom, where the view is that the classroom is a fiefdom in which you do what your teacher wants. For the Jews, disrespecting authority is a thread that has gone through our culture from the beginning, whether we have lived in a time when we had tension with the ruling parties or during a period in history when we were very acculturated and had powerful jobs within the ruling culture. I think it’s telling that we don’t have the equivalent of a pope, that we are a dialogic and diverse and fractured-in-a-good-way kind of people. For a parent and for a creative or scientific mind, being a little bit of an outsider is a good thing.

NLB: On the subject of distrusting authority… What do you see as the greatest challenge facing Jewish parents in the next four years?

MI: Despite the title being in present tense, the intention behind Mamaleh Knows Best was to look back through Jewish history and examine what child-rearing traits seem to have served us well. I feel like I’m not entirely qualified to talk about politics or the future, but I do think that one thing that has been essential for Jews is that we are a people who take care of others. Mark Twain wrote this great essay about why you don’t see Jewish beggars—and it’s not because there aren’t Jewish poor people, it’s because Jews take care of their community. As we are entering the age of a leader who uses Twitter to say mean things about people, we want to be sure that we are talking to our kids about being kind. There are other political figures we can point to and say, “Look at this mentschy behavior.” Making sure that our kids are aware of other people’s suffering and helping other people ameliorate that suffering will help us all: everybody feels better when they are do something good, and we can all do that as both parents and citizens.

NLB: In the book you mention the Hebrew Benevolent Societies of the mid-nineteenth century, which as you note popped up in Jewish communities across the United States—on either side of the Mason-Dixon line—really quite rapidly. These societies were founded by women! And run by women! And they were actually the first instance of American—not just Jewish, American—women mobilizing and establishing their own institutions and assuming positions of leadership in an organized way: the Hebrew Benevolent Societies were really the first independent women’s movement in American history, and this is what opened the door for women abolitionists and suffragists across faiths within the same generation. Religiously, theologically, these charitable organizations weren’t necessarily shaking up a whole lot, but the social fabric of American Judaism was suddenly and drastically being rewoven by Jewish mothers at the time that Twain was writing: the standards he saw in Jewish communities were set by its women. (And his appreciation for those standards allowed him to recognize and even confront antisemitism in other parts of the world, which you write about elsewhere.)

MI: Also, let’s talk about American Jewish education: no one really talks about it, but so much of where American Jewish education started was from Jewish women. An unfortunate thing I discovered was that the women who created Jewish education and the women who created these benevolent societies, a lot of them weren’t mothers. Just as leaders of the feminist movement were not mothers. It’s really hard to have a career and to “have it all.”

NLB: And to find time to read?

MI: A thread throughout the book is to not be a “Do as I say, not as I do” parent. It’s important that our kids see us reading, and see that we enjoy it, and see us reading for pleasure as well as betterment. I include in Mamaleh Knows Best all the statistical backup about how important reading is, how a love of books increases empathy, makes your kid do better in all aspects of school. International studies that correct for income and background still find that in houses where everybody reads, the kids do better. For Jews in general, we are the People of the Book, and literacy has often been our ticket into another class, or to not being so quickly killed. Reading is really, really important.

And reading at home should serve a very different function from reading at school: at home, you need to create a safe space for your kid to really enjoy reading. They want to read the same book a gazillion times, fine. My librarian friends have so many stories about parents coming in and saying, “She’s ready for chapter books, can you not let her take out any more picture books?” I still read picture books, I still bring home picture books for my 12-year-old, and the snobbery about graphic novels makes me want to cry: all reading is good reading.

NLB: You also emphasize the importance of humor in parenting—and in transmitting values. How do you view the current generation of Jewish comedians in popular culture?

MI: In general, acculturation is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s great to have people not killing us, but on the other hand, the distrust of authority and the gimlet eye has worked in our favor: that is a great place for comedy to come from. Comedy is a great tool for questioning authority, for making people like you even when you’re not like them, and for gaining respect. Look at studies about the use of comedy in the office: bosses who have a sense of humor, who embrace a sense of humor, are reviewed much more favorably by their staffs than bosses with no sense of humor or ones who have belittling senses of humor. I think that’s telling.

