Occupy parenting

Mother and child

We only get one shot at raising our kids. Shouldn't we be talking about how our society and culture affects our ability to effectively parent? Photo: http://thelittlelads.blogspot.com/

I can identify with what’s said about dying soldiers—that in their last moments they call out for their mothers, seeking, perhaps instinctively, that all encompassing comfort that mothers can give.

My mom died quite unexpectedly ten years ago. Late on a Halloween, she simply went to sleep and never woke up again. And though we were very different, and the relationship was more superficial than I would have liked, she definitely gave that comfort that a mother gives when I most needed her. Now, in my difficult moments, when life feels too hard, when my husband isn’t hearing me, the kids are talking back, my clients are griping and my friends have their own concerns, I still want my mommy.

But she’s not there. And no one is. I’m the mom now.

It’s hard to be a parent

Doing the mothering and fathering is far from easy. Just because the kids are cute and are, in the words of the inimitable Lorelei Gilmore, “the fruit of your loins,” doesn’t make it any easier.

You know the story: It’s the hardest job in the world and yet there’s no how-to book, no sure-fire recipe for success and you’re definitely making it up as you go along. No matter how much we love our kids, we constantly feel like frauds because who knows the right call to make?

And if that isn’t hard enough, we have the tsunami of corporate and commercial influences making our jobs that much harder.

My own path

Fifteen years ago I had my first daughter in a planned home birth that went off just fine.

I chose natural childbirth not because an example had been set for me — I was born in a hospital and nursed from a bottle — but because one hadn’t. It resonated with disturbing dissonance to me that so much artificiality drove our choices, turning everything, even childbirth, into a passive, disempowering consumer process.

In raising my kids, I found myself drawn to the philosophies of those who advocated a low-media, commercial-free childhood. The ideas of Rudolf Steiner resonated, as did those in the (broadly speaking) natural parenting movement.

The ideas here were no TV, no computers, low media influence, and natural toys rather than plastics, electronics, or noise makers. Days were ideally scheduled consistently, with a rhythm that the child could count on, where he or she worked along side mom and dad in the kitchen and yard, took regular naps, played often (mostly outside), and ate healthy, unprocessed, natural foods.

And one more thing. This kind of parenting was a benign dictatorship.

In other words, the kids were dressed, served their food, and generally approached without their moment-by-moment consultation into “choices.”  You know, “Do you want grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly for lunch?”

No.

Being mindful of their observed preferences I made the choices, which gave the kids a sense of security and helped me avoid a series of meltdowns I saw other parents go through as they relentlessly negotiated with their three year-olds over every choice under the sun.

At the risk of sounding like I’m saying I did it all perfectly by following the above format, that’s not my point. It worked for me because of my intentions as a parent — to be clear and simple. I think it also worked for my two daughters. But it was a young childhood plan, not one to take us into their teenage years.

I tried to be flexible enough that, when in rare circumstances we were in a place with a TV, or a soda, that I wasn’t a total prohibitionist. I like some balance. But these moments were indeed rare.

So we lived a mostly TV-free existence, the girls had no access to computer games for infants, small children or older kids, and by sending them to a Waldorf School, I had the support of a community that valued the same things.

I didn’t do this because I was privileged. I was a single mom due to my then-husband’s untimely illness, and I worked from home taking care of other kids so I could raise mine in the kind of environment I wanted to create.

But I was mostly poor, and when it came time to send the kids to school, on top of a new job telecommuting with washingtonpost.com, I had to do a lot of volunteer work to earn scholarships. But it was important to me because, as I was sending my girls out into the world, I needed that world to support my conviction that a commerical-free, low-media, healthy-foods childhood was essential to my kids’ best development.

Folks who didn’t understand my choices told me, “You shouldn’t shelter them, they’ll be crippled when it comes to the larger society,” or “They’re going to be at a disadvantage if you don’t get them on computers now.”

But as ardent as these folks were, and however well-intentioned, I felt they didn’t see the big picture. We weren’t living in an enclave closed off from society. We lived in a regular neighborhood, drove in a car, and even had a Barbie circulating amidst all those wooden animals and woolen dolls.

Just like any kids who stop in to the Quick Mart with mom or dad, my girls got to see the six-foot cardboard cutouts of hot babes with their breasts falling out of their skimpy jerseys while hawking foamy, cheap beer.

My girls weren’t really sheltered. Who could be?

There was no dearth of consumer culture experiences when we went anywhere to shop — from the grocery store to the toy shops to a cafe. Riding down the highway meant billboards picturing diamond rings and fast cars. Passing the public schools meant seeing a big Coca-Cola banner welcoming the students back, or cheering on the team.

Short of going off-grid and becoming gonzo self-sufficient there was no way to avoid the deluge of commercial encounters mediating the landscape of modern life. At best I was barely holding back the flood, which made life a little simpler, but not by much. Still, I look back on those days and I can now see that, in all honesty, the baby, toddler, and young child years were clearly the easy part.

Parenting teens: not for the weak of heart

Fast forward to the future and here I am re-married and parenting teens. I moved away from where a Waldorf School is, and my girls have subsequently been home schooled, gone to public school, and now attend a private Episcopal school, again, as scholarship students.

