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Feminists should confront all forms of oppression, exploitation and hierarchy. Parents, carers and children are often marginalised and discriminated against, even in radical political organising. Insist that childcare is provided at every event. Understand that ‘mothering’, ‘parenting’ and ‘childrearing’ have different connotations: the next generation needs people of all genders, races, classes, sexualities, ages and abilities to help it develop healthy attitudes to life. Involve children and treat them as equals worthy of respect.
2 Bin the box
Television only makes the gender divide worse. As a compromise, try using the set just to watch videos or DVDs. Until your kids are old enough to sneak in Ben 10 box sets under their jumpers, you can more or less censor what gets played, without any annoying adverts. However, if the electronic babysitter is your lifeline to parental sanity, then keep it on. TV provides a parent with a wealth of material that highlights the inequalities in society – and therefore gives lots of opportunities to talk constructively about the realities of patriarchy with your child.
3 Be honest
You may try to kid yourself that the media and peer pressure are the biggest influences on your child, but actually it’s you! The main parent or carer is a child’s most influential role-model. Are you sexist, racist, homophobic? What, not even a little bit? Children can subconsciously absorb even the most subtle of parental behaviours. It’s okay to make mistakes – no one is perfect. But it’s important to deconstruct our own words, actions and attitudes to ensure that we don’t inadvertently pass our own prejudices onto our children. Be honest with yourself and your kids. Talk openly about sex, relationships and sexuality. Encourage children to freely express all of their emotions – no matter how painful they are.
4 Express yourself
Creatively expressing the often intense feelings that come with parenthood can be a great emotional release – whether through art, writing, music or dance. Bringing up children can seem like a lonely business at times, but there are lots of parenting blogs, networks, groups and resources out there. If it’s more anger management therapy you need, then try this: find a magazine photo of the latest yummy-mummy female celebrity, stick it onto on a dartboard and get throwing those arrows! You will begin to see the cracks appear in the smooth airbrushed image of maternal perfection … and feel a devilish sense of satisfaction.
5 Research the issues
Research the many conflicting feminist and parenting schools of thought. Natural parenting options may work for some, but others argue that it’s pushing more burdens upon the mother. For example, using washable nappies isn’t only the eco-option, it also increases parental autonomy and challenges the capitalist-consumption machine. But what about the extra housework that washable nappies can bring? Will it really be shared equally among family members? Work out what’s best for you and your family – a critical factor of feminist parenting is to stop pretending we are perfect parents.
6 Pick your battles
Constantly nagging your kids to over-analyse sexist books or toys will only push them further into the open arms of Mattel and co. Sometimes it’s best to accept minor defeat, in exchange for fostering a closer, mutually respectful parent-child relationship. Finding other ways to help build a child’s self-esteem or emotional intelligence may be more important in the long-run than bickering over Barbie.
7 Develop emergency tactics
As a last resort, when all else has failed and you find yourself in the depths of a feminist parenting emergency, nonviolent direct action can be deployed. Don’t be afraid to discretely dispose of the Action Man machine gun given by Uncle Bobby last Christmas, or the Bratz bikini set for your four-year-old from your so-called best mate. However, donating an offending item to a charity shop is only dumping the burden onto others!
Set up a childcare or home education collective, together with parents or friends who have similar ideals. Providing your own curriculum can be empowering for both adult and child, and give you much needed support. Or start a feminist children’s book club and swap revolutionary bedtime stories.
9 Raise some hell
Getting involved in activism is the best thing a feminist parent can do. If we want our children to live in a world free from oppression, then we need to actively work towards creating a world that is freer and fairer. Parents and carers will continue to be marginalised until we get out there, with our kids, to demand and organise for change. Set a good example. Show your children that they are worth fighting for, and instil in them the courage and confidence to stand up for themselves and their future.
Visit feministchildrearing.blogspot.com for links to related resources