NLB: I was particularly heartened to read not only how many female comedians you named among the future of Jewish humor, but also how they are changing Jewish humor.

MI: One of the chapters in the book looks at the history of the Jewish Mother stereotype. It’s important to note that the first Jewish Mother in American culture was not this grasping, neurotic stereotype. It was Mrs. Goldberg! This is a woman who was the first recipient of the first Best Actress Emmy, who had a wildly successful radio show followed by a wildly successful TV show. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she was the executive producer of the show. She created a persona that was, yes, a meddler, but she was smart, she was competent, and she was caring.

Now, we are starting to see American Jewish women as executive producers of comedy shows once again. If you look at the Broad City girls, if you look at Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, if you look at Girls, yes, the mother characters are still flawed, but they are flawed in interesting, complicated ways. And you’re going to have flaws, because comedy requires flaws, but not this knee-jerk, dumb, schticky, mocking, disparaging kind of thing. I would like to think that as more and more Jewish women are in charge of their own storytelling, the Jewish Mother figure will become more nuanced—again.

NLB: You’ve succeeded in raising two kickass feminist daughters of your own. Do you have any advice for raising feminist sons?

MI: Nipping any kind of misogynist behavior in the bud and making sure your kid is aware of sexist language, making sure they treat all people with respect, and talking about women’s achievements despite barriers—they should know that historically it has not been a level playing field for women and men, which is something that anti-feminists will not acknowledge. And, this sounds flippant, but it’s not: the best way to raise a feminist son is to let him have an older sister. I can point to my brother as proof.

Nat Bernstein is the contributing editor and manager of digital content, media, and special programs for the Jewish Book Council.

Related Content:

Parenting in the Age of Social Media

Friday, September 02, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Marjorie Ingall let us in on five reasons for the delayed publication of her book, Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children, and the glories of ghostwriting. Marjorie has been guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on the The ProsenPeople.

Are you familiar with STFU, Parents? It is a blog that mocks parental oversharing on social media. Do you post incessantly about eating your own placenta? Tweet about your infant’s Apgar scores? Respond to online grief about mass shootings with tone-deaf posts about how yay, your kid pooped in the potty? Mazel tov, you are a candidate for STFU, Parent-Shaming.

I know the risks. I’ve written parenting columns for two different publications, The Forward and Tablet. I have surely crossed the line and been annoying as heck. Writing about babies is really writing about yourself: you’re working out your fears, your own childhood mishegas, the beautiful and terrible transition from someone with bodily autonomy to someone whose body isn’t entirely your own anymore. It’s world-remaking, this business of being entirely responsible for another human life. But the longer I’ve been a parent, the more careful I’ve gotten. I don’t write about my own children anymore without their consent. They’re old enough to have some expectation of privacy. Once your child has been on this planet for a bit, I think they should have a say in how they’re depicted for public consumption.

All of us—writers and not—should be careful about what we say about our kids on social media. We want them to be safe. We want them to be not mortified. And we want, ourselves, to avoid seeming narcissistic, self-absorbed or deranged. Come on, does anyone want to see that Instagram depiction of a diaper filled with yellow poop? Sure, you’re proud of your child’s artwork/grades/acting/dancing/sportsing! But consider the sheer volume of what you share. Because honestly, the rest of us don’t care much. We enjoy cute pics of your spawn, as long as that’s not all you post, and as long as you also coo about other people’s spawn. Never be broadcast-only, online or in life. We love hearing about the funny things your kids say, as long as we don't wince reading them, knowing your kid would be humiliated if they knew what you were telling the anonymous Internet masses.

And think about your audience before you start declaiming. For instance, why respond to someone’s online grief over infertility with a mention—any mention—of your children? Your friend knows that many people struggle but eventually become parents. Pointing out your own privileged status, the fact that you are where she wants to be, is not helpful.