I like smaller environments.

For those worried about how the girls survived all that sheltering, and whether they’re crippled, fret not. They’re both capable honor students, talented musicians and artists, excellent writers, and are good girls overall — except the being teenaged part. Even the philosophers and child development experts tell us this is a time for sulking, talking back, being bedroom cave hermits, and, with two girls on hand, dwelling in a hormonally temperamental world.

Yes, the girls now use computers, laugh at Youtube videos, know who the Hollywood stars are and have eaten at fast food restaurants, drunk sodas, and drooled over the cheaply made clothes at H & M. (Thankfully they like the thrift store, too!)

They’re contemporary kids.

But they don’t have cell phones, we still don’t have TV (just a monitor for occasional movies) and no iPods or other personal music devices. We control their computer access, allowing some time, but not unfettered use.

And still they know everything that’s going down.

I don’t know how parents do it who allow for unrestricted use of all media — from TV, to iPods, to computers — because my observation is that when Big Corporate gets its nose under the tent, the whole beast is soon inside, and the parent loses all respect and authority while being left with all the responsibility.

The pocket conduit to Hell

Say what you will about how the more things change the more they stay the same, it’s my unwavering conviction that parenting in these times is harder than at any other time in history.

Yes, parents have always had things to worry about. For most of human history, disease was every parent’s nightmare. Throughout that time, parents worried about falls, broken bones and drownings, as well as what the future would bring. Even the Middle Ages or Age of Antiquity seemed like a fallen world to many living in those times.

But teen-aged Jesus didn’t have an iPod with which to tune out Mother Mary and Joseph. Rebellious St. Francis of Assisi wasn’t sucked into a Tumblr feed of glowingly eroticized animal pelts.

Laura Ingalls Wilder may have had her rebellious moments but when asked to set the table she didn’t say, “Do it yourself, Ma, I’m streaming Gossip Girl on Hulu.”

Same as it ever was

Sure, parents across the 20th century griped about the talkies, riding in cars with boys, Elvis’s pelvis and other pop-cultural explosions unique to the fossil-fuel age. In their own times the Charleston shocked the parents of flappers, bikinis challenged every father’s worst fears, and TV and telephones made it harder to keep the family united.

Add to that the many complex aspects of a money-based, atomized, automated nuclear family, such as few chores and always something better to do elsewhere, and every relationship became increasingly superfluous.

It’s given us a world of inter-generational roommates where parents give and kids take in a currency of grudging mutual resentment.

So today’s world of all that to the tenth power may seem not much different than wax records and bongs in the basement.

But I beg to differ.

A nation of consumers (not citizens)

The increasing corporatization and commercialization of our lives, across all fronts, in a time already noted for its stress, overconsumption, and feelings of alienation, adds to the social pressures to give to our children more, better and faster versions of everything, including access to all media all the time. When we don’t, it’s our fault. When we do, and they can’t handle it, it’s our fault. And where are the corporations in all this? Saying that as “people” they’re entitled to unfettered free speech.

Parents who refuse to cave in to the demands of the market and peer pressure have it doubly difficult. Trying to raise good kids in an utterly unrestrained culture, with little support, puts them at odds with everyone —with their kids, the schools, other parents, society, business, culture.

I’ve overheard parents say that the only contact they have with their 16 year-old is texting. Or that they wouldn’t risk making their kid look like a social outcast because he or she doesn’t have a smart phone. But not everyone wants to go there.

So what to do?

Not all of us are able at a moment’s notice to abandon our current circumstances in favor of an isolated farm, or a community of like-minded thinkers. As much as it might be desired, it may not, in all circumstances, be practical or doable. That means that for those of us who live in suburbs, small cities and urban areas, short of homeschooling, which also may not be viable for everyone, there’s a sense of feeling alone in trying to hold back the corporate encroachment on our children’s minds and values.

Occupy Parenting

But we know we’re not alone. We know that others are out there who not only want out from the unrelenting drumbeat of corporate consumption, but also want to find meaning, heart and connection with our kids of all ages. Though there are challenges, it’s somewhat easier to keep media away from babies and toddlers, and to more directly influence their behaviors, choices, and values. For teens, not so much.

So we started a new website, Occupy Parenting, as a way to band together, uniting our voices for a family life free from corporate encroachment. We also advocate the protection of children from unrestricted corporate and commercial messages, and from corporate-influenced (profit motivated) policies governing nutrition, arguing that the preservation of the vulnerable and developing minds and bodies of children trump the rights of speech and marketing aimed at children. We understand how delicate is this matter not only for human freedom overall, but for the freedom of our children. But we have to do it anyway.

We’re not saying it’s easy. And in creating this site, and advancing this movement, we’re not saying we have all the answers. Like other #Occupy General Assemblies, we need your participation to make Occupy Parenting what it needs to be for children, teens, parents, families, and our society-at-large.

We just rolled this thing out, born partly of frustration and partly of inspiration. We hope that if you’re interested you’ll submit blog posts, join our Facebook and Twitter pages, and use our contact form to share your thoughts and ideas.

Already we’ve seen big interest and we hope to merge this with our Transition efforts, seeing in them the shared desire to build a better, more engaged and meaningful world where we live within our means, and work in our communities, including the community of the family, to bring the Great Turning about.

– Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

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Comments

  1. says

    I was raised very much like you described it (in a time where that was maybe a bit easier though. The first computer we had was sooo slow, and we used the phone connection – it wasn´t fun at all;). I went to a waldorf school, had no TV (until today, i´m living at my own since 2006), etc etc. Today, i am so grateful for that, and i really admire my mum, who -on her own, always struggling- helped me and my sister become what we are. Not being the first one with a cell phone makes you look for other things that make you special – most probably you find them in yourself. That gives you great self-confidence and helps you see that other things are more important than… well, actual THINGS.
    I just wanted to share that with you, letting you know that i think you´re doing great and your daughters will appreciate it for sure. I´ll try the same with my future kids ;)
    Wish you guys the best.

    • says

      Thanks for the feedback. Sounds like you had an interesting childhood! Whenever I see a Waldorf school I think, “That’s where I wish I had gone to school.” And I secretly want to become a Waldorf kindergarten teacher. If I could get the training, I’d definitely do it.

  2. Auntiegrav says

    Been through some of the same, but my wife and I compromised more with the corporate beast. That makes it harder yet, I think. Trying to ‘blend in’ when you are naturally not a blender is impossible, as we have found.
    I thank you very deeply for this well-written piece. I think it’s your best one so far. If I had the time, I might even be inspired to start “Occupy Usefulness”. Oh wait: I already did.

    ;-)

    The Random Party
    The Pitchfork Party
    Occupy Usefulness
    Kids Grow Up: Don’t put your way in their way.

  3. Angela Abrusci says

    I happened upon this piece from a Facebook post and while I don’t have any kids of my own, I am concerned about the future of our children. They will, after all, rule the world one day. They are so bombarded with messages from every direction that it’s hard to just be still and silent. Have you ever tried to find total silence in our society? It’s almost impossible to do. I started down a path of simplicity as an adult and while I seem like an outcast to those that find it incredibly weird that I don’t have a television, I’ve found that it’s the only sane way to live. I’m able to get news from the radio and internet and better yet, I can filter how much exposure I get. I never drive by a Burger King and crave a burger and fries because I’m not exposed to the advertising. Actually, I hardly even notice them in my periphery. Corporate America is crippling us as a nation in the name of profit and it all starts with brainwashing the most vulnerable. Kudos to you for starting this blog and I will be sure to help promote it. “Be the change you want to see in the world!” ~Mahatma Ghandi

    • says

      DEar Angela,

      Thanks so much for the positive feedback and the willingness to share the effort. We appreciate the support. I think the role is parents in societal change is one of the most important fronts in addressing the corporatist ion of ou society. I hope we’ll continue to gain momentum. Wow, we already have almost 500shares of this story!

      Thanks for writing in.

      Best,

      Lindsay

  4. Maggie says

    Awesome piece–thanks very much. In many ways I could tell a very similar tale…except that I have 6 kids born between 1978–98; so for me it’s been MORE, and over a longer time now. I can definitely say that the teen years with all the hormones/angst/rebellion end in time (sooner for my girls than my boys, so far)–and that my 5 who are now over 18 (and 3 over 25) all seem to have some appreciation for how they were raised in my ‘weird way’. The girls more than the boys, honestly–because, I think, girls have seen more immediate benefit to being raised strong and assertive as well as empathic and inclusive. The 2 older boys seem to be finding a severe challenge to be men raised not just strong and assertive in classic patriarchal-manhood style, but also empathic and inclusive. This I attempted to do in accordance with my feminist dream that both women and men can be whole if we raise them up to be whole–and the understanding that sexism can’t end til we are raising our children differently. Ah, but the world changes slowly, and my sons have the blessing/curse of being some of the earliest boys in our society to be raised this way–there’s not much company for that, and oh our social species does need the comfort of fitting in.

    But you are so right–short of joining an Amish community, we are SO not alone in raising our kids ‘our way’. Not to forget that as a homebirth midwife, I have an upclose view of actual Amish families (and Mennonite) and I hear from their own mouths that even they are increasingly challenged to preserve their simple, peaceable existence. Their children find it increasingly difficult to resist the ever-present seductions of our “English” world in the forms of billboards, store displays, etc that they cannot entirely avoid. In any event, no, we are not alone in raising our kids, something I really had no grasp of back in the late 70s–early 80s when I was new at parenting and full of idealism. I didn’t even understand how much *I* was subject to my socialization–but I at least was more conscious and to some degree could make choices about what to embrace or resist. Kids are not yet conscious, and they soak it all up like the little sponges they are, in their devoted work to be–as soon as possible–just like adults in the adult world. Which means, just like NORMAL adults such as most of those found outside the relative protection of their weird (if loving and healthy) homes.

    I’ll be checking out Occupy Parenting! I had a thought to start just such a group/page…glad to know it’s already there. Thanks again, we need more voices like yours speaking up.

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