This article is worth reading if only because it’s very funny:
Let me give another example of left-wing Puritanism in action, one less glaring than the Portland referendum but which will be recognizable to many of you. Last month, at a birthday party for a three-year-old, I was hit with the realization that most of the parents around me were in the grip of moral panic, the kind of fear of contamination dramatized so well in The Crucible. One mother was trying to keep her daughter from eating a cupcake, because of all the sugar in cupcakes. Another was trying to limit her son to one juice box, because of all the sugar in juice. A father was panicking because there was no place, in this outdoor barn-like space at some nature center or farm or wildlife preserve, where his daughter could wash her hands before eating. And while I did not hear any parent fretting about the organic status of the veggie dip, I became certain there were such whispers all around me.
Like any moral panic, nobody was immune to its contagion. Soon, I was fretting—but for different reasons. For all I knew, some of these kids weren’t immunized, and they were fed only unpasteurized milk. The other parents were worried about germs and microbes and genetically modified apricots—I was worried about the parents. I was surrounded by the new Puritans: self-righteous, aspiring toward a utopian perfectionism, therefore condemned to perpetual anxiety—and in their anxiety, a threat to me and my children.
I have no interest here in re-hashing arguments about what sugar, caffeine, or dirt can do to our children. I have never read the studies, and I have stopped reading articles about new studies, since somewhere between the birth of daughter #2 and daughter #3 I settled on a parenting philosophy that I hereby designate the Modified Aristotle: All things in moderation, except at birthday parties and when the kids are with their grandparents. When I was a child, birthday parties involved cake, ice cream, and Chuck E. Cheese pizza, or pizza-like substance; and trips to the grandparents’ house involved root-beer floats and late-night viewings of Benny Hill with my grandfather, who liked the T&A humor. I never washed my hands before I ate. And I turned out splendidly.
Every last one of these Puritan parents’ all-natural concerns could have some merit. But I am interested in a different question: Even if we assume that you can marginally increase your child’s health by doing this, that, and the Whole Foods other, at what point do the marginal benefits get canceled out by the stress of worrying all the time?
I am totally serious. We know from research—which I have read—that stress increases the risk of various ailments, including cardiovascular disease. And sociologists have shown that children thrive best when they live with two parents in a low-conflict marriage. So it follows that if concerns about our children’s health cause the children stress, or if they become a source of conflict between the parents, they may actually be counterproductive. Imagine a family in which a germ-phobic father constantly interrogates little Milo about washing his hands, and a more laissez-faire mother belittles the father for being such a worrywart. Is it ridiculous to suspect that Milo’s emotional and physical health may be imperiled more by the hand-washing conflict than by actual dirty hands?
Stressing out was for conservatives. You know who got all uptight? The man.
If I were only worried about the contagious stress that permeates birthday parties, there would be an easy solution: skip birthday parties. As it is, half the invitations our children get for parties at bounce barns and bowling alleys go mysteriously missing; there’s no way we are going to give over every weekend to toddler birthdays. But it is not quite as simple as just avoiding the Puritans. They are, I believe, hurting more than just themselves and their children. They are also damaging our political culture.
The Puritan parents I encounter are nearly all liberals, and they represent the persistence of two unfortunate tendencies liberals have inherited from the Puritans, queered along the way by Progressive-era reformers. The first is the fun-smothering tendency of Progressive-era moral uplift, the tendency that brought us Prohibition and the first laws proscribing opiates and narcotics. (Today, we try to ban large cups of soda.) The second is an interest in hygiene that could be quite salutary—as when reformers pushed clean water and other public-health measures—but could also fetishize symbolic, pernicious forms of sanitation and purity, as in Margaret Sanger’s support for eugenics.
Of course, there are plenty of conservative parents who worry too much about what their children eat, and there are plenty of conservatives who are morally censorious, dislike fun, and like prohibiting things. But I expect better of liberals. When I was little, in the 1970s and early ’80s, my parents and their left-wing friends believed—I don’t know if they would have articulated it this way, but this is what I saw—that stressing out was for conservatives. You know who got all uptight? The man.
from New Republic.
I am as guilty as anyone of trying to fit ridiculous habits into left/right boxes. But it’s amusing to watch someone else do it – if they get it wrong, they look foolish; if they get it right, they look like they’re just now figuring out something everyone else has known all along. I guess the message I take away for myself is to watch the labels.
Oh – and to not spend a lot of time in the company of people whose habits drive you nuts. But I already knew that one.
Most of the middle-class “liberal” parents I know have allowed lifestyle decisions about what they wear, eat, and drive to entirely replace a more ambitious program for bettering society; they have no particular beliefs about how to end poverty or strengthen the labor movement, and they don’t understand Obamacare, or really want to. It’s enough that they make their midwife-birthed children substitute guava nectar for sugar.