I’m not saying don’t share. Since long before I became a parent, I’ve been a member of The Well, an ancient online conversational space that predates the World Wide Web. In 1993, I bought a used 2400-baud modem from some random dude in the financial district. I logged onto an electronic bulletin board (BBS) to write a magazine story about whether “cyberspace” (wince) was safe for girls. When I dialed in and got that twangy-beepy noise, it meant I couldn’t be online and on a telephone at the same time. When I joined The Well, many of us were 20-somethings; we eventually became parents and began sharing tales of the joys and challenges of parenthood. Because it’s a small community that doesn’t allow anonymity—and that one must pay (or provide volunteer conference-hosting services) to belong to—there’s a higher bar to entry. The conversation is smart. There are small conferences where people have known you forever, where you can unburden yourself, or brag, without feeling as though you’re performing like a circus monkey or betraying your child. It feels more like real-life friendship than online performance. I talk to my friends and my mom about motherhood, but I also rely on online friendships in an increasingly wired world. There’s no shame in that.

And there’s a bonus! A lot of us say “The Well is my baby book.” Who has time to scrapbook? And who can preserve memories via Facebook or Twitter, when anything you post is lost in the data slipstream after a few evanescent moments? But on a BBS, with a few commands, you can generate a report on all your posts in a certain time period containing a certain word. I just searched for Maxine (my younger kid’s name), 2006 – 2007. She was two to three then, a good age for funny stories. I started cackling at what I found.

And yes, she gave me permission to share my posts from back then:

2006: maxine deliberately ripped a lift-the-flap book this morning and said with a gleam in her eye, now i need TAPE! (she loves tape.) i said, “we don't rip books. i’m going to tape it, not you.” begging and whining followed. i said, "i'm not going to REWARD you with tape for ripping a book!" and she gave me the big eyes and said, "i'm only a baby!"

2007: maxine: “there are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and cheese.”

2007: maxine and i were playing with dress-up dolls (you know, those melissa & doug wooden magnetized ones) and we put on our fancy outfits and she said, "DARLING! you look SMASHED!"

OK, so maybe Maxie (now 11) and I think these stories are funnier than you do. Which is understandable, what with you not being related to us. That’s why I tried to be very judicious about the number of kid stories I shared in my book Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children. No one wants to be THAT GUY at the cocktail party, loudly bragging and proclaiming with a G&T in one sweaty hand. But it’s natural to want to share stories—it’s human, it’s profound, and it can be a source of connection if you do it right.

Marjorie Ingall is a columnist for Tablet Magazine and a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review. She has written for many other magazines and newspapers, including The Forward (where she was The East Village Mamele), Real Simple, Ms., Food & Wine, Glamour, Self, and the late, lamented Sassy, where she was the senior writer and books editor.

Related Content:

Uh, Five Reasons My Book Was a Year Late

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Marjorie Ingall wrote about stepping out of ghostwriting to write her first book since 1998. With the publication of that book, Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children, Marjorie is guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on the The ProsenPeople.

1. I did a metric ton of research. When I was in college, I dealt with my fear of writing papers by exfoliating. Through an excellent and protracted skin-care regimen, followed by the ritual cleaning of the dorm room and doing laundry until 4:00 AM, I worked myself into enough of a last-minute panic that I could actually sit down to write. This is not a great strategy for a 47-year-old woman. So I dealt with my anxiety by doing more and more and more research. I was convinced that once I knew everything in the entire world about everything in the entire world, the book would flow out of me like sweetened condensed milk out of a dorm fridge after my roommate’s stash tipped over.

2. I was terrified of writing in my own voice. As a ghostwriter, I found the very notion confusing. How scholarly should I be? How much of my funny blogger ( voice should I use and how much of my journalism voice? Who the hell was I? Since I could not decide, my first draft was both late and terrible. My best friend, a novelist, told me I sounded unable to own my authority. She pointed out that I kept defaulting to other people’s words to drive my own points home. I quoted big wads of academic texts. I sourced everything multiple times. I sounded pretentious, uncomfortable and stilted. “You can be self-deprecating while still sounding confident and erudite,” she told me gently. It took a long time for me to relax into that advice. Perhaps paradoxically, I had to learn to sound like myself.

