unschooling for Haters, especially my favorite kind of Hater, the “skeptic”

Wynoochie River With Friends

a typical day for my kids

Hi. I’m a radical unschooler named Kelly! Listen, I feel ambivalent about labels. On one hand they are helpful for the human mind to process; on the other, the human mind invariably dredges up bias and preconceptions the minute it can label a thing. That’s just how it is. As an experienced unschooler, I thought I’d flesh out many of my encounters with those who hear the term “unschooling” for the first, second, or third time, and the biases so many continue to hold on to.

If you stop reading in a few seconds there is one takeaway I’d like to leave with you: the term “unschooling” means different things to different people. If nothing else, if you go about your day remembering that whenever you hear that word, it could mean something different than what you’ve previously perceived, EXCELLENT. My job is halfway decently done.

I’m actually not going to write tons on what unschooling and autodidactic learning looks like in our family. I write a bit about how our lives play out here and on my personal blog. I’m happy to answer any specific queries you have. You can reach me best by email at kelly AT hogaboom DOT org.

I hope what you read here is helpful.

Unschooling For Haters, Especially My Favorite Kind of Hater, the “Skeptic”

or, how my family life is not all about YOU, but thanks for playing

I resent your choice of words. I’m not a Hater, but I am a skeptic. My cousin unschools and her kids are noisy/dirty/can’t read etc.

On balance, skepticism never helped me much. It didn’t make me smarter, kinder, nor gave me a roadmap to life. A lot of time my skepticism was actually just a barrier I put up because other people’s lives, ideas, strategies, or existence frightened me deep down in the pit of my gut (for me that wall-building action is part of… being a Hater). I understand it’s human to be frightened of the unknown but any strategy – including one of perception and thought – that I develop out of that place is usually a poor one.

Anyway I’m sorry but I think unschooling is irresponsible/neglectful/elitist/etc.

I think contempt prior to investigation is irresponsible. I think you should come to my house and hang out with my kids – or give them a call or email and talk to them directly – before you decide I’m neglecting them. As for elitist, this might make more sense if I didn’t passionately and consistently work with, and know of many other unschoolers who work with, many schooled children, and if we weren’t learning in a much deeper way how to participate in public life, rather than being daily confined to age-segregated institutional procedures. In short, any of these charges might make any kind of sense if unschooling didn’t, you know, work so well at increasing our sense of humanity and our experience of community.

(Oh, and I know you’re not really “sorry”. But, that’s cool.)

Well that’s just my opinion and it’s a free country.

I have a little experiment. Let me ask: is your opinion defensible enough you’d warrant it’s worth five dollars? I mean after all, your opinion influences the choices and realities of so many, and you’re deciding what’s best for like, tens of millions of children (in the US alone). So, are you willing to back up your opinion? Listen to Jeff Sabo’s talk addressing the hundred varieties of “it’s just my opinion and I have a right to have it” conversations he’s had. It will be money well spent. Promise.

I went to school and I turned out fine.

Really? Are you “fine”? I went to school too. I’m “fine”. I smoked for 17 years and I’m “fine”. Is “fine” what you want for your children? And mine? Do you begrudge the parents and carers who might want to explore beyond “fine”?

I went to school and I turned out fine. Kids need discipline.

If you can look deep, deep, deep inside your guts, inside your Knowing Place, and tell me you have absolutely no bitterness at the thought of today’s children having a better life and more freedom, autonomy, and opportunity than you had as a child, I mean if you can really dig in there and tell me that’s not even a tiny part of why you want to force kids into school, then I am willing to entertain that line of thought.

If you know that’s not a part of how you feel, please do read some of Idzie’s blog. She has a great resource, interviews with many grown unschoolers.

On the subject of compulsory schooling being requisite for character development; my unschooled children age eight and ten demonstrate more discipline, sense of self-worth, self-control, kindness, openness, interest, critical thinking skills, and social abilities than most grownups I meet. Full stop.

And briefly: discipline is an inside job. You cannot inoculate a child with discipline no matter how much you coerce, praise, blame, hit, scream at. You do, however, run the risk of creating a praise-dependent, risk-averse, and fearful person.

I’m glad I went to school. I learned blah blah blah

I’m glad I went to school too. I learned wonderful things there, including the experience of forced institutionalism for young minds and bodies. If things had gone differently, I’d probably tell you I was glad to have been unschooled; but we’ll never know, as I wasn’t given the choice to NOT attend school. I think it’s pretty cool my kids get to choose. I won’t be haunted I didn’t let them. My grandkids, should I be so fortunate to have any, will probably get more choices and more nurture still.

Addendum: I used to be someone who took a great deal of pride in my degree, my education, and my soi disant expertise. You know, having those letters before or after your name, having an office with a big important desk and stuff. When I had children I fully planned on raising them academically-achieving, clean and well-mannered, etc. Problem is, when you decide for another human being how they should spend every minute, and how they should act/look/behave (even if you don’t admit to yourself you’re doing this), there will be intensely unpleasant fallout. For everyone. I’m grateful I started to perceive this early on in parenting.

No one stripped my degree from me and no one can take away my accomplishments (real or imagined). Today I willingly relinquish the illusion my education, my position in society, and my privilege make me a better or more deserving person.

If I didn’t make my kid/forbid my kid to X, Y, or Z he would A, B, C (eg. watch TV all day, never bathe, ONLY eat cookies, et cetera).

Yeah. As an unschooler, I hear that stuff a lot. Often from people who don’t ask us if our children watch telly all day, or eat only marshmallows and white rice (they don’t, to either). Most fear-disguised-as-anger, handwringing, and pearl-clutching about unschooling or non-coercive/non-punitive parenting comes down to just a few issues. Screen time (computers and television), bedtime (on the adults’ schedule of course especially since a school schedule is required), hygiene, math worksheets, and food. I can tell you I’m grateful to have left behind mainstream schema on all of that business. My kids’ hygiene is fine, they are active, they eat all kinds of food, they get enough sleep, they have mad life SKILLZ, et cetera.

You’re saying I’m a bad parent.

I haven’t met a “bad parent”. I’ve met sick parents, parents who were lost and overwhelmed. I’ve met parents who’d entirely abdicated their responsibilities. I’ve met parents who chose their addiction over their children (usually not even knowing they were doing so). I’ve met parents who parented with strategies different than mine. I’ve met many, many parents. I’ve never met a “bad parent”.

You’re saying I’m a bad parent.

No, I’m not. Do you think you’re a bad parent? What, specifically, do you have doubts about? Are you seeking help for those or are you surrounding yourself with strategies of Ego-preservation? Why do you care what I think? Your opinion matters more than mine; if not, it should.

You’re making me feel bad.

That is not my intent. This is not all about you. If you can put aside this experience of persecution for a moment, understand this: if others hadn’t written boldly about this non-mainstream way of parenting and living family life, I would have never had a choice of my own to parent a way that has yielded tremendous dividends. I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to those people, and I’d like to pay forward to other parents and children. I’m sure you can understand.

Well this is all fine for YOU but I’m not ______ enough to homeschool (rich, brave, smart, educated, patient, etc).

I’ve met parents with disabilities, mental and emotional health issues, single parents, poor parents, impatient parents, chronically-ill parents, who homeschooled and/or unschooled. I myself used to think I could never hang out with my kids all day, good Lord I needed a break! I’m so glad I faced my fears; I had everything to gain.

I don’t have to defend myself to you or anyone else. 

Nope. You don’t. And you also have the option not to take the piss re: other people’s lives. If you were really relatively serene about your own parenting style, why would you need to pick on others’?

Listen. I’m not the unschool police. I don’t have the right nor responsibility to come to your house and see what you’re doing and hit you with a cat-o-nine tails. No one does. You might be beating yourself up a little but I can assure you I’m not beating you up. There’s nothing I can do about your skepticism and/or rudeness and/or ignorance and/or self-doubt, although sometimes I wish I could. Your judgment and your fears are affecting others’ realities.

Good luck!


quick hit: an open letter to victim-blamers

Victim Blaming

(one of many responses to today’s news of a mass killing in an Aurora, CO movie theater)

Victim blaming. Anytime anything terrible happens these kinds of attitudes emerge in social media, the mainstream media, and conversations with family and friends. Depending on our personal circumstances we experience this insensitive, ignorant, and ultimately fear-based commentary in a variety of ways. Sometimes we agree and parrot this kind of ish. Sometimes we wave off the absurdity.  Sometimes we are personally stung and feel ill-at-ease, without being able to put our finger on Why. Sometimes we are absolutely devastated, re-injured after what was already painful news (or, if it happened to us, perhaps the most terrifying or hurtful experience of our lives). We turn off our computer and our emotions overwhelm us – and for a time, we can’t cope, can’t make sense of the world.

Victim blaming. Perhaps we experience these types of statements as grandiose and absurd – for instance, when a zealot cites a frightening natural disaster as just deserts for a partial history of an entire people, or when a cultural mythos diagnoses AIDS as a “gay disease” meant to smite sodomites. Sometimes these attitudes are deeply painful and endemic, reminding us of a larger culture that oppresses and wounds in the most personal of ways. Sometimes these attitudes emerge in the most highly-charged social and political atmosphere while concerning a profoundly grieving family; we remember Geraldo Rivera’s “hoodie” comments after Trayvon Martin’s violent death. Maybe most painful, but at least a bit easier to personally respond to, for me: sometimes we see these attitudes in the actual people living in our community. Case in point – in my county three years ago a young girl was abducted, and is still missing today – and I have personally, I’m sad to say, heard people in my community placing this young woman’s mother as at-fault for such a horrible, devastating ordeal (demonstrating the same insensitivity and ignorance as the abovementioned Aurora, CO tweet and others like it).

I am not going to write an angry screed in response to victim blaming statements and ideologies, no matter how horrific they may be; all of these examples, by the way, are off the top of my head this morning, as I sip coffee and await my children’s wake-up.

I’m going to write to those who say or think these kind of things, and tell you there’s hope to rehabilitate your mind. Because I believe people victim-blame for a number of reasons, and I relate to all of them, even if I no longer condone these strategies nor perpetrate this mindset.

So here goes.

I don’t know you personally, but I have some guesses at why you say things like this, because I’ve been there. Maybe you can’t grasp the nature of horrible things that happen. Perhaps you are angry at God when terrible things happen, and so you need a story. Maybe you love God, and need a story. Perhaps you don’t believe in a God and you’ve put your security in principalities – you want to believe the world of Man can through laws, public shaming, and rage-fueled invective, somehow make people behave and put down the guns, or stop eating so much junk food, or stop using drugs and doing inhumane things while on drugs. Maybe you want to believe certain preventative measures will ensure nothing bad happens to people who are smart enough, or not overwhelmed, or not sick, or not poor, or not socially-marginalized, or whatever (and that “someone” will be – you! Lucky!). Perhaps you believe if you just don’t make certain kinds of mistakes – like say, enjoying a movie with your family – nothing horrific will happen to you.

Perhaps it is more insidious, whether you are faith-based or no. Perhaps you are simply frightened for your own skin. Not only do you not want to be raped, or shot, or terrorized, or get a disease – you actually don’t want to deal with learning how to support or even comprehend someone who’s going through something you haven’t gone through. Concomitant: perhaps you are sometimes responding to something you DID go through, or think you did, and thus believe you can diagnose other peoples’ thoughts, feelings, and responsibilities in said scenario. If so, congratulations (she said, dubiously). Your life experiences have transformed you and not in a good way, ultimately eroding the empathy naturally granted your average three year old.

