Bringing Up Baby
Jan Fortune-Wood gleans nothing useful from a revolutionary child-rearing manual
Revolution Within purports to offer "an alternative way of living with our children," which not only "suggests pathways to a full and feeling life" as a 'humane parent', but also holds out "an extraordinary vision of how being free with out children can enrich and expand our lives."REVOLUTION WITHIN
Like Kunina, I share a background in feminist theory and like her I think that children are autonomous human beings, and her themes struck a chord with me as a parent, a home educator and parenting adviser, but despite these common starting points this book was disappointing.
The writer presents her radical parenting ideas as a somewhat painful stream of consciousness with all the attendant four letter words. 'Libertarianism' gives children the same rights as adults to be recognised as autonomous individuals, something which I can applaud, but it is also confusingly redefined as being 'communist.' Quite how libertarian individualism and autonomy practically cohere in a so called communist theory that seems to demand that society pay for children's needs without having any say in their lives is never worked out. Instead we are given the bald statement that being free with children is part of, 'that communism which transcends politics and becomes part of our emotional and psychological and sexual and spiritual lives.' The book talks about parenting as a political act, but remains stubbornly unclear as to the mechanisms of this politics or the meaning of communist individualism.
Kunina does offer a series of 'concepts'; eight rights statements which underpin 'being free'. They set out some laudable ideals; the right of children not to be abused or subject to racism and sexism, for example. What they do not offer are any whys or wherefores of how to translate these into ordinary daily family interactions. Neither do the concepts always bear close scrutiny. I regard myself as a feminist, but was consistently at odds with the sweeping statements of generalised blame issued against all men and particularly took issue with statements like, "conception makes men culpable,... but it doesn't make them fathers." Women, on the other hand, seemed to be routinely exculpated not only from culpability, but from responsibility, on the grounds that they are often (or nearly always) unable to mother in the presence of oppressive males. Abuses of power should certainly be challenged, but blanket statements relying on simplistic counter stereotypes of men don't, I think, assist anyone in making positive shifts in parenting.
The commitment and passion of the writer is palpable, but the book skates across concepts and lacks application. In place of an optimistic and realistic approach to living by consent with children we are given the author's unresolved and raw personal history, poured out without analytical reflection; random quotes and occasional descriptions of family life, that not only fail to take children's privacy seriously, but also betray some serious problems with this brand of free living. I'm wary that whilst Kunina talks about happiness, the lifestyle hinted at could easily reduce to cycles of self sacrifice for parents, risking volatile explosions of resentment along the way. I agree that children shouldn't be the losers in families, but I'm much more attracted to theories which allow for winwin scenarios and suggest the tools for finding them than I am to angst ridden pleas to dole out undefined happiness.
Ultimately, the reader is left with the taste of badly handled group therapy session in which there is a great deal of emotional dumping and little resolution. There is a distinct lack of practical and rational tools for nurturing our children's autonomy, and deliberately so, 'Being libertarian cannot be formulated into an answer to any question of how, but it can be felt.' The truth is, though, that making everyone in a family happy is not, for most people, 'exquisitely simple', it is complex and demands considerable seeking after truth, problem solving, rational hard work and the creation of new knowledge. The reality is that to make dramatic changes to conventional parenting and to evolve new and dynamic parenting paradigms we need to do more than paint a fuzzy picture of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and tell people to feel their way towards it.
Revolution Within is available from Amazon (UK)