3. Deadlines! When you’re writing a book, deadlines are fake! Sure, you can put arbitrary due dates for each chapter in your calendar, but when you’re writing articles that have to be filed every week, or magazine stories that have to come in on time or no one will ever hire you again, you know that book deadlines are stretchy and fungible. Also, book payments come in very slowly. Payments for one’s regular gigs come in more quickly. One deludes oneself about what one should be doing at any given moment.

Also one needs to check Facebook and Twitter constantly.

4. The state of publishing. I went through three editors and two publicists (at last count) over the course of working on Mamaleh Knows Best. Chaotic times, changing industry. My first editor was a Member of the Tribe with a small child, and her editorial questions seemed targeted to readers like her. My second editor was the parent to much older children and was not herself Jewish; her primary interest seemed to me to be broadening the book’s readership. Finally, I was accustomed to writing celebrity books, which are not, shall we say, heavily edited. So I was surprised to get detailed, passionate editorial notes on each chapter. The part of me that came of age writing for women’s magazines was a people-pleaser and wanted to do everything the editors suggested; the part of me that had a specific vision for the book (a blend of social history, folklore and mythology, humor, theology and parenting, high culture and pop culture) wanted to push back. It was uncomfortable. My second editor was frustrated by my harping on Philip Roth; I knew I wasn’t doing a great job explaining why his work was essential to understanding the weight of the Jewish mother stereotype, but I couldn’t accomplish what I wanted to. (My editor was also horrified that I desperately wanted to keep a paragraph about Portnoy’s foodstuff-related masturbatory habits, comparing them to the pastry penetration in American Pie. “Why is this here?” she kept demanding. “This will turn off your reader completely!” Ultimately, I decided that a discussion of Jewish men ejaculating into comestibles was not the hill I wished to die on. In the end, there is perhaps less Philip Roth in my book than there should be, but fewer people will gag while reading it, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.) Ultimately, editing made this book much, much better. And shorter: I cut 20,000 words from the second draft. Everyone says “editors don’t edit anymore,” but this was not my experience, and no lie, I’m glad.

5. Who is this book for? How Jewish should it be? How much knowledge should I assume the reader has? Am I talking about Jewish parenting now, or Jewish parenting in different eras of history, and what the hell is the difference? As I wrote and revised, I felt I was tap-dancing like crazy to reach readers of many different backgrounds. (My favorite review so far is by a popular, very critical Goodreads reviewer who is not Jewish and has no children— the fact that she enjoyed it will make me feel good to my dying day, ptui ptui ptui.) The wrestling act made the writing act take much longer than I’d expected. And I’m sure the book will frustrate yeshiva-bred readers for whom not enough material is brand new, as well as goyish readers who feel it is too dang Jewish. Here, for example, is a story that was left on the cutting room floor because explaining Purim to the uninitiated made it take too long to get to the punchline:

Back when my daughter Josie was four, she was playing Queen Esther with my mom. Josie liked to dress in a tulle skirt, sunglasses, and multiple strands of Mardi Gras beads and plastic leis; then she’d line up her stuffed animals on the couch and sit primly at one end of the line with her hands folded. Whichever family member she’d force to play Ahasuerus had to go down the line and interview each stuffed animal about why it deserved to be his queen. My mom would always try to keep the process from focusing purely on looks—even though that’s what the actual text does—because she wanted Josie to think about qualities more important than physical appearance. Mom would play an Ahasuerus looking for qualities like kindness, generosity, patience. Anyway, once Mom asked Josie, “So, Esther, what qualifies you to be my queen?” Josie looked at her like she was a moron and said, “I have the skirt.”

Marjorie Ingall is a columnist for Tablet Magazine and a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review. She has written for many other magazines and newspapers, including The Forward (where she was The East Village Mamele), Real Simple, Ms., Food & Wine, Glamour, Self, and the late, lamented Sassy, where she was the senior writer and books editor.

Related Content:

A Ghostwriter, on Being Visible

Monday, August 29, 2016 | Permalink

Marjorie Ingall is a columnist, ghostwriter, and author of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children. In honor of the book’s release tomorrow, Marjorie is guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on the The ProsenPeople.

