Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Punk Parenting Part 2.

The last post hopefully spelt out why I respect a punk perspective. It ended with my doubts about the relevance of punk to parenting but a promise to tease out what might be possible to salvage when the two collide.

Ultimately I think the best parenting approach is child-led. I need to be willing to let my child show me if they need structure or spontaneity, more risk or more safety. Best of all if my child leads me I can parent beyond the limitations of my pre-conceptions. Who could predict some of the places their kid’s interests take them – bird watching for example.

“All children are different” may not be especially true, anymore than “all kids are the same” is, but it’s worth proclaiming anyway. “All children are different” permits and obliges us to pay attention to our particular child’s needs, rather than following any philosophy slavishly. “All children are different” gives us the cognitive and social out we need to escape what may be imposed on our children regardless of who they are. Feel free to use the phrase liberally in rejection of punk parenting principles too.

What I do want to address and lessen is something called “cognitive dissonance” (primarily for myself but maybe for you too). “Cognitive dissonance” refers to the major cause of burnout in many occupations when people are required in their jobs to be false to themselves. They might make decisions in their job roles that don’t reflect their values or pretend expertise they don’t have. This contradiction produces sick people. In my experience this sickness of hypocrisy, if unchallenged, leads to more and more faking of expertise and, well, becoming increasingly like a tosser basically.

Even more insidiously is when the same thing occurs in our parenting roles. The issue is not when people who don’t believe in punk values promote other values to their children. The issue is if people like me who do believe (somewhat at least) in punk values go against them because we lack the time, skill, language, imagination or effort to pull off a combination. That’s when we become tossers spouting advice ad naseum that we don’t even believe.

From such a position I think I have lost my legitimate authority to parent. If I can’t defend my true hopes and concerns in my parenting then its time to put down the pipe and exit the armchair. Mr. Brady needs to do a drumming workshop and figure himself out. That might mean recognizing some punk ideas are wrong and letting go of them. Anything would be better than showing my child a false self for the sake of propriety.

I don’t think it’s that outrageous an ask to combine punk and parenting either. Maybe it’s just that at some point in the world of fairy princesses, the alienation of the peasantry or the boredom of the princess has to feature. My child can handle that. She is often more instinctively just – and passionate - than I am. She demands happy endings and hates unfairness. No-one’s told her she needs to grow up in regard to magic or God – yet. She certainly dances, paints, and plays with less rules than I carry around. In fact if I let myself be truly child-led I may become more punk than ever.

So here guided by the music are what I see as some core elements of punk that can translate to my parenting:

Punk is not valueless

Painters and Dockers – Die Yuppy Die

You know that notion where your kids can do whatever they want with their life so long as it makes them happy? That’s yuppie philosophy – not punk. Punk is massively judgmental and every form