Here are a few problems with victim blaming. Besides the gross insensitivity and ignorance that attitudes like these demonstrate, they also perpetrate them in the most egregious fashion, creating an atmosphere where fewer people are safe – not more – and fewer people are empowered to trust themselves. Victim-blaming does not result in an environment of perfect vigilance that somehow keeps bad things from happening to guarded people (as if!). For example, and in brief: how many young women grow up believing if they act, dress, or behave a certain way, they essentially invite and deserve sexual assault? (raises hand). With this kind of pervasive social, cultural, and often familial indoctrination, what are the chances these young women will be imbued with any sense of personal worth and personal boundaries – qualities essential to grooming the very intuition that will help them navigate a dangerous world? And with such cultural lore, what are we doing for perpetrators or potential perpetrators? Where does that leave the issue of sexual assault? Culturally-sanctioned and enforced, mythologized, and poorly socially-managed. (I know a lot of people don’t “get” this about sexual assault. Go ahead and read like, hundreds of excellent web resources and books. You’ll get there eventually.)

Here’s another problem with victim blaming; it promotes a false sense of security. Let’s take another common example. You may think if you were a parent you wouldn’t let your kid do X, Y, or Z, or participate in A, B, or C (or: exist in a movie theater). And before you actually become a parent, such a simplified and narrowminded perspective can feel very safe (superficially); I can at least tell you it is rather typical. Problem is, these untested incipient strategies deaden you to compassion and mute your intelligence, so you won’t learn much before you have kids (if you do). And when you become a parent – if you do – such judgments will terrorize you, haunt you, nip at your heels, and maybe even keep you up at night. Worse still, if you don’t grow a bit more compassion and intelligence you risk passing such attitudes on to your kids in the most entrenched and spiritually-damaging ways; you will forbid your children a thousand freedoms and teach them they cannot trust themselves, leaving them an incredibly fearful adult underqualified to manage their life’s challenges. All in the name of false security; your fragile belief you can somehow manage things so bad stuff doesn’t happen to you, or those you love.

Victim blaming automatically turns off our ears, our minds, and our hearts to those who suffer. It automatically keeps us from growing. Smugly (which is to say, fearfully) looking at the man suffering health problems at the clinic, assigning blame and making diagnoses you’re underqualified for (He smokes and he’s fat! He “deserves” his problems, of which you’ve guessed at just by looking!), is not only profoundly ignorant but represents the lowest denominator of human strategy.

Victim blaming wrongs those who’ve been hurt, or sick, or assaulted, or devastated. It is the single most insulting thing we can do, barring perpetrating the original act (which we, in effect, are ensuring for future sufferers). Victim blaming says: “Your suffering is inconvenient to me, please go away.”

Because, ultimately, victim blaming keeps us self-obsessed and self-absorbed. It feels safe, but it’s deep-down a terrifying place to be. When I victim-blame, I keep myself preoccupied by making little checklists and pretending they will protect me, or my kids, or whomever. Well I would never let myself A, B, or C – so that means I’ll never have to deal with X, Y, or Z.  I’ll eat all organic vegan food so I’ll never get cancer. People that get cancer deserve it and I don’t and I won’t. I’d never marry a man who ended up unfaithful. I’ll never struggle with mental illness nor am I required to learn more about it, because it scares me.

The list goes on and on.

I know – from experience! – that such strategies of false security do not work. In my case, they kept me less humane, less perceptive, less compassionate, and less supportive for those who suffer – including myself. They kept me petrified from speaking out with tact, directness, and intelligence when a wrong was being committed. They kept me saying horribly insensitive things, and hurting God-knows how many people. They kept me in my own head and unable to be present, unable to deeply listen to someone who suffers – I was partially occupied in being glad it wasn’t ME and having a TOTAL PLAN how it would NEVER be me.

And then when it happened to me? It hurt worse than you can imagine.


“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers

And you know what is beautiful? You can be a helper. But being a victim-blamer significantly erodes this ability. You get to choose. Good luck!

posted without comment, re: Salon. OK. Maybe a TINY bit of comment.

2 Chocolate Milks

Chocolate Milk!

I was cited in an article on Salon today discussing home education (“Home-schooled and illiterate” by Kristin Rawls, Salon.com March 15, 2012). In the interests of informing any advocates or interested parties regarding unschooling, homeschooling, alternative education, parenting, etc. – as well as friends and readers – here is the entireity of the exchange between myself and the author.
I received this email on March 2nd 2012, which was I believe mostly copied and pasted:
So, thanks for agreeing to talk to me.  I only know fundamentalists who homeschool, and I’m willing to admit that, for that reason, I’m a bit biased against it. I would do it myself in certain cases if I had children, but I’m skeptical of homeschooling or unschooling as a “movement.” I’ve only spoken with Christian fundamentalist or former fundamentalists who were homeschooled in Quiverfull families. They tell me that their parents had an extreme fear of any government oversight whatsoever, and now think their parents’ fears were overblown and gave them a warped view of the world outside their small communities. This article is about what kinds of regulation homeschoolers actually have to deal with, notwithstanding the paranoia about it on the Christian Right.
1. Could you tell me a bit about the type of state oversight that you have experienced as an unschooling parent? What were the requirements? Did you have to do portfolios or list a curriculum? What about standardized tests?
2. Do you feel that the oversight was overly intrusive in any way? If so, how? Was it merely annoying bureaucracy? Or did you experience it as more ominous than that?
3. In brief, why did you decide to homeschool?
4. In hindsight, what do you view as some of your successes and/or mistakes as a homeschooling/unschooling parent? And what kind of impact did these have on your kids’ education?
5. Some homeschooling parents neglect their kids’ education. I’ve heard horror stories from the Christian homeschooling movement over the past few days. One girl was functionally illiterate when she entered the public school system at 16, and there were no disabilities that made learning difficult for her. She was just fine once she got into a rigorous educational program and caught up. One woman tells me that there was very little emphasis on education at all since homemaking skills were viewed as the most important education for girls. She never got past pre-algebra, which I remember doing in the sixth grade. So I’m very curious – have you seen any of this kind of neglect happen in the secular homeschooling world? If not, do you think it could happen in the wake of new stressors (moving around, illness in the family, etc.)? How do you guard against getting overwhelmed by life and letting education go?

6. Given the kind of neglect that many in the Christian homeschooling world experience, what kinds of regulations do you think should to be in place? Should a home educator have a college degree? A teaching degree? What kind of education or training is needed? Should curriculum be more strictly regulated so that, for example, young earth creationism doesn’t replace science? And that Bible-reading and home economics don’t take the place of academics?
7. Have you ever been investigated by the legal system for truancy? I’ve heard of a few cases of this involving Christian homeschoolers, but I wonder if it happens to other homeschoolers as well? Have you ever known anyone who was arrested or jailed for neglect involving homeschooling? Christian/secular? How do you feel about the current state laws in place to investigate neglect? And do you think conservative Christians’ fears of investigation are valid or not?
8. Have you ever had anything to do with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association? Does this organization serve non-Christian homeschoolers in any capacity?
9. LOGISTICS: What state(s) have you lived in while homeschooling? How many years did you homeschool, and through what grades? I assume it’s okay to quote you by name since you write under your real name?

Here’s my response:
Hi Kristin,
Wow, what a complex and multifaceted topic! This would be best discussed in person over coffee. But, you know, you’re in NC and I’m in rainy PNw, so there’s that!
I’m going to decline participation in the questionnaire, but thank you for emailing me. I do have a few things to add which you may or may not find useful.
First, homeschooling and unschooling mean vastly different things to different families who self-identify as such. Those of us in the so-called alternative education world are used to being treated with a broad-brush, unfortunately. It’s always my hope a more nuanced piece might emerge in the MSM, but so far that’s been rare.
Like yourself, I too had not only anti-homeschooling bias but a deep fear of religious fundamentalism and an erroneous belief state institutions could and should stamp it out. And, ha, I also remember the revulsion I first felt when I read the term “unschooling” (as in, I remember the room I was in and everything – years and years ago!). Myself, college-educated (chemical engineering) and a straight-A student who would’ve said I enjoyed school had you asked, “unschooling” sounded like dirty hippie neglect (I’m not trying to be offensive… I had an unkind mind at the time. Also, I was raised by hippies. In a bus with planets painted on the side, and everything.). Hee. I was also under the erroneous impression that unschooling (or life learning, or autodidacticism, or whatever label is most fun to use) was a “movement” or a new trend; it’s not.
So I can relate to a lot of where many people come from, when they write me.
Secondly, the 2010 Swidler article I referenced in my article (“a blueprint for courage”, which you seem to have read at least parts of) – http://www.naturallifemagazine.com/1002/unschoolers_re-imagine_schools.htm – addresses some of the concerns you sent my way via Twitter, and also fields typical objections self-labeled progressives/liberals have to home education. Swidler’s article also cites some of the culturally-popular myths in the US – specifically that alternatives to compulsory schooling are primarily religious families (and religious home ed families are, of course, the Boogeyman), and that those who do not send their own children to institutions have therefore turned their back on schooled children and schooling families. Like I said, the topic is complex, and Swidler’s is one piece that’s kind of a go-to seminal piece for those new to secular/progressive home ed.
Additionally, I found a few authors tremendously helpful in overcoming my own anti-homeschooling/anti-unschooling bias. Idzie Desmarais’ blog, http://yes-i-can-write.blogspot.com/, and Wendy Priesnitz’ work (easily available online) are two of my favorites; today I have the privilege of working with these women. I’ve written for their publications as well as a few others, full disclosure, although I am not paid to do so.
If you are serious about learning more, there are so many resources on the internet. My advice is, don’t sell yourself short, and read the best of the bunch! 🙂
If you’re interested, I am @kellyhogaboom on Twitter, and @underbellie as well (more social wellbeing stuff than personal tweets). My kids are on Twitter as well – you can always write my daughter @phoenixhogaboom – who turns 10 today, yay! – if you have any questions as to her experiences! I get a laugh how many grownups enjoy talking amongst themselves about what’s best for children. 🙂
I saw your tweets on Rush [Limbaugh, re: Sandra Fluke]… and a few others alluding to his latest public comments. Do I even want to KNOW what he’s said this time? #assery *headdesk*
Good luck in writing your article! 🙂
No personal communication thereafter.
Ms. Rawls got two things wrong about me in the Alternet/Salon piece. One, that I was “irritated” by the exchange (I wasn’t). Two, that Underbellie is a “popular home-schooling blog” (it’s neither a popular blog nor a home-schooling one!).
And finally, anecdotally, obviously I am not addressing the Salon article’s content here, for a variety of reasons. What’s funny is, a few minutes ago the kids and I were at Homeschooling Sports at the Y – populated almost entirely by religious home educators, and tons of kids laughing and playing – and I was really amazed at all the curriculum-talk there. Kinda funny in juxtaposition to the Salon piece.
Hello new readers! I actually haven’t written much here at Underbellie regarding homeschooling and/or autodidactic education and/or unschooling, but I write about our day-to-day lives quite a bit on my own blog – kelly.hogaboom.org.
Toodles, my lovely readers!

quick hit: I write elsewhere too!

Elizabeth from My Milk Spilt was kind enough to publish me at her site; my piece “Missing the Mark” went live today. If nothing else, Michelle Allison’s linked-to piece is a go-to for some sense and sensibility regarding the USian (and AUian, at very least) “War on obesity”, etc.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of a BLT with homemade bread and lovely summer tomatoes.


breastfeeding: not just ladybusiness

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mamiscl/4968830387/This piece is featured in Squat! Birth Journal‘s Spring Issue. I encourage an exploration and/or support of this lovely zine (available in paper or digital form); certainly a great gift for an expecting family-to-be! It’s a wonderful publication.

Over my twitterstream my friend Wendy links to a piece of, once again, sex discrimination against a woman feeding her child1). We’ve all heard it before. A woman is feeding her baby in a shop or a library or wherever, when an employee approaches and tells the woman she must leave, often invoking (their fallacious understanding of) the law and – at least in North America – usually in violation of protected rights. And certainly counter to common sense, compassion, and an understanding of public health.

It’s too bad more people don’t seem to see it that way.

Breastfeeding discussion is continually ignored and/or marginalized by the mainstream, made into a fringe issue although it concerns us all – our progress toward an egalitarian society, our support of families, our stewardship of the environment, and our county’s medical costs and spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. Even movements self-identified as pro-woman often pick and choose which reproductive rights they support and advocate for, ignoring the societal edifices concerning birth, babies, and fulltime care of children – which necessarily ignores the women involved. If you Google “breastfeeding and feminism” you will see communities concerning the former subject discussing the latter, but rarely the reciprocal; mainstream pro-feminist discussions in general do not concern themselves with breastfeeding even though something like eighty percent of USian women do become parents at some point.

Keeping breastfeeding peripheral to social justice discussion contributes to extremely low breastfeeding rates in the so-called developed world (which are lower still in marginalized groups such as black mothers, teen mothers, and native or indigenous mothers, etc.). After all, anyone remedially-versed in the experiences of infant care and feeding understand that support, or lack thereof, is a major if not the major factor in aggregate breastfeeding success rates.

While some without children, or some with older children, or some men believe they can continue to ignore the health and well-being implications of poor breastfeeding rates and the compounded lack of choice afforded to already-stressed marginalized populations, such a luxury is not experienced for the child nor the child’s carer. These peoples’ daily realities are put under additional stressors. Thus when an individual receives repeated shaming messages or policing language and repressive strategies against her, she is most likely to experience discouragement, uncertainty, and isolation; she is at a very real disadvantage. Or as the author of “A tired hungry baby” writes:

I knew the law. I knew my rights. But I was still upset. And not the angry, self-important, righteous kind of upset. The teary, scared, “they”‘re going to kick me out of the store”, “I”‘m here with my kids” type of upset. It was clear I was about to be thrown out, and I was pretty sure that if I was going to be forced to justify feeding my baby, I was going to cry. And I felt truly alone.

This experience and this sentiment could have been written by so many of my friends – and many of these are “educated” women with class, hetero-, cis-, and racial privilege. Which puts the question: at what point does our mainstream dithering about “public decency” get real, and admit the costs we are requiring so many others to pay? “Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” seems incredibly trite and inhumane when considering our socioeconomically-classist culture, to put it frankly, requires black, brown, poor and working-class mamas and families pay multifaceted costs – and by heaping on body-shaming and gender-policing we’re just making it harder. “Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” tweeted by a white Portland hipster without children is such a disheartening and ignorant response when I consider, for instance, the lived reality of a child up all night screaming from a painful ear infection (and the work/sleep missed by carers and the stress for all involved). To get a little 101, ear infections, which account for thirty million trips to the doctor each year and are experienced by an estimated 75% of babies, is a risk decimated by a factor of at least two for a breastfed child2. And that’s just one real-life health issue and one potential pragmatism for parents, and it makes me irritated enough to knock that Stumptown out of said urbanite’s hand.

“Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” hurts real-life families, real-life people.

“Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” is something that should have been eliminated from our public discourse a long, long time ago.

This is why it is key that those who are not at this moment stuffing a nipple into a baby’s face – including men, including formula-feeders, and including those without children – support breastfeeding and stand up for families’ rights and for mothers to young children. When the mainstream frames breastfeeding an issue that the individual mothers should be fighting, all on their own, it throws the game (especially considering the corporate power and cultural reach held by formula producers: phdinparenting.com has some great information on this). Concomitantly, framing infant feeding as solely individualistic and “choice”-based is also at heart of those who shame individual formula feeding families (moms) for “not trying/caring hard enough”, too (sadly, there are many of these voices, although for the purposes of this piece I should note bottle feeding mothers are generally not asked to leave public spaces based only on their method of feeding).

So while there are many breastfeeding mothers who stand up to pressure and have a generally positive feeding career, the vast majority of breastfeeding mothers have been pressured to stop feeding and most have been shamed explicitly or implicitly while others stand silently by or dismiss the topic as a “women’s issue” (because, you know, those aren’t important).

This means often, as in the above-cited author’s case, at the point an episode of discrimination is most acute and immediate, she is likely extremely disadvantaged in her response. Consider also that mothers who breastfeed:

* are expending 300 – 500 extra calories a day per breastfeeding child (yes, some women are breastfeeding more than one child), and those are just the calories required to produce milk, not those needed to care for, comfort and nurture, clean for, etc. anyone else in the family.

* are often severely sleep-deprived (personally, I cannot overstate this effect on my life when I had infants).

* are usually dealing with hormonal and physical changes while they:

* are also under endemic body-policing and -shaming pressures including scrutiny of their weight, the state of their skin or hair, and their changed or changing body shape.

* are often under cultural policing as well; this is levied at mothers of color, those without class privilege, those outside the heteronormative spectrum, those with multiple children, etc.

* are usually constantly segregated and policed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways by virtue of having children, by our adultist and child-unfriendly cultural norms.

* are often under-supported by their family, friends, neighbors – and, too-often, their partners (even well-intentioned ones), if they have one.

* are in the throes of what many would identify as one of the most life-changing experiences they’ve had – the twentyfour-seven care and responsibility for another human being, and an incredibly vulnerable one at that.

It is my position that any restriction of breastfeeding should be taken as sex discrimination – whether legally promoted or de facto by policy, societal attitudes, etc. As such, I haven’t yet heard a compelling argument to support it. A disdain for a function of women’s bodies doesn’t seem meritorious enough to warrant prescriptive measures.

It’s time for others to adopt that standard as well.

Because in North America, fighting for the unrecognized humanity of these women, babies, and families, often seems a never-ending job against a seemingly bottomless pit of ignorance and oppression. Today, as I finish this piece, a blogreader sends me an article from The Root, in which a woman nursing in the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. was hounded twice by security and told she must enter the bathroom and sit on the toilet to feed her child3.

So, yeah. “Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” needs to go.

* Photo credit: 3º Lugar – 2º Concurso Fotogra¡fico Regional “Fotografiando la Lactancia”. Released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

quick hit: feminist readers: have you leveled-up?

Neighborhood Kids

Sorry y'all, but your parents should have thought about that before they had you.

People of Color, People with Disabilities, LGBTQAI People, plenty of marginalized persons have movements behind them, and yet in social justice circles people feel free to openly say “I hate children” without repercussions. Children are routinely beaten in the name of “good order and discipline” (and parents are blamed for not doing so in the name of “not being attentive parents”) and no one pays attention. We expect children to be silent unless spoken to, and we often walk around and talk around them as if they aren”‘t even there. And possibly more importantly, like our little friend, they notice when we don”‘t notice them. They notice when we fail to take them into consideration. They notice when they don”‘t matter. They notice when the world, when those who are meant to love them, don”‘t fucking see them or hear them. – from “Children Take Up Space (and Notice When We Don’t Notice)” by Ouyang Dan

Young people are scary because they are a social group whose rights we are reluctant to recognize. They are human beings with personalities, attitudes, opinions and needs. Just like misogyny arises out of a fear of women exercising their human rights; hatred of children arises from our wish to subordinate children. – from “We Hate Children” by Feminist Avatar in Scotland

Today, after reading an incredibly awesome piece of rad fem by a stellar author, I put forth a genuine and heartfelt question: Why do so many (not all) feminists exhibit vitriol and/or a non-inclusive attitude for children and their carers? Specifically, with regard to carers, I find there is a huge void where sensitivity, inclusivity, and a valuing of nurture-work and mothers is needed – even more specifically, mothers usually excluded and/or belittled are those non-white, non-middle- or upper-class, child- and home-oriented, disabled, neurologically atypical, gay, queer, or trans.

Two from the commentariat weighed in. The upshot of their responses: it’s “ridiculous” to say feminists hate mothers*, and anyway feminists have no real power so they’re just angry (and hey, understandably so, from my perspective) but their words only “sting” and have no real-life repercussions.

My charges of child-hate sentiment in the feminist sphere and resultant oppressions went unacknowledged and unaddressed.

One comment contained the following, which really has me chewing over it. See, I’ve heard this sort of thing before. Lots:

“Many radical feminists question why women wish to become mothers, because the planet is overpopulated and children are men”‘s all-time favorite weapon of choice to use against women. Not to mention that having a child ensures that you”‘re either raising another potential victim or another potential perpetrator.”

Here’s the thing: I’m dashing this off while being tugged at by my kids, mother, partner, and cats. Here I’m deciding to write to my readers – not the Haters, not the developed rad fems or those who want to discuss or ‘splain theory whilst ignoring lived realities of mothers/carers and children, and frankly, not those who hold anti-child views (sadly many of them don’t even know who they are). But if you find yourself generally wondering if you have any anti-child lingering sentiments (hint: yes you do), please read on and more importantly, read the links supplied.

I’ve written before, briefly (F-word example), of the unwillingness of some feminist discussion to acknowledge deeply-entrenched adultist tenets. These worldviews simmer under the surface but make themselves known in commentstreams of any article daring to defend children and their carers, especially one supporting their rights to be out in public at their levels of need (hey listen… I simply couldn’t bring myself to link to multiple vitriolic examples of breastfeeding hate, which are endemic in the US). One of the reasons I don’t self-identify as a feminist (although I absolutely support many feminist goals, and read and support many self-identified feminist activists) is because of the many ways feminist discussion has let down so many groups and continues to do so: today’s mainstream feminist discussion is often rife with demonstrations of racism, ableism, psychophobia, transphobia, adultism, and classism.

When discussing children the conversation – in mainstream and social justice spheres alike – is usually two-dimensional and frankly, played out: it seems we divide children into two classes: children parents can afford to feed – so parents have a duty to raise them “well-behaved” (regardless of the costs and pro-oppression indoctrination) and forcefully educated according to the institutional system – versus poor families with children. The solution in the latter case is – you shouldn’t have had them in the first place. In these often class-stratified discussions, pregnancy is often only discussed in terms of abortion rights (which are absolutely under attack) but not birth rights or holistic child-stewardship and nurture practices (including, shocker, the right to raise children without by-rote institutionalism). Like many in the self-identified right-wing, prominant progressives concern themselves with the care and quality of life – the life of babies or mothers (or non-babies and the right not to be a mother, which I unreservedly support) – concern which ends abruptly if a child emerges from the womb. I’m thinking of a progressive behemoth site with thousands of readers that describes itself as staunchly feminist; on this site a single author has posted merely two articles – out of thousands, scores of which concern abortion – that discuss birth culture and attendant realities in America (more dismal than you might imagine; yet it is still only considered fringe to advocate for revolution therein). There is – wait for it – one article discussing breastfeeding. One. In my opinion a feminist schema worth its salt would hold breastfeeding as a reproductive right and would, y’know, tackle birth reform. I won’t hold my breath.

The abovementioned rad fem comment seems to place a lot of value in asking WHY a woman would reproduce given how shitty things are. First of all, I commend objections to the multifaceted and ubiquitous narratives that a woman’s sole function is to reproduce. And things are pretty bad – and not only that, many people don’t even know it nor concern themselves. However, the reality is in having these same 101 social justice queries ad infinitum without deeper explorations of mother-and-child life we are letting down the women who do breed (something at present count, around 80% of women) as well as their children and (if they have them) partners.

Most women who feel and exercise what they believe is free choose to have children, even the “educated” (or seemly or middle class or whatever) ones, likely had little idea just how hollow the promises of “equality” (socially or within heterosexual partnerships) really are today. In my opinon this is largely due to misogynistic and kyriarchal mindsets – and in no small part also fallout from a child-segregationist culture. Many first-time parents have had little to no experiences caring for or being around well-nurtured children nor exposed at length to healthy child environs; almost every adult has moved from the position of child-as-oppressed to adult-in-privilege, and often will enact the damaging scripts they were forced into for so many years. The concepts of happy, celebrated, and idyllic motherhood are promised but ill-supported once baby arrives (although many mothers and fathers and carers manage to find genuine enjoyment and meaning from parenting). Our culture still functions to make many women choose between the family life she’d like and meaningful or respected paid work and financial support (and note: routinely criticizing and belittling traditional “women’s work” skews our ability to find meaning therein), even while we criticize these women for ever making sacrifices of one for the benefit of the other. We sentimentalize family life and mothering, but we also continue to frame parenting as huge drain that is less meaningful than Statusy Career or material acquisition, which of course erases the millions for who Statusy Career is not an option, a current reality, and/or a life-calling. More to the point, the needs of children are routinely, routinely ignored and the child class is raised while often being relegated to – still! – being seen, or not, and not heard – and often ill-protected (child abuse – verbal, physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual – another endemic and tragic occurrence that our school systems and supposedly progressive American ideals have not done nearly enough to halt or stem).  On the subject of child-raising anyone with an opinion weighs in and often gets a clown-horn for the front pages, while those who continue to successfully advocate and care for babies and children largely outside oppressive schema are relegated to the fringe or downright vilified.

I think I can understand a lot of feminist anger regarding children and motherhood, although I wish those vocalizing anger would consider their words carefully. Many women without children are tired of the oft-fed line that one’s life is not fulfilled unless one reproduces and that without kids a life is empty or sad or even “selfish”. And I agree, this seems like a lot of bullshit. But that is precisely my point – the promises and Hallmark-sentiments surrounding “motherhood” are deeply problematic and when many women step into this role – for reasons and in quantities that are no one’s business to be prescriptive about – the reality is quite shocking.

As for the arguments against marriage, motherhood, etc. due to these institutions functioning as patriarchal tools – yes, I get it (although find me an institution that never does function thusly). But here’s my thing – once the child is on the premises Planet Earth is it really appropriate and helpful to discuss how they shouldn’t have been born in the first place – or espouse a glum scenario that the child is destined to be either “victim” or “perpetrator” (that is they are a cipher and academic subject – not a whole, multi-faceted human being with a heart, mind, integrity, and a future full of mistakes and triumphs)? In asking for feminist responses to mother and child, to be told another version of “women shouldn’t become mothers/children should think about that before existing” is not addressing living mothers and children; it’s requesting we just have fewer mothers and children. Very, very tolerant, supportive, helpful, and on point (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

Where is the acknowledgment that if the world is ever going to experience positive change – either episodically or by the whole – it is precisely the raising of children outside oppressive regimes and mindsets that will make this happen?

While discussing the wretched state of Child, where is the attendant activist discussion and pragmatic approaches to treat the living and breathing children, here and now, who need adult advocacy and increased agency?

Bizarrely, sometimes social justice conversation indulges in the make-believe that each person (or nuclear/bio-family) is an island. Self-sufficient and all that. This framing ignores the fact our lives began with others caring for  us – however many mistakes our carers may have made, the vast majority of us received an incredible amount of work and nurture – and most of us will have a period of vulnerability bookending the end of our lives, too (those with disabilities or extenuating circumstances may not have the luxury of the normative but false “self sufficiency” narrative often promoted). It’s incredible to me how many grownups pretend they are separate, apart, do not rely on others, never did, never shall.

Author Naomi Aldort, who I’ve referenced here, wrote a book called Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. I’ve found it to be absolutely true that in the vocation of caring for other human beings my spiritual, emotional, and intellectual life has benefitted. My reality – mine – is that until I had children my activist mentality was almost non-existant and my passions were self-focussed; I rarely thought about how many others needed help, how many others had fewer privileges and resources and abilities than I. I am a flawed human being and continue to do my work, including self-improvement while trying to increase my stewardship for other people, for animals, for the planet. I am not perfect, but I will probably never support a worldview that doesn’t make it an active discussion point: helping those who need help and compassion, whatever population or class they belong to. Using such populations merely as theoretical entities (not human beings) might be necessary to get the ball rolling sometimes – but runs the risk of being a very underdeveloped and condescending strategy.

Some reading:

“On Hating Kids” at Feministe

“On childhate and feminism” at the Noble Savage

“My Child Takes Up Space” at Womanist-Musings

“The Ethics of Representing Childhood in Western Culture” by Naomi Aldort

And finally, “Children Take Up Space (and Notice When We Don’t Notice)” at Random Babble (quoted above), from which I offer this summation:

“[W]e as feminists, womanists, and social justice activists (and I”‘ll let you know where I fall on that scale when I figure it out) really fail hard at seeing children as what they truly are; a marginalized class of people who need their rights fought for and protected.”


*(Um. Really.)

part 2 (.Tenderness.)

Nels, Pensive

Few insights gained in the last twenty years are so securely established as the realization that what we do to children when they are small – good things and bad things – will later form part of their behavioral repertoire. Battered children will batter others, punished children will act punitively, children lied to will become liars themselves, protected children will learn to be protective, and respected children will learn to respect others weaker than themselves.

– from Isa Helfield’s paper “Poisonous Pedagogy”, International Conference on Women and Literacy, January, 20011


About three weeks ago I wrote about the limitations of the Good Parent model – the Good Parentâ„¢ who raises the Good Childâ„¢ – and the suffering these concepts necessarily inflict (briefly, on everyone – but especially women, children, babies, families with disabilities, those living in poverty, and any marginalized group or minority).2

I’ve thought a lot about how I needed to see the subject through. I want to edify, instruct, and help – not merely deconstruct and analyze – so a follow-up seemed necessary. The task is not simple. See, I’ve been elaborating on better models for parenting and better village practices, from the general to the specific, for some time now. I can say with authority the ideas I express, now matter how clearly and circumspectly and appropriately I put them forth, upset a lot of people. Our culture is so built on the necessity of child-as-second-class there is an immediate and vitriolic response to those of us who challenge these edifices. I’m reminded of a quotation I recently read by Dresden James, British novelist and scriptwriter: “A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed.” This, in short, is why people get so angry if you identify “spanking” as merely a special word for the practice of hitting children. This is why if one writes about the abstention of domination in parenting strategy, people trot out very old, unimaginative, and tired-out examples of “What if a child tries to run into the street?” and “Why don’t parents control their children in restaurants?” This is why so many try to frame any discussion of best practices for children as a cultural war between parent vs. non-parent, even though it is absolutely not (many parents enforce unhelpful and authoritarian – and failing – models of child-stewardship while many without children have some of the best and most creative ideas for a better society), which inevitably creates a rather terrifying and depressing cultural concept of “every man for himself” – an ethos singularly toxic and horrifying to thrust on our young ones as we wholly do.

I’m tired of some of  these rather predictable conversations, and I’m disappointed in individuals and groups that should be doing better. This site was started as a social justice project within the blogosphere, but the current grassroots activist field therein has been an utter disappointment – and that’s an understatement – in discussing the rights of children and our responsibilities toward and treatment of the child class. Children are not “choices” (as so many other normally-astute activists frame them) but are a part of all of us; furthermore our commitment to bettering the world means recognizing they are our most vulnerable, most exploited, and suffering populations, across all racial and socioeconomic groupings, faith models and belief systems, class strata, and community models. I’ve discovered many social activists if not most are not willing or able to commit to a greater intersectionality in their efforts (probably because they don’t want to examine their own adult privilege).

So today I’m going to speak to a rather small group, I think. Those who already know we’re failing – who already see the “boiled frog”3, the troubling results of our practices invested on children. I’m speaking to those who know we need to do better but aren’t sure exactly how. I’m speaking, mostly, to parents/carers who feel haunted and amiss – and to compassionate and intelligent adults who care about our future. I’m speaking to those who want to parent their hopes, not their fears, and the non-parents who are ready and willing to be a part of this.

I’m going to talk about Tenderness.

We don’t much value tenderness in our world. It’s one of those optional and circumstantial things, an occasional indulgence rather than a commitment to a way of life. We think of tenderness as a feeling, not a practice – something akin to the experience of affection. But tenderness is an exercise, a way of life, and functioning in our larger communities I might call it a discipline. It only improves with practice and wisdom.

When it comes to children many like to talk about the Real World (whilst they work at creating or supporting singularly artificial institutional environs for said children, like compulsory schooling). And of those who invoke the looming spectre of this Real World, many are ready with talons out to dash apart an enthusiastic practice or promotion of tenderness. You see, in their worldview “soft” or “permissive” parenting will result in a Failure in the Real World (or Spoiled Children). Usually those quick to criticize don’t even bother reading, with any critical or considered analysis, the most humane and deeply rugged practices put forth by stellar authors, thinkers, and spiritual teachers. Critics of more humane treatment of children create strawmen (sometimes straw-hippies, ha!) as fast as they can to tear them down. Their words are filled with deep-seated cynicism, pain, anger, and fear.

Of course, in the longest view, how we raise our children – and we are all raising the children around us, whether we admit it or not – is instrumental in creating the Real World. We have been doing a fairly poor job, as shown by our failing educational system, the endemicity of youth anxiety disorders, eating disorders, depression and suicide (the recent bullycides4 have called attention to some of these very serious problems) – and just the garden-variety symptoms of misery I see in so many children today: duplicity, unhappiness, suppressed authenticity, and fear.

Besides, even if we were to pretend this rather dismal “hard guy” view of You Need To Learn To Cope in the Real World wasn’t a perpetuating cycle of dominator culture5, poisonous pedagogy6, and a rationalization of sadism7, “tough love” parenting strictures actually countermand healthy functioning and growth in children – in other words, we end up seeing more aggressive, angry, fear-based behaviors and children who learn very quickly to behave differently depending on who’s watching or Who’s In Charge (as opposed to growing their intrinsic moral center)8. We are, in short, growing Bullies and those who will be hurt by them – not compassionate citizens and heroes.

Most parents/carers/adults want children to survive. Whatever my differences from USian mainstream parenting practices, we have this in common. It’s my view and experience that treating children with tenderness and protecting them while they are under our care prepares them supremely for the nasty aspects of this Real World (that is, if you believe Nature didn’t screw up when she built us, the most successful ape on the planet) and in fact positions them best to be the change we need in this world.

Many parents, carers, teachers, and adults without children intuit the need for better models for child-caring than our recent history affords; there are swelling movements, sometimes fragmented, to reclaim humane parenting and save not only our children but ourselves. You can see this burgeoning awareness in communities that align themselves with principles of Consensual Living, Non-Violent Communication, Natural or Authentic Parenting, Attachment Parenting, Attraction Parenting, Radical Unschooling, Life Learning, and Autodidacticism, etc. Still, even well-intentioned adults have a hard time releasing models of coercion and control with regard to children: hence you see discussions of “positive discipline” and “gentle discipline” (in other words, for example, a rejection of hitting alongside laboriously-crafted defenses of “time-outs”). These concepts of “gentle” discipline make no sense or at least are only cosmetically or by-degree different from those who use more loaded or violent words, strategies, and physical responses. Discipline is discipline and there’s nothing gentle or positive about it; that is, an authority big and strong and (to most children) scary who will Have Their Way whether they sugar-coat it with words like “bummer” or enforce by a systemic removal  of “privileges” and loved possessions or time spent doing the things they want to. “Discipline” has nothing to do with safety – keeping our children safe and occasionally keeping others safe from our children – but it is an almost universally-accepted lie that it does.

Authoritarian and authoritative parenting (more hair-splitting of dominator culture) are exhausting battlefields we lay out. The skirmishes are grim or heated and brief moments of triumph are soon eclipsed in bouts of fear and shame and anger and confusion. Eventually our children move across town or the country or the world. Walls are set up. Parents are left lonely and uncertain and brittle. Children are left wounded and have cut themselves off from their parents; children, now grown, carry childhood injuries. They have lost even the desire to repair the lost connection with their parents.

Authoritative/authoritarian parenting propagates suffering.

But tenderness is life-changing.

From here on in this piece I’m going to refer to parenting, but really the concepts can be applied to any adult in relationship with a child.

What is tenderness? Tenderness is a spiritual practice: for those few individuals who do not believe we have souls, I suppose one could call it a logical one as well as it generally serves our health and herd relationships. It’s hard to articulate the practice of tenderness in a thorough, quantified way here in a short article; spiritual and humanist teachers have written entire tomes on similar concepts. I identify with concepts learned through studies of Christian and Buddhist works so my practice and concepts around tenderness are thus informed.

Briefly and significantly with regards to caring for other human beings, in the pursuit of the practice of tenderness I first must acknowledge my own suffering. I must – at least temporarily – abandon my scripts of blame and rehearsed anger and recrimination (note I am not offering a judgment on the validity or invalidity of such scripts) and instead simply see my suffering for a moment, with clarity, feel the shape of it – observe it and see it is not Me (“I” am who is doing the observing). This is the beginning.

Now for many if not most of us, our suffering is often such we cannot simply wish it away or banish it. Yet our suffering is at root of why we cling to worldviews and behaviors that are dysfunctional – and harm others. This is deeply relevant to the practice of parenting as the relative helplessness (enforced legally and socially in almost every way) of our world’s children puts us in power positions; we inflict deep damage. This is both an awesome and a scary responsibility, and one reason many are fearful at the thought of having children or even disgusted by the idea (such individuals also often want to believe they can just “opt out”, that they aren’t in fact participating in the larger village of child-rearing by their silent support of the status quo). On the other hand, this mission can be incredibly transformative; it is why, for some, having the care of another human being, a dependent – often their own child, but not always – can be the catalyst to a spiritual awakening unlike any they’ve yet experienced.

When we have the presence and space from our mind’s rehearsals of suffering and anxieties – that’s when we are best equipped to care for another human being (and not just children, either). That space is the fertile ground for the beginnings of the practice of tenderness.

When we parent from this place we respond to our children’s needs while having a longer view of our job as parents. This is such a tremendous gift, and I wonder how many parents and carers experience it. Instead I believe, most are familiar with the tension-wire feeling we have at all times or that can be activated at any moment (sitting in a restaurant, we haven’t eaten all day, our two year old begins making happy noises, the table over shoots the very familiar toxic glares, our stomach knots, “not again”, our acute awareness of how unwelcome we are here and in the entire public sphere until our children sit still enough and are quiet enough for everyone else). Ugh. I’ve been there. It sucks, and as I’ve said before, ultimately it is our children that pay the price as we lash out, restrict them, suppress them, require Obedience and Submission, hit and shout when “no one’s looking”, work ourselves ragged in the culturally-supported ritual of performing Good Parentâ„¢… and so on.

Yet parenting from a place of tenderness and Presence has the ability to lift these experiences, as incredible as this may sound, to transform them. Parenting with tenderness involves a deep-seated sense of unshakable joy; it involves my awareness it is my child I am with and the world around us in its chaos and coarseness and anger and fear, is just another presence in our day, nothing personal, not a boot to crush me (try as it occasionally might), powerful – is it? Time and time again my smile, which begins deep inside me, in my stomach, and emerges from my Being, I smile at the next table and I smile at my child (and I help my child) and I smile at my hunger (which may go unsated, for now) and I smile (with sadness) at how many adults react with such anger and fear to small children – and my calmness has soothed everyone – myself, my child, sometimes even, but not always, the angry customer at the next table. The trick is, you can’t fake it. But when obtained, it’s real.

Parenting from a place of tenderness keeps me strong for the times my children suffer or make mistakes and the times these events surprise or hurt me – or others. It is not “turning off” my instincts or alacrity or my loyalty to the rest of the human race, it is going deeper within myself where I find an indomitable ground, a strong woman, not her first rodeo, a person I like very much indeed as it turns out. Therefore some of the old fretting worries surface like they always have – Why is he/she doing this?  Have I failed as a parent (mother)? What’s wrong with him/her/me? – but instead of the anxiety, fear, anger, and confusion I’ve typically experienced in the past I often feel calm, alive, aware – even amused. As author Eckhart Tolle relates after a disturbing event at his then-workplace long ago, “There was a brief shifting from thinking to awareness. I was still in the men’s room, but alone now, looking at my face in the mirror. At that moment of detachment from my mind, I laughed out loud. It may have sounded insane, but it was the laughter of sanity, the laughter of the big-bellied Buddha. ‘Life isn’t as serious as my mind makes it out to be.’ That was what the laughter seemed to be saying…”

Parenting with tenderness means trusting the process of growth; it means giving love and support and assistance instead of withholding it or provisionally doling it out in order to coerce children into “better” behavior, like the Operant Conditioning experiments performed on rats (sadly, many, many adults do this by rote to children). It means folding a crying child into your arms and not believing the thought (formed out of fear and narrowness) that their emotional display is “babyish” (over time, this thought coupled with negative judgment will not come at all… and what a beautiful experience for me to have left it behind!). It means over time seeing your child and their suffering with deep compassion and intelligence and depths and calm, not identifying with the phrases “throwing a fit” or “having a tantrum” (imagine my surprise and delight when this awareness began to evidence itself in my experience with other grownups!), nor identifying with the fear that would have you rush to “fix” their pain. Parenting this way, or beginning to anyway, has resulted in more peace and happiness in my home – and “better behaved” children – than I would have thought possible.

Parenting with tenderness means not looking over our kids’ shoulders for the accolades of others (or the label of Good Parent) as we hustle them to the Accomplishment – reading, writing, riding a bike, “please and thank yous”, multiplication tables, straight As, Miss Congeniality – but being with them as they set their own goals and helping them in every way we can and watching with amazement what they can do (not watching what we can make them do).

Children have or develop, when nurtured and not exposed repeatedly to the trammels of adult privilege – or exposed as little as possible anyway, innate reserves of intuition, wisdom, compassion, righteous outrage, brilliant humor, fair-mindedness, and a capacity for forgiveness and love that rivals any bodhisattva. Tenderness and responsive, considered stewardship of our children will not only raise wonderfully-adapted and “well-behaved” children (promise!) but will also promote our own healing. Tenderness and nurture assist our children (because much as a doctor does not heal our body, rather our body does the work – children grow themselves) more than any artificially-prescribed “boot camps” parents/adults convince themselves are necessary9. To paraphrase author Naomi Aldort (and I wish I had her exact words here) – adversity is good for children, but not when organized by those whose job is to nurture and protect the child. I have seen this bourne out in our own family life countless times – countless.

Tenderness is meeting a child at their expressed need; tenderness is rejecting our arrogance when we attempt to direct what our children need, or what they need to be rescued from (the oft-maligned “helicopter parenting”), rather developing the extraordinary presence and observation and longer, more spiritually-centered awareness so many children find incredibly nurturing (my own father had this gift, despite much idiosyncratic coarseness). When we are in tune with our children, they will ask us with clarity (or we will be able to see with clarity) when they need our help. To my surprise, it’s been less often than I’d have imagined.

Tenderness is the only thing that has given me a compassionate awareness of my previous mistakes; after all, I could have heard all the well-reasoned and logical arguments in the world for more humane parenting but my mind could have dismissed them (as inconvenient or only for the “privileged few” or as naive or simplistic) – had I not been open and seen the suffering I was inflicting on these beloved children. Tenderness is the part of me that has, over the years, acknowledged the personhood of my child at the soul-level (or whatever you’d call it) – not merely a foil for my own ego and Expert status10.  Acknowledging my mistakes – instead of clinging to my dung pile11  – I have gained humility and wisdom (and hope to gain more). Our children will experience our improvements as healing, if they are not too far hardened to us. And on that account, it’s never too late to attempt to restore harmony between us.

And here, I would like to say a few more things about my own family.

The other day I heard my son Nels set up a cry and he came into the living room. His face was flushed and his eyes were full of hurt. His sister had bit him. Their skirmishes are increasingly rare; thus for one to proceed to such a level was surprising. Even as I opened my arms I knew something was wrong for my daughter, for her to hurt him thusly (not that long ago, before my husband and I began a deeper awareness of gentleness, a fight between my children that escalated to this level would be more commonplace and we’d have Laid Down The Law on them, more shame clouding up her own inner sense of justice and betrayal, obfuscating her integrity in a scary and humilating lecture…).

But now, in this moment, my son buries himself in my open arms. His bite is angry-looking indeed. But in less time than it takes to settle on the couch together he has stopped crying. My mind is calm and I am sad for his pain; I empathize without anxiety. Untainted by the fear and anger his sister’s behavior would have triggered in me only a short time ago, I have an awareness I must talk to her and we must try to discover what is wrong (which I later do). I have another moment of clarity: the wrongs the two commit against one another along with any redress will ultimately have to be navigated within their own relationship (in other words, I will not seek to force insincere apologies). My son soon hops down, his body language and spirit calm, fully recovered. He kisses me, his face tear-streaked and warm, he tells me he loves me.

Tenderness is making the time, later, to speak to my daughter Phoenix. She and I are sitting in her closet. She is silent and suffering (sadness, not anger), out of the reach of my loving hands, but she is stoic. I ask her if she wants to know what I think. She tells me Yes. I say, “I think you feel bad about yourself as a person.” “Yes,” she whispers. I say, “Part of this, maybe a lot of this, is my fault. I’m sorry.” After a beat I say, “I’d like to help you feel better about yourself. Would you like my help?” “Yes,” she says, again, and then slides into my arms. We sit for quite some time in calmness and I stroke her hair. I am sorry for my mistakes in the past but I am here with her now instead of there. After a while she makes a joke about her father, cooking dinner in the kitchen, his efforts coupled with much noise and clamor. We laugh.

Tenderness is my son in the car last night. “This is my golden apple. It is precious,” he says, as he smells its fragrance and holds it in his hand for along while. Later, he carefully eats it to the core and set it aside on a napkin so as not to mess the car upholstery. Later still, he tells my husband and I he wants to tell us something something. He says, “I know I always change my mind, and I’m sorry for that. But I regret coming on this car trip. I wish I’d stayed home and played.” (He is six years old.)