I’m a ghostwriter. This week, a book comes out with my name on it—just mine. It’s the first book I have written as myself since 1998.

I feel naked.

To me, ghosting is infinitely more comfortable than writing a book as me. I love channelling someone else’s voice. It feels like a game. You talk to the person for as long as the person will let you (for some celebrities, that’s not long) and try to emulate their speech patterns and sense of humor. It’s wearing a Halloween costume, in book form! You treat the subject as a research project: find out as much as you can about their life so you can ask probing questions; try to make their story relevant to as many people as possible. Make them likeable, even if they’re not. (And let me head this off at the pass: No, I can’t tell you for whom I’ve written books, speeches, articles and blog posts, because then I’d have to kill you. That joke is never funny, but it’s really all one can say on the subject, non-disclosure agreements being what they are.)

Another reason I like ghosting so much is that I’ve spent so much of my career writing in the first person. I started in women’s magazines, which prize a confessional we’re-all-just-pals voice, perhaps as a way to seem unscary and sisterly. Even though I often wrote about health and science, I was still supposed to begin every story with a personal anecdote. It can feel both formulaic and invasive, putting yourself into a story where you really don’t belong. Getting to write a whole book and reveal nothing of myself was, in comparison, a huge relief.

Not everyone is so sanguine, though. When my older daughter was in first grade, I spoke to her class for Career Day. The teacher informed the class that Josie’s mom was a ghostwriter, and they got so excited they were almost vibrating. This was because they thought I wrote about translucent haunting spirits from beyond the grave. They were visibly disappointed to learn otherwise. One bright boy was more than disappointed – he was outraged. “So you wrote the book, but your name isn’t on the cover?” he sputtered. “That’s so unfair!” I explained that I got paid, and the arrangement was totally fine with me.

“But… it’s a lie!” he said. “People think someone else wrote the book, because it says someone else wrote the book, and you’re both lying!”

He wasn’t wrong. Most of us know that celebrities don’t write their own books, but we all participate in the fiction that they do. It’s a kind of collective self-hypnosis. Guess what: politicians don’t write their own op-eds or speeches, either. Though presumably after Melania Trump’s RNC debacle, more of us than a year ago know about the role of speechwriters in the performative, presentational game. (And presumably after Donald Trump’s original Art of the Deal ghostwriter publicly turned on him, more people understand how book ghosting works, too. For what it’s worth, I’m in a private support group for ghostwriters in which we talk about our projects and challenges, and most ghosts are utterly horrified by the notion of spilling the beans about clients. It’s akin to doctor-patient privilege. If you’re appalled by the client, don’t take the job.)

My new book, the one that I’ve written as me, is a book that combines social history, theology and parenting. It’s a look at the Jewish mother stereotype: a character that seems almost as malevolent to most of us as a ghostwriter does to a first grader.

But ghosting, I think, was oddly good practice for writing the book I did. An excellent ghostwriter encourages the best aspects of their client to shine through. The work of ghosting is self-effacing, but not self-negating; you need to be assertive to write the best book possible, and that means gently directing the client in the way they should go. The ghost also needs to be sure everyone—self, client, editor, and agent(s)—gets heard. If you’re going to be a good ghostwriter, you have to set up and manage expectations before you leap. You and the client both have to honor your commitments.

That’s what good parenting is, too. It’s not all about you; it’s about the next generation. (It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see, as Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote while pretending to be Alexander Hamilton.) It’s about being nurturing without being spineless. And despite the caricature of the Jewish mother as a neurotic, narcissistic, self-dramatizing human pressure cooker, the historical Jewish mother has done a tremendous job in raising kids who are both accomplished and kind.

Accomplished and kind is what we want to pretend our icons are, but it’s more important that we raise our real-life children that way in the real-life world.

Marjorie Ingall is a columnist for Tablet Magazine and a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review. She has written for many other magazines and newspapers, including The Forward (where she was The East Village Mamele), Real Simple, Ms., Food & Wine, Glamour, Self, and the late, lamented Sassy, where she was the senior writer and books editor.

Related Content: