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Parenting to Change the World

For those of us raised in the “you can do anything you want to” era, growing up and realizing that I was not, in fact, changing the world in any significant way was a bit of a shock.  I wanted to do work that was interesting, rewarding, socially positive and helping to save the environment.  But my first real job out of university was a customer service job in a call centre, which was at a time when people didn’t know what is a chatbot and its impact in the call centre division. But I did not feel like I was going to change the world at all.

Then I became a parent.  The magnitude of our collective environmental responsibility became apparent to me, and the effect that mainstream culture could have on my newborn child as she grew up was frightening, really something I didn’t want to think about that much.  I wasn’t exactly sure how much my parenting style would make a difference to how my child turned out in the end, but I knew that some choices felt more right to me than others after I set the nature/nurture debate aside.

I wanted to make choices to be with my children, to teach them about food production by getting dirty in the garden, to show them that diversity is a good thing by being friends with diverse people.  I wanted to teach them that passion, curiosity, eccentricity and geekiness are really, really good things, even when everyone else was saying that money and looks matter more.

I hoped that, in some small way, I might be able to change the world in the way I was raising my child.

David Suzuki said that his greatest hope for the environmental movement and the health of the planet lies with young mothers, who are suddenly thrust into an acute awareness of the relationship between human health and the health of our planet when their babies are born.  When these moms begin to stand up and demand healthier choices, organic food, safe skincare products and transparent ingredient lists, they’re helping to change the world.

Homeschoolers and unschoolers who choose to prioritise freedom, personal responsibility, intrinsic motivation and emotional attachment are changing their children’s world away from one of performance, comparison and test scores.  But will these changes percolate out to the wider world?  When this generation of unschoolers grows up, will they take these attitudes with them, or will they rebel?

The recent media coverage of the genderless baby Storm and his/her unschooling family has brought these issues to a wider audience.  Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, parents of three children, have decided to raise their baby Storm without telling people whether the baby is a boy or a girl.

Some critics say that these kind of parenting choices will cripple a child when it comes time to make their way in the big, bad world.  And it is true that the more different you are from everyone else, the more skills and confidence you will need to successfully work and live alongside everyone else in a culture that doesn’t share your values.  But there isn’t any way to move towards the world we want to see without being different from the way it is.  Having a family culture of love, acceptance and positive guidance is far more important to me than the way you dress and talk about your baby.  So what if the baby wears red instead of pink or blue?

I believe Storm’s parents are trying to do their best to change the world through the work of parenting, just like many other socially and environmentally conscious parents out there.  You can’t force anyone else to change.  You can only change yourself and how you live in the world, and parents have as much right to do this as anyone else.

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  • Baby Making Mama May 30, 2011, 11:26 pm

    It’s inspiring and scary at the same time thinking that the future of our world lies in the young mother’s arms. We can be so powerful but so judgmental of each other too. Hopefully we’ll all work hard to work together for the better!

    Great post mama!

  • Cynthia @ The Hippie Housewife May 31, 2011, 9:44 pm

    You know those cheesy stories that are always being forwarded around? Usually I forget them as fast as I’ve read them, but there’s one that continually comes to mind throughout my life – the one about the boy walking along the shore, throwing the starfish back into the ocean, because “it made a difference to that one“. That’s how I feel about parenting. I may never change the world. My children may never change the world. But if I can raise them in a home of love, acceptance, and health, then I can find peace and contentment in knowing that at the very least, I made a difference to them.

    As for Baby Storm, I can appreciate the parents’ reasons behind their choices. Have you read the mother’s response to the media frenzy? I found it an interesting contrast to the original article.

    If I may speak to the idea, simply for the sake of discussion and not standing in judgement of the parents, it feels to me that an attempt to raise a “genderless” child actually draws more attention to the child’s (unknown) gender. They want to negate the effects of gender and yet in trying to do so, make gender a far bigger deal than it need be. I can see it being very confusing for the child (and siblings) in question.

    Speaking in general terms, I feel as though gender neutrality is so heavily pushed now (particularly in certain circles) that kids are actually discouraged from being interested in traditionally “gendered” activities. I don’t think that’s healthy; I think it promotes a lot of unnecessary shame. Letting a child choose his/her activities, clothing, etc is a far cry from pushing him/her towards or away from an activity just because it considered “boyish” or “girly” – whether that activity be traditionally associated with the same sex or the opposite sex.