Tenderness is my daughter, as I type, from the living room: “Mom, can you please help me?” She asks. I come into the living room. She directs me clearly and with confidence (she is setting up a huge, messy living room fort for herself and two friends). “Thank you,” she tells me when I have finished assisting her, and I return to my writing.

Tenderness is a bit later as the house full of kids gets a bit rowdier. My daughter pops her head through the door and asks, “I’m sorry, are we being too loud for your writing?”

Tenderness is in our mistakes; tenderness is me seeing the children have poured too much milk and the half-full bowl sits on the counter and I am troubled as my mind goes to grim realities of grocery monies and I, exasperated, tell them to please try not to waste food. The kids smile and share the rest of the bowl of milk, drinking it up, standing in the kitchen, laughing. I apologize (which is accepted) and I ruffle their warm sleepy hair and I think how much smarter they are than I.

Tenderness is in our mistakes: tenderness is later at night when my husband, at the end of his ability to cope, very tired, snaps at our son and our son cries; our daughter puts his arms around him immediately and comforts him. A few minutes later my husband puts his arms around our (now calm) son and says he’s sorry.

Tenderness is my son sliding into bed with me this morning. I whisper, “Are you okay?” and he says, “Yes,” his entire Being infused with the knowledge of Self, security, and love provided for him. Tenderness is holding him in my arms while he falls back asleep.

Tenderness is the root – the only solution that will save our children, and will help them save others. It can help save us, too.

You are free to join us.

“You don”‘t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Martin Luther King

  1. You can read the whole piece here.
  2. “Hi. My name is Kelly. I’m a recovering “good parent. (part one)” at underbellie.
  3. “Boiling Frog”, Wikipedia entry
  4. “Bullycide”, Wikipedia entry, with references
  5. “Dominator culture”, Wikipedia entry
  6. Poisonous Pedagogy on Wikipediamore cultural implications
  7. See Study – half of high school students admit to bullying at CNN
  8. See “Spanking Makes Kids More Aggressive: The Research Is Clear” at psychologytoday.com; followed by “Spanking in the U.S.A.: a sad state of affairs and why spanking is never okay” at child-psyche.org and the typical backlash against anyone who speaks out against hitting children, followed by the tired-out “but I turned out fine!” single data-point anecdotal refuting and unwillingness to make the conversation about something larger than Oneself
  9. See Love and Logic, a well-intentioned mess with many levels of Fail, built almost entirely on the (false) principles that parents MAKE children, not that children grow themselves despite our attempts, for good or ill, to help or hinder
  10. “On Seeing Children as ‘Cute'” by John Holt at The Natural Child Project
  11. “The Worm”, an allegory

Hi. My name is Kelly. I’m a recovering “good parent”. (Part 1)

Part 2, here

"No Child is Born a Criminal", video clip

Camila Batmanghelidjh


“No Child is Born a Criminal” at The Guardian, 3 minutes and 48 seconds.

If you read nothing here or only have time to skim, I ask that you please watch this video.

I used to not get upset by the “bad kids”/”bad parents (mothers)” talk. Because I knew I was a Good Mother™ with Good Kids™ – see, I could “prove” it by their manners and how I could get all stern in stuff, in public, and make them “behave”, and get everyone’s approval, and then I could prove how I wasn’t one of those BAD parents, ew! It worked out really well!

At least… in supporting Oppression in our culture.

And… It actually didn’t work out for me, or my kids, very well at all. More in a minute.

See, one day I saw how harmful the whole business is. And now? I’m just done.

It’s hard to escape deep-seated child-hate, yes even when we are socially steeped in the myriad kinds of suffering that results. I’ve seen child-hate crop up loads (well, more than usual) recently in the articles regarding the recent publicized bullycides1 – probably because, to put it succinctly, bullies still scare the hell out of us.

We cannot continue to tolerate violence, that is clear. And yet our fear and suffering are often hand-in-glove with the very factors that create tragedies like these. When our strategies come directly from responses of fear and anger and deny the humanity of perpetrators and the reality of the forces that shape these tragedies, they are are often ineffective and/or further perpetrate the very things we are afraid of: some of us hide, some of us want to be the ones with the bigger stick to beat the bullies down in the name of justice.

These incidents of bullycide are enraging and upsetting, the culmination of a terrible series of events, adults in power who’ve let children down, children who’ve made mistakes and committed wrongs against one another, oppression and fear, damage, death, destruction. The stories are hard to read2 because we think of our loved ones – or ourselves. They are hard to respond to with good strategies because many of us relate, having been on one side or the other of bullying behaviors (usually both at some point) and we are damaged from these experiences. Many of us have not healed from wounds inflicted during our childhood. We remember with righteous anger or trembling fear these horrible things that happened to us. We want to speak out, to voice our pain. The pain and anger are so loud in our blood we sit down and start typing away. We walk amongst others with our gut in a knot of pain.

As the legal aphorism says, “If you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you have the law on your side, argue the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.” It is really easy for many to pound the table about bullies, about “assholes” and “psychopaths” (when children are younger you hear them called “Devil’s spawn” and “brats”, my parents used to call me “Little Hitler” when I was two!). It feels (momentarily) Good and Right. Does it help? Hmm… Does it further perpetrate harm? You might not like my answer, which is: Yes.

And the fact so many even well-intentioned adults don’t realize any participation in Dominator culture is exactly what creates and reifies bully culture and oppression is just – for me – devastating.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about these subjects over the past week. How would I write about it? What or who would I address? How could I discuss the poor strategies many grownups persist in (which need to be addressed) without denigrating the feelings of Fear and Anger these grownups have (which are entirely valid)? How could I differentiate the role of good leaders – who employ effective and holistic strategies against the abuse of power – with those who (mostly) “pound the table” – without disrespecting the feelings and experiences of the latter group?

The answer is, of course, to reflect on where this starts for victim and perpetrator: childhood.

So here, reader, is when I begin to talk about childhood. And here, perhaps, is where you may no longer want to read on. Because I’m not going to be writing to those who have not done their homework as to whether the child class is an oppressed group in our country (short answer: they are, and across all races and genders and socioeconomic classes etc).3 To further argue the subject is exhausting to me, personally, just now, and I have been let down by so many activists who do not engage in this work or take it seriously as their own activist subjects, seeking support for their own personal brand of social justice without seeing the limitations therein.

I am going to talk about childhood a bit, and here is another thing I’m not going to discuss: I’m not here to address the feelings and angry accusations of those without children who claim they aren’t “allowed” to weigh in on parenting or child behavior4 or the accusation that all those who parent children reject out of hand the experiences, feelings, and thoughts of those without children. Don’t misunderstand me: these feelings of minimization felt by those without children are important; indeed I have discussed them, though not yet at length, before5. I’ll likely write on the subject again.

The truth is of course it isn’t really a parents vs. nonparent thing anyway. Framing the issue of child oppression this way only obfuscates and ensures the continued oppression of mothers and children. It also means the best efforts and research in anti-oppression work regarding the child class is ignored in favor of shouting matches where everyone feels entitled to weighing in on with their “expertise”. And, sadly, those without children who have deep-seated anger regarding child behaviors have more in common with many parents than they might realize; much like racism and homophobia, none of us have escaped internalized child-as-second-class-citizens worldviews; instead we must work to undo them. Sadly, many if not most parents daily devote their work as the Long Arm of the Law, doing their best to “guide” (meaning coerce, control, beat, etc.) their children according to oppressive strictures.

And with that last I am – finally! – going to tell you who I am writing for, today.

I’m writing to other Good Parents™ who know it isn’t really working.

I’m writing those who already have those squicky feelings about how we frame children and speak about them and treat them. I’m here to speak to those who already know the problems of bully culture do not start in a vaccuum. Those who’ve felt uneasy when they see parents/carers cockily strut their, “I’d never let my kid such-and-such” or “I’m raising my kids right”, etc. stuff – the kinds of statements parents are so culturally-rewarded for saying (and talk is cheap). I’m writing to those who were smart and “strong-willed kids” (hi!), intelligent enough to see the “I’d never let my kid blah-blah-blah” is a road that only leads to two destinations: the person with the stick and the person being hit with the stick (remember, the person doing the hitting always feels righteous in the moment he/she is doing so, for whatever reason including Good Parenting and Concerned Citizen).

I’m speaking to those who’ve either not been damaged so much they cannot disengage from their personal history (for whom I have much empathy; some of my friends who most adhere to authoritarianism in parenting were themselves abused and maltreated horribly – one of these friends gives thanks for the beating and abuse at the hands of her mother – it kept her “safe” from worse things – but admits she is too afraid to have children herself as she knows she would likely be unable to not abuse them; naturally this person also supports corporal punishment of children even as she does not want to be the one who “has to” do it) or who’ve healed enough to be ready to do their part and Help. Sadly, there are too many who are – for lack of a better phrase – wounded. They aren’t yet ready to join to make a better future. I suspect many are scared and angry about the vulnerability of the child class and do not want to take a real hard look at what’s going on.

At root like a cancer our culture perpetrates poisonous worldviews reified generation upon generation. Most grownups believe kids will go astray unless we force values into them, like opening their throats for ill-tasting medicine “for their own good”. I used to believe this myself, even if I would have resisted such a grim characterization. Thus, many parents are afraid to relinquish control. Why wouldn’t we be? We know how severely we will be tasked and blamed (especially mothers6) if our children fail, or hurt other people, or wreck something, or say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Our strategies may be poor or not good enough but our drives are quite honorable: we don’t want our children to get hurt; we don’t want them to hurt others. We want to be Good Parents™. All most of us know are oppressive edifices that employ Control models. Many of us as children were told “sit down and shut up” – and rarely did anyone defend us or stop the diminishment and/or abuse – so much we grew a thick, leathery skin so we could deny how much it hurt. We merely, now, breathe a sigh of relief to have left it behind us. Now we’re in charge (or we SHOULD be, it’s our place and prerogative).

Never mind that Control doesn’t really “work” – for anyone. Sure, it seems to function well at first (or looks like it). We tell ourselves Control is what keeps our kids from running into the street and being killed by a car (this, along with the “loud children in restaurants”, are the two most oft-employed examples used to justify adult privilege). Make no mistake: we are responsible for our children’s safety, entirely at first, diminishing as they grow and learn to care for themselves. But so many of us go astray; as our children grow we shift our Survival and Safety drives onto our need to control child behavior, as well – an error socially-enforced, and one that doesn’t necessarily evidence itself immediately. Thus we can make our children (most of our children) toe the line and say “Please” and “Thank you”. We lap up the praise we get for “good kids”. When we hear other parents (mothers) dissed – for feeding their children “junk food” or, alternatively, for being “control freaks” about “healthy food”, or for not being involved enough, or being over-involved – whatever the Parental Evils of the day are being lamented – we breathe a huge sigh of relief because it’s the OTHER parent (mom) who sucks, not us. See, we know how to raise our kids in proportion. We make sure our kids have the exact right manners/diet/values/foodstuffs/education etc. They aren’t talking about US. In my case, the razor-thin line to walk in feminine perfectionism was dialed up all the more acutely once I embarked on Motherhood; and I know I’m not the only mother who experienced this.

Still, for a while we try to keep up the effort. We have successes and they dull us to the truths deep within our bodies. We have the “well-behaved” kid. This feels so good! Sure, sometimes we’re uneasy… when someone says something horrible and we recognize ourselves, and some of the unaviodable Truths of parenting, and we feel that little earthquake that informs us how much pressure it really is. So we say something. Usually mildly. Then we hear: “Kelly, I’m not talking about YOU, you have good kids, you’re raising them right.” I’ve heard it so many times. When my kids were younger it felt good. See, I was doing it Right. If the kids slipped up I’d only have to nip in and employ a little control. A little pruning.

And it feels so good until you’re under that lens – until it’s your kid who has the audactity to, you know, be a child, and hit another child, or wander over to another table in a restaurant (if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard the “horrible kids in restaurant” anecdote… I’d be able to buy my own restaurant!), or loudly proclaim a preference in public, or break down crying in public (and we all know how well that socially enforced suppression-of-unwelcome-emotions thing works for grownups!) – and then?

Then. Ouch. You want to know what happens? Let me tell you, you probably won’t like hearing it. Then we are crushed by all the judgments we’ve held against those other parents (mothers) who were Doing It Wrong. Then we’re alone – yet on display as Failure. Then we maintain the thin-lipped smile or brittle “in control” mommy mantra. “I”ll talk to you when you can speak nice.” “You need to quit this fit right now.” “1… 2…. 3…” We call our child a “brat” and shake our head (from our own fear and anger and as a performance for the other adults watching, the other adults putting the pressure on to “control our kids” – or maybe they are primly “not saying anything” but judging, and don’t think we don’t feel it). Then we hold it together and then, safe in the car, or in our home, we scream at our children. We hit. We say horrible, horrible things to them.7

Then, all the cultural pressures are rained down upon: our children. Literally the most vulnerable group in society.

Don’t worry. We don’t scream and hit our kids in public – if we are Nice White Ladies (or whomever) and that’s part of the training that is. Thus all those other people going about their day, they don’t have to see the fallout. You’re welcome; another service of Not Inconveniencing You, brought to you by the Kyriarchy, penalty paid by the little ones.

And the cycle continues.

If you don’t think this happens you’re only kidding yourself. You don’t need to be a parent to start caring about it, either.

Me? I had to stop being a Good Parent™. I was hurting my kids too much – and I was suffering not only from the Perfectionist mantra but by the awful knowledge me, I, was hurting my own children, a stark bottomless awareness that caused me more pain than I could have previously believed possible.

So yeah, I’m no longer a Good Parent. I intervened early enough to begin providing a better future for our family; I’d like to believe I’ve begun undoing damage. My children are now safe (safer). They are happier. I am happier. My husband is happier; our marriage has improved. I am moving through the pain inflicted on me as a child and more amazingly still I am moving through this with my mother (the author of much of my pain as a child). My children have given us another chance; and we’re giving them a better one.

And this? Is why I write.

Many who read my work know we are now life learners – sometimes called autodidactic homeschoolers or radical unschoolers – that we live consensually8, and that we do not “discipline” our kids. And I understand – well, I sure do understand now that I’m some years in! – since this is my field of study and my lifework, that the concepts of consensual living, life learning, radical unschooling, parenting without discipline are terrifying, confusing, and yes, even enraging to many. I get that they scare and upset many people. Those of us who employ it are called “crazy”, “loony”, “abusive”, “neglectful” or “sheltering”, “elitist” or “low-class”, “too intellectual” or “backward”. And you should hear the things they predict for children being raised in homes like these.

Those who say these things do not ask us how it actually works (but I like to believe some of the Good Parents™ reading here just might start to). We do have strategies; we do have a body of evidence. We have advice that does not require all parents follow the exact lifestyle tenets we do; improvements can be made in all circumstances. And we know eventually some people will catch up. Me, I’m waiting for them when they’re curious. I try not to think too much about what their children might be going through – unnecessarily.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “˜Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”‘ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother”‘s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers “” so many caring people in this world.– Fred Rogers

My kids are going to be Helpers. They already are, and they’re pint-sized.

That’s who children really have the potential to be; if we treat them right.

That’s the solution to invest in – for bullying, to stop the wrongs being committed, for compassionate, intelligent, strong, firm, direct intervention, for leaders, for joy.

Trust us. Join us.

I used to be a Good Parent™. But there is hope, even for that.

Next week: Part 2.

Mentioned/Further Reading:

“Dancing between the tables: on the personhood of children” at Raising My Boychick.

“Bullies = bullies, children =/= sociopaths and other simple equations” at mymilkspilt.

Choice quote from the excellent “Children Take Up Space (and Notice When We Don”‘t Notice)”: “Children take up space, and when we don”‘t notice them, they hurt. It isn”‘t just a mother”‘s issue to let you know that. Children notice that we don”‘t do enough to give a damn about them, whether they know about social justice or not (some of them do, mine does). It hurts them. It should hurt more of us to realize this.”

“shorter, cuter, more honest people” – including in comments the typical “terrible children/parents in restaurant” derail, 400 of ’em – at Feministe.

“I’m a Good Wife” at mymilkspilt

“My Child Takes Up Space” at womanist-musings

Mothers for Women’s Lib; I recommend adding this excellent site to your feed reader as it does not update often.

“Kids: screw ’em” at Pandagon. Those who think only individual breeders are solely responsible for the holistic well-being of their own children have a lot in common with rigorous pro-lifers.

“How Children Learn Manners” by Naomi Aldort. This article was the first to expose me to unintended but unavoidable fallout of “manners” policing and enforcement when foisted on our children. Shortly after reading and discussing this with my partner, we stopped prompting our children. P.S. while I’d like to keep this article free of the justification of our parenting strategies by the “results” of our children’s behaviors I also know this kind of article challenges many people – who respond by predicting children will grow up total “sociopaths” without such “common sense” socialization. Thus I will point out our children, 6 and 8, evidence consideration, empathy, and social behaviors of saying “please”, “thank you”; they do not curse in public spaces, they make eye contact, shake hands, introduce themselves, and listen to others.

The Natural Child Project – better ideas for parenting

  1. “Bullycide” google search
  2. “safety” at kelly.hogaboom.org
  3. There’s already wonderful work being done: for some 101 you can read here at womansrights.change.org; in addition “The Adult Privilege Checklist” is a good start. The short essay “The Blank Page” offers much incredible insight: “Almost all so-called educational activity is pervaded by a notion of direct — and therefore violent — adaptation by the child to the adult world. This adaptation is based upon an unquestioning obedience, which leads to the negation of the child’s personality, a negation in which the child becomes the object of a justice that is no justice, of injury and punishment that no adult would tolerate. This adult attitude is so deeply rooted in the family that it is applied even to the child who is greatly loved. Furthermore, it is intensified in the school, which almost always methodically enforces direct and premature adaptation to the necessities of the adults environment.” Finally: read “Are Children An Oppressed Class?” at genderacrossborders
  4. This is entirely countermanded by the experience of those versed in US/UK/AU parenting culture: for instance I threw a rock on Google and immediately found a great example of typical child-hate made public and much “weighing in” on child-raising; “Entitlement-Minded Mommies” also earns points for the oft-trotted out “horrible child/parents in restaurant” trope and large doses of child-and-mother-and-grandma hate – kyriarchal perpetuation across three generations!
  5. One of my first pieces here at Underbellie regarded ways parents/carers can foster better relationships with their friends without children (“Breeding, or how not to be an inadvertant jerk” in the UB archives); incidentally, not only has my parental experience been saturated with lots of “weighing in” on my parental performance by many, many people, but I have indeed sought out those who have valuable insights, including those without children who it should not need to be said, were once children themselves. My favorite friend to discuss all things child-rearing related (besides my partner) has no children; several of my favorite authors with respect to parenting strategies do not have children. Et cetera.
  6. “I Blame The Mother”
  7. “and hours later I’m still thinking about her” at my blog
  8. That really does mean something – it’s not just an empty New Agey phrase: consensual-living.com

quick hit: compassion and critical thinking ≠ Big Brother

“History is written by the winners” – non-attributed

Growing up in America we are taught to believe in the Rightness and Goodness of the Meritocracy – that people who have good things and a life of comfort earned it all on their own efforts. Please note, people that have things relatively good tend to trumpet this loudest.  People who have things harder, well, sometimes they have a different perspective. We the privileged often don’t like to hear that perspective.

I believe one’s gut reaction to the “winners” quote above depends on one’s worldview.  Some people might see the quote as purely observational shorthand – that is, recorded historical accounts are told and reified by certain groups while others’ equally valid experiences are suppressed. Some believe the quote to be morally prescriptive in a Darwinian fashion: that is, a “winner” is someone who’s dominated others for their own goals, and – yay, the world is their oyster as it should be (this is sort of the sports analogy interpretation)!

Here’s what I believe: in being a “winner” one is essentially in a position of privilege (no matter how we got there); when I find I am a “winner” I must then look carefully around at how I have prevailed – and who hasn’t, and how to help them if they should want it.  It should go without saying to any who read here that I believe it is my responsibility – given I have relative privilege, good fortune, and personal success – to take steps to care for the “losers”, the down-trodden, those who are being marginalized, eclipsed, abused, oppressed. There are many, many paths of responsibility and stewardship; imagination and exposure continue to illuminate more still.

Some measures are small.  Today in a Yahoo group I made the tangential request those in the discussion pool refrain from using the words “crazy” or “lame”. Here is my clarification post (after I asked and was granted permission to post links):*

My intention wasn’t to police anyone and obviously I don’t have that power anyway (I’m not a mod). I am active in reading blogs authored by people with disabilities and the topic of abelist conversation comes up quite a bit.

For those who are interested, here are a few readings that convinced me to stop using those terms as pejoratives (“adult” language in the links):

“The Transcontinental Disability Choir: What is Ableist Language and Why Should You Care?” at bitchmagazine

“Guest Post from RMJ: Ableist Word Profile: Crazy” from Feminists With Disabilities/FWD

“Why Not to Use the Word Lame: I Think I”‘m Starting to Get It” at Alas! A Blog

I still accidentally say “lame” and “crazy” myself but am working hard to use other effective and less offensive words. Fortunately the English language has many!

This is also a fun read that comes up usually when someone calls out language as being problematic, and the resultant typical objections that often ensue: http://www.derailingfordummies.com/

The moderator immediately accused me of – guess what? Censorship. Yes – the moderator accused me of this. Very rich indeed.

Now of all the toothless arguments people knee-jerk with when their behavior is identified as being aligned with oppressive tactics, cries of “censorship”, accusations of being “the thought police”, and sneers of “PC” probably bother me the most; like an unholy Trinity of Ass they share the same roots of fear and an immediate assumption of bad faith.

I mean really, Censorship? “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Here is some 101: “online interaction and free speech” at finally feminism101). “Thought police” is particularly fartsy-bloated with the same tooting self-important drama-horn as the C-word; as if by maintaining a moderated blog or objecting to a word, phrase, or worldview that is offensive or incorrect or bigoted the blog author/objector is suddenly in the POSITION OF ALLTIME INTERNETTY POWER and now has CONTROL OVER ALL TEH BRAINWAYVES / ORWELLIAN TELESCREENS.

PC? Please. I teenaged through Bill Clinton’s Presidential tenancy and the attendant revival of sensitivity/PC language and I can tell you the backlash started so quickly it almost preceded it (which to me is a barometer that people loooooove their bigotries). There hasn’t been a whiff of PC that hasn’t been, like El Niño (this paragraph is very USian 90s), simultaneously and fervently blamed for Everything Bad including Ruining America and also, Now We Can’t Have Jokes.

