From Rad Dad Zine #17
I had a lapse in judgment with the company I was keeping, in boyfriend form, about a year ago. One of many, a heated argument arose around the topic of politics and my often-radical parenting approach. The dispute arose when I mentioned tabling at an Anarchist Book Fair. I elaborated about my children’s participation and he about lost his shit.
“You know Anarchists? And you allow your kids around them?” He asked, wide eyed and stunned. “You don’t consider yourself to be one of those people, do you?”
Here we go again, I thought, attempting to keep my eyes from rolling back into their sockets.
This wasn’t the first, nor I am sure, will it be the last time that I felt the need to carefully and thoughtfully defend and explain myself and my parenting politics. The terms radical and anarchist tend to invoke unwavering disapproval and fear when coupled with the word parenting and somehow manage to ironically place those using the terms into an isolated box.
Anarchist parenting has received the worst of raps. Many an assumption is made about the parenting practice, most of which revolving around the idea that Anarchist parents refuse to discipline their children, leaving them free to wander the streets, armed to the teeth with Molotov cocktails and spray-paint cans. Parents can thank the negative stereotypes portrayed on the evening news when reports of violent protesters are used as scapegoats in order to deter viewers from the deeper issues that need attention.
For me, radical parenting consists of keeping an open and honest dialogue with my children in regards to the many often horrifying and seedy situations that my government enters into. This also means that I try to focus on alternatives to government involvement through community building and supplementing institutional education with stories of untold histories and unexplored lands. Without discovering and creating alternatives to the current institutions, history will in fact be doomed to repeat itself- and who doesn’t want more for their children than the flawed systems we’ve all had to work within?
Discipline is also a part of my parenting practice, though I tend to lean more toward boundary-setting, correcting behavior and the natural consequences philosophy. I absolutely demand respect as an elder, a provider and as a woman, which tends to create some interesting challenges with me, as a single mother of two little girls. No one ever said it would be easy raising radical feminist daughters in our patriarchal society and I have found that patience, consistence and flexibility are priceless attributes that have taken me nearly fifteen years to cultivate. I have been called on my shit by my girls more times than I care to admit and am constantly needing to remind myself that these girls are the newest generation of leaders and that I’ll be sent my karmic payment points in the near-distant future.
In addition to creating authority-questioning children that tend to assert their anti-authoritarian ideals at inopportune times like bedtime or in line at the post office, radical parents are often confronted with their fair shares of challenges. In a society full of nosy strangers just dying to gush out unsolicited advice and ask personal and intrusive questions like: “Is the father involved?” or “Don’t you think it is dangerous taking them to that rally?” parents of all walks of life can quite often feel under attack for choices made on children’s behalves. It is also a tough act to teach our children to be allies without being overbearing and controlling about behavior. It can be exhausting to constantly be “on” and continuously deconstructing the countless societal myths we, as a community, are up against. Myths about beauty standards, elections, gender roles, class and race struggles- it can all be overwhelming. This is where the importance of a radical community of allies- both parents and non-parents alike- is crucial.
Parenting can be isolating without these allies. Sometimes the unsupportive outside forces can be family members, boyfriends/girlfriends, co-workers or even friends. Oftentimes, the judgments do come from total strangers. Regardless, knowing that the community as a whole is there while tough times present themselves and through the many dilemmas we are faced with is the only way the radical parenting community- and its varied parenting practices- can thrive. None of us can do it alone, no matter how strong and innovative we think we may be. We also need to remember that radical parenting takes many forms- whether the practice is presented in a tie-dyed, unschooled, vegetarian package or with parents that speak open about sexuality and encourage children to do a history report on the prison industrial complex or Malcolm X instead of Unicef. Families that live outside of the mainstream boxes are confronted with enough shit without being judged by other radical parents. There is room for us all and with open minds and support, together we can change the world.