Published on March 4th, 2016 | by Katie Tastrom1
KATIE TASTROM is Parenting, Anti-Capitalist Style
So, I became a parent more suddenly than most people. The hows and whys aren’t important, but within a few months of meeting them, I became the “mother” of 7-year-old twins and their 8 year old sibling. While I didn’t really have time to develop a parenting “philosophy” in advance, my partner and I (he has been their father since they were born) are committed to anti-capitalist movements and ideals. I want, here, to present some of the ways we incorporate anti-capitalist values into our parenting. (Anti-capitalism is such an awkward term, but I can’t think of any other less silly and still accurate descriptors. “Revolutionary” seems ridiculous when we are talking about daily stuff like cleaning rooms, “radical” can mean so many different things… I don’t know). I identify as an anarchist and my husband is a socialist. We both believe that capitalism is capital B Bad and that corporations have too much control and power and that rich people have too much and poor people should have more. Honestly, it wasn’t until I started drafting this piece that I really thought to define the ways we live out our beliefs as a “philosophy.” In other words, while we have consciously made parenting decisions based in an anti-capitalist approach (the forms of our anti-capitalism differ, but with parenting we are largely on the same page), I haven’t really regarded these choices in a holistic sense. Many (most? all?) of these things may also be done or suggested by people who don’t have the same political leanings that we do, because a lot of it is just plain good advice!
Here goes. I want to be clear that in the examples, I am only talking about myself and my family, there are a jillion different ways to parent with a goal of radical social change. But I think these are some of the principles that form the basis of the way we parent, and the way we try to raise thoughtful and free kids that will hopefully work towards dismantling capitalism and other systems of oppression. Hence:
All families and kids are different and need different things. For example, while unschooling may work well for one kid, or one family, it may not work for others. Even the same kids may need different things and different approaches as they develop. No one way or parent is perfect, and that’s awesome. As an anarchist I envision communities that can mold themselves to the needs of individual members and that is what we try to do in our family. While one kid may need a little push to try something new, another may need to be reminded of the dangers of the new activity so they don’t hurt themselves. And for folks (with OR without kids), PLEASE don’t tell parents how they “should” be doing it. If you see a family struggling the best thing you can do is offer help/support, because:
Interdependence, not independence. We all need each other, in society and in a family, and we all play very important roles. We remind the kids all the time that they are very important members of our family “community” and that they are necessary for our family to function. The kids do take on (age-appropriate) meaningful chores in the house and they see concretely how they contribute. Of course we also talk to them about how important they are to the family emotionally. We also consistently tell them and show them how much we enjoy their company and like them as people, and try to acknowledge when they say or do something particularly awesome. But especially for younger kids, their physical contributions are something that they can see and be proud of. This is especially important because:
We are raising future (and current) community members. One of my greatest fears is that my kids grow up to be one of those people who live in community houses and don’t do their dishes! Kidding. (Not kidding.) Emotionally, I would love to treat my kids like they are the center of the world. They are more or less the center of my world. (But not in like a needy problematic way, right kids?) But they are also parts of a lot of different, overlapping communities. And when they grow up I want them to be people that give as much as they take. Because, when they grow up they won’t have me around to remind them to do their dishes. My partner and I work every day to help them understand that while they are incredibly valuable and our favorite people ever, they are still not the only people in the world. We try to put a big value on helping others, and help them to help us help other people. We also have an expectation that they will stand up for other people when they can, and applaud them when they do. We also make sure they know to watch where they are walking in a store, or not be loud in a library, or—you know—do their own dishes. It is possible for them to be their own weirdo selves in public without interfering with other people’s enjoyment of the public space. And when they don’t:
We are all accountable for our words and actions. Siblings fight, kids break rules (anarchy isn’t necessarily about no rules, just that the people themselves make the rules), parents lose their temper. None of us is perfect, and we will all inevitably be assholes sometimes. We try to teach the kids that while this is normal and common, that still doesn’t mean that it is without consequence. I fuck up as a parent constantly. I try so hard, but I can sometimes (often) be less patient than I feel I should be. And when I fuck up? I apologize. When the kids fuck up? They apologize. Sincerely. And we talk about why a thing might have happened and what we can do in the future to prevent it (when we can, I fuck this up a lot too!). We also talk about how words and actions don’t exist in a vacuum, everything has a context, because:
Identity stuff is real and important. Whatever one thinks of the importance identity plays in radical political movements, it is undeniable that someone’s identities will affect their life in both great and small (that add up to greater) ways. Context changes your choices. For example, we live pretty rurally, and my partner and I both have disabilities that make leaving the house difficult for us. Therefore, we have no radical in-person parent community. I guarantee that if we were around a lot of other anarchist/communist/socialist/whatever parents, this list would look really different. We have lots and lots of conversations. We are white so white privilege is something that we talk about a lot. How do you talk to an 8-year-old white kid about white privilege so they understand? I don’t know for sure, but what we do is talk about it the same way we would with adults, but in language and with examples that kids can understand. But if you keep talking about it (especially when it is brought up naturally, such as school holidays like MLK day or Columbus Day, or on TV), they seem to start to understand. And I find that they are much more pleasant to talk to about this stuff than your average white adult. Another major value that feels like an uphill battle in a capitalist society in the understanding that:
Having stuff isn’t the key to happiness. Before I had kids I was pretty good at this! Like, when I was way younger I could dumpster most of my needs and sleep on floors and share bedrooms with three other people and two dogs and be totally fine. I would land somewhere with no money and a few friends and totally make it work. I lived in Texas one whole summer without air conditioning!!!!!! Age and disability have pushed my physical resiliency out of me (my days of being able to sleep on a floor for more than one night are way behind me). But I was so surprised that once I became a parent, I all of a sudden wanted stuff! Not for me, but for the kids. Like, I am terrified that the kids will get teased for their Wal-Mart shoes, and I hate that we can’t buy them everything organic. Happily, we live in a very working-class area, so at least half the kids at school probably have Wal-Mart shoes. Still, I remain so haunted by the fear of them being made fun of by their classmates that I would totally buy everything if it meant they would be spared the worst hurts of adolescence. Luckily (?) we are too poor to act on this instinct to consume to protect. So we really don’t have a choice BUT to be happy without a lot of fancy material things. It is by role modeling that we show our kids that money and happiness don’t have a direct relationship. (Though I do acknowledge—to the kids and others—that we are privileged to have a safety net where we never have to worry about our most basic needs being met. We also teach them that these basic needs are a RIGHT, not a privilege, and it is messed up that this country doesn’t provide the most basic things to its people.) Another very basic right that we teach them is:
Body Autonomy. While we as parents make a lot of decisions that affect all of us, one thing that the kids have complete control over is their own body. They don’t have to hug family or anyone else if they don’t want to, they can wear what they want (with a few caveats about weather appropriateness), including whatever haircut they prefer. We talk A LOT about consent and touching, and have a firm “hands to yourself” rule unless there is negotiated consent. We hold ongoing conversations about how this relates to pets and how certain cues the pets give mean “leave me alone!”, or conversely, “please keep petting me!” We haven’t gotten to the piercing (besides ears) and tattoo ages yet. I’m sure we will keep body autonomy at the forefront of negotiations, even if we may enforce a “wait until you are 16 before getting an ‘I love Todd’ tattoo on your forearm” policy—or maybe we will allow them to get whatever they want. Parenting is really, really fucking hard, and I know that our parenting will change as our children do. We all just need to do what we need to do to get through the day. However, I try to remember to:
Keep loving, keep fighting. I think this applies to both politics and parenting. Politics in that you love your communities (or the potential of your communities) enough to keep moving forward even when it gets so hard and tiring and hopeless-feeling. With parenting, the loving part is easy (usually) with kids, but I think the loving that gets harder, that we need to do here, is towards ourselves and our communities as parents. I love my community so much that I want to fight as hard as possible to create three more amazing community members who can share their gifts. For my kids and other mama’s kids, I want to fight. Fight the capitalist system that wants to turn them into people whose only value is their income, fight military industrial complexes that want to use these amazing people as cannon fodder, fight the prison industrial complex that cages and kills other mothers’ (especially black and brown) children. There are so many things to fight for, and so many kids who can grow up to continue the fight. Even though their parents fuck up a lot, I already see that my kids are growing up to be even more wonderful and compassionate and feisty than their father and I could have imagined.
And when they grow up and move out, I know that not only are they going to change the world, they will also do their own dishes.