Back to the Yahoo group response: at current count there have been five responses to my request – very familiar responses to those versed in corners of the social justice online sphere. On the positive side, the original poster who’d used the term “crazy” apologized for using it and said she understood why the word was problematic (classy! and – more later). The remaining four responses have been skeptical and/or hostile and for their brevity have still nailed a surprising number of the squares in Bingo for Derailing – including “You’re being oversensitive”, “You’re being overly-intellectual”, and “Words have power only if you give them power”/the reclamation argument (the “power” sentence is an actual quote from one of today’s Yahoo messages – this person also said, “words hold no inherant ability to hurt”). If the discussion doesn’t die quickly I predict soon I will get, “you’re nitpicking a minor/trivial issue” / “Don’t you have more important things to think about?” But hey, I hope I’m wrong.

The most commonly iterated response was the token/backup trot-out, or what I sometimes think of as the “black friend” defense meant to entirely shut down conversation: “I have a friend / brother / such-and-such in this marginalized group and they don’t find this offensive” etc etc. So therefore: I will not read the articles or listen openly to your points. Therefore: I will ignore the fact that marginalized groups sometimes internalize oppressive and damaging narratives and strategies (reading the above link re: “reclamation” helps explain the so-called “double-standard” on who is “allowed” to use what language). Therefore: I do not care how many other people/scholars/researchers/writers/bloggers have objections and have worked to elucidate others on why they do – my tokenized example puts me above any reproach. This would be a laughable defense if it wasn’t also a very typical response to anti-oppression work and therefore, a bit sobering if not frustrating.

I have no evidence whatsoever a single soul who responded on Yahoo read my provided links, and that’s a shame. I posted them precisely because they were good, well-written, and better formed than anything I could have done. I’ve been exposed many times to the defense of pejorative use of words associated with marginalized groups: “retard”, “gay” (Wanda Sykes – I love it!), “crazy”, “lame”, “pansy”, “spaz”, “moron”, “pussy”,”woman” (yes! This is often used as an insult!), “faggot”, and “idiot” (um, I really could go on and on); objecting to these words and offering up arguments against their casual use is my prerogative and is not done for fun nor whimsy. I further add nor is it my contention those who use these words are Monsters and I am A Thoroughly Enlightened One (please; I only recently got right re: “crazy”; if you search my near decade-long blog you’re sure to see my ass in many minorly humiliating ways). To those who are uncomfortable with being challenged and/or embarrassed, I feel you. I’d offer this tasty tidbit from the Shapely Prose comment policy:

If someone gets pissy at you for using the word “retarded” for instance, that doesn”‘t mean they think you”‘re an evil person who hates developmentally disabled people OR that they”‘re hysterical, overreacting thought police. It means there are people around here who find that word hurtful, and we”‘re a lot more interested in protecting their feelings than your god-given right not to think of a better word.

Believe me; I’ve made my share of comments and been called out; it stings, I know, and I fully expect it to happen again! Being allowed to say anything I want without being challenged is not an inalienable human right; in the glass-half-full analysis of this I would posit that listening openly and self-educating are some of the more breathtaking and beautiful aspects of human responsibilities if we are in the position to do so.

Speaking up is hard. It often isn’t welcome, as any of my dedicated readers will know by now. This isn’t because the world is full of assholes (or at least I refuse to believe this); it’s because many people don’t like having their worldviews challenged; they often respond with a counter-offense (no matter how respectfully, I’ve discovered, one puts forth an objection).

But there are good reasons and positive results from objecting to a harmful status quo; a few touching anecdotes came my way from a father who tweets me today in recognition of these problematic words. “The one that makes me cringe the most is ‘that’s retarded’ and this was before I had a son with a mental disability.” He continues: “Now that I do have a son with autism I hear the ‘R’word and it sounds like it’s coming out of megaphone.”

Yeah. And thank you for sharing. He sends me the link to his blog where he writes about his son; I put it in my feed reader.

And then there’s this: some people truly can pick themselves up, brush themselves off, and thank you for the assistance. The very first comment in response to the FWD ableist word profile linked above is from Sarah, who simply writes, “I”‘ve been guilty of this. How embarrassing! Thank you so much for posting.”

Now that? That gives me hope.

* Incidentally? I would appreciate it if you do not re-tweet, IM, email, or share this article unless you first read through the four links provided in my cited Yahoo message; I typically do not write using linked articles (hence “quick hit”) and these are good ones.

Mentioned/Further Reading:

Meritocracy at en.wikipedia.org

The quote, “History is written by the winners” discussed at the snopes message board.

“Teaspoons 101: I Am Not the Thought Police” at Shakesville.

“Ableist Word Profile: Why I write about ableist language” A great 101 on a way to think about abelist language and the study therein at FWD.

“Being White” by Louis C.K. (trigger warning: rape metaphor)

“Touching Strangers: Making Friends of ‘Others'” at humaneeducation.org, sponsored and authored by Zoe Weil

“What ‘So Ghetto’ Really Means” by Tami Harris at change.org; those who’ve used “ghetto” against white neighborhoods might want to zap to my comment re: growing up in then-largely-white-but-working-class Hoquiam.

Tangentially and finally, because I had nowhere else to post this – someone in rebuttal to my points in the Yahoo discussion offered up this page: “Your guide to living life in the U.S.”. I kind of don’t have words as this does not seem to be a parody.

childbirth is natural / childbirth is danger danger!! or perhaps: if you’re a woman you suck

Newborn Nels

I totally had this baby to make you all happy, and it didn't even work!

A recent slight disintegration of discussion at a feminist blog I generally enjoy underscores the facts:

Women get it coming and going regarding childbirth and children. Just: constantly. And from the most elaborate and varied angles.  It’s almost breathtaking.

Just a primer in case you’re completely clueless: women are put down if they don’t want children or feel ambivalent on the subject. Childfree women (or childless women, or if someone can find a term that doesn’t offend those with kids or without, let me know) are harangued pretty regularly – when will you have kids? What? You don’t want to? Why not? What’s wrong with you? Oh you poor (unnatural, frigid, spiritually-devoid) thing.  If you don’t have kids you don’t have a life.  Tsk tsk.

Women who do want children but can’t make it happen – their bodies don’t provide the technology, they don’t feel they could support a child, they don’t have the support they require, there are physical or mental or chemical or financial barriers?  These women are constantly marginalized from the smallest throw-out sentences in children’s books (“A womb is a special place inside a woman where babies grow” purrs a very well-meaning, liberal-sentiment children’s book) to the glowing pictures of women-in-hospital, life fulfilled, yay baby!  Birth is talked about as “natural” – yet in the fervor to reclaim and rescue America’s abysmal birth culture these discussions can further alienate and hurt those who don’t have a “natural” or complication-free experience.  Infertility is somehow still a woman’s “fault” or failure; at best there is an insensitivity about the whole business.  “Just adopt!” chirps the seriously problematic hand-wave (socioeconomic class fail, to start) so many pipe up with when a woman has a problem breeding the more typical way. To my own consternation I hear women chirping proudly how easily they get pregnant, it happened at the drop of a hat, blah blah, with no regard to the woman standing next to them whose eyes fill with tears at hearing such oblivious enthusiasm.

Women who want children and then have them?  Here’s where we get right up close to the subject of birth where misogyny really ramps up.  You see garden-variety and boring misogyny when birth is discussed in any detail: accounts of orgasmic birth* (best-case, awesome birth scenario) and birth rape** (a very bad-case scenario) vilified, pooh-pooh’d, or ridiculed.  It would be boring and played-out if I didn’t regularly see how much these dismissals hurt actual women, their children, their partners, their families.

I’m one of the last category mentioned above – a woman who wanted, then had children – and I could wax eloquently on how that opens a whole shit-storm of criticism.  You birth the baby in the hospital or with drugs?  You’re a sell-out, a wimp, a failure, either a privileged prima donna or a sad statistic.  This goes double (or triple) if you have a C-section or if you (gasp!) formula-feed your child.  Women are cut open and subjected to the complications of heavy-duty abdominal surgery (the current C-section rate in this country is on the rise and at about 30 percent; some states have a 38% rate) and then the women themselves are made to feel like failures.

Have a baby at home (on purpose)?  You are an irresponsible, silly, vain (or ignorant) hippie.  [raises hand]

And for mothers, this is just what you’ll get five minutes after breeding the little person(s).  I haven’t got into the de-statusing and wage gaps and judgment (work outside the home or not? You’ll get it either way) and picking-at for childcare and schooling and career choice that await women in all walks of life.

Not everyone wants to admit this, but babies and childbirth are kind of everyone’s business – yes, men too. And yet your “everyday man” and fathers are, of course, mostly exempted from the vicious part of these conversations. While (white) men are still the primary women’s health policy makers, the OBs (who generally assist in most births in this country), the law- and policy-makers in this country, and even though they are often in positions that direct quite a bit about how pregnancy, labor and delivery goes down for many American women, they do not suffer the consequences and recrimination for birth outcomes nor passionate discussions about integrating family life with paid work. In the trenches, where women hurt the most, some of their bodies savaged or messed with and their life choices – to breed or not to breed, and how things play out when living their lives – sneered at, their emotions on edge and their sufferings and triumphs diminished or laughed at.  Too few men take these issues up as the human rights concerns they are.  Women are shunned and blamed for their suffering, if not additionally accused of Ruining America for being not-mothers or not-good-enough mothers or over-involved mothers.

I have no easy answers.  Yet probably Step One would be to give more credence to women and their lived experiences.  If a woman says she doesn’t want to have a child, please do not second-guess nor pity her, and please take away from this Actual Real Woman a commitment to stop assuming all women want babies, babies, piles of babies.  If the statistics show a wage gap and a lack of fair housework distribution between heterosexually-paired partners, respect that as a reality that involves, you know, actual people, and is a further testimony to our culture’s continued inequalities which yes, we should be working to fix.  If a woman speaks up about her birth or birth culture in this country, please take this as seriously as a discussion on your pet social justice topic, because reproductive rights and experiences fall under human rights issues that are happening to, again, real people.  Allow the many suffering women and babies and the statistics in America’s poor birth climate some consideration.  If you can’t or won’t do much about it, at least respect those who are fighting the good fight.  Because there are good reasons to fight it.

Step Two might be to stop attacking individual women for their choices or their life circumstances.  Just because you are personally squeamish about the phrase “orgasmic birth” does not give you the right to mock the real, actual women who find the subject important.  Just because you breastfed and stayed home to take care of your children does not give you the right to weigh in on the love, hard work, and commitment of any particular woman who did not (in this example) breastfeed or stay home.  Remember, we don’t pick on dads for this stuff, which is a red-flag for sexism at best.

And finally – again, just for starters – we all need to listen and believe.  Because something about the anti-women sentiments that rear up in these conversations remind me of a phrase I hear oft-repeated in school and childcare environments, a phrase I have never liked: “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit”.  Our cultural history has been one of silencing women, calling their concerns about housework or babies or jobs with or without kids silly, allowing their bodies to pay the price for being female.  You don’t have to understand it all (indeed, even highly-involved activists are continually learning), but belittling the conversation?  Uh, no.

Because: “If you don’t find time to change the world, then you’re busy keeping it the way it is.” (unattributed)

Mentioned/Further Reading:

“Non-Medical Reasons for a Rise in Caesarian Sections” at Sociological Images

* Several accounts of orgasmic birth at unassistedchildbirth.com

** Birth rape: “More Than a Traumatic Birth” at truebirth.com

A review of Heather Has Two Mommies at Raising my Boychick

“Maternal Death in the United States: A Problem Solved or a Problem Ignored?”, 3 part article by Ina May Gaskin

VBACtivism at the Feminist Breeder