    I actually see a strong parallel to religious fundamentalism – only instead of “avoid all appearance of evil”, there’s a push to “avoid all appearance of gender”. Instead of seeing sin in everything, they see “gender” in everything. It’s a strange paradox, that the desire to encourage gender neutrality often results in an unnatural hyper-focus on gender. I see it, like religious fundamentalism, leading to a great deal of unnecessary frustration and confusion for children – girls feeling like they have to apologize for liking pink and frilly things; boys who feel pushed away from traditionally “boyish” things.

    There’s also the other side of the same coin, where children who like things that don’t traditionally “match” their sex are held up as examples in the gender vs. sex debate. Mothers pat themselves on their back for accepting their “cross-gendered” five year old – usually boys who like pink or want to wear dresses or whatnot. And yet, for the boy who hasn’t had it shamed or bullied out of him, it’s completely normal. Lots of boys like to dress up in princess dresses. It’s sparkly and bright and fun. It’s not gender exploration, it’s just childhood. Making a big deal out of – whether to encourage or discourage it – is entirely unnecessary.

    I think there’s a great deal of merit in allowing your children to choose their own activities, hairstyles, toys, clothes, etc, without regard to traditional gender lines. Absolutely. My boys play with cars and carry their dolls around in baby slings. My older one has only recently decided his favourite colour is no longer pink. He had hair longer than mine at one point, and is currently growing it out again because he wants it long. No big deal. He’s not gender-confused, he just wants long hair. My aunt who teaches kindergarten often talks about the little boys who are so excited over all the pink princess stuff they get to play with at kindergarten – not gender-confused, just enjoying the fun. Allowing kids that sort of freedom is awesome. Making a big deal out of it or hyper-focusing on the issue? Notsomuch.

    Well! That was a ramble. Sorry for getting a bit off-topic. Clearly it’s time I finally got around to finishing the gender-related blog post I’ve had sitting in my drafts for the past six months!

    • Cynthia @ The Hippie Housewife May 31, 2011, 9:45 pm

      Wow, that was longer than I thought. Sorry for the novel!

      • michelle May 31, 2011, 10:15 pm

        no problem! I am glad to have all your thoughts on the issue attached to this post. :)

        I share a lot of the same hesitations you shared, though I decided that I’d give the parents the benefit of the doubt and approach the issue as if they really are doing what they think is best for the child. I do agree that the more you focus on something (by saying it or not saying it) you’re giving power and energy to it. So if they really did want to give baby Storm a start in life that was unhindered by the restraints of gender, he or she is now surrounded by all this discussion and controversy over gender – much more than there would have been if they’d just gone on as normal and let the child choose his/her own clothes, toys and behavior.

        Much like race, gender is one of those things that people like to say, “It doesn’t matter!” but the fact remains that people from different races look different from each other, and people of different genders look different too. Pretending that it doesn’t matter doesn’t make those differences go away.

        But I still like to hope that they are a very accepting, conscious-parenting unschooling type family who really had their child’s best interests at heart. I haven’t read the mother’s response, and I am heading over to do that now.


        • Cynthia @ The Hippie Housewife June 1, 2011, 1:55 pm

          I do absolutely agree that their heart is in the right place and they sincerely want the best for their child. I appreciate their conscious approach to parenting as well.

          I find the issues of gender neutrality and gender differences to be very interesting. Complex, to be sure. The parallel to race is a great one, and I wholeheartedly agree with what you said: “Pretending that it doesn’t matter doesn’t make those differences go away.”

  • Colleen June 9, 2011, 9:10 am

    Your opening and closing paragraphs each really captured something for me (indeed, the whole post did, but those two paragraphs in particular). The difficulty in changing the world is a shock I am still trying to get over or work around, and it definitely colors my parenting strategy to a degree even my husband doesn’t understand (though he’s getting there).

    I actually played with the idea of trying to raise a genderless child, but didn’t have the guts or the inventiveness to pull it off. But I feel very strongly about the power of changing yourself to change those around you and I have actually seen that work a lot in my life over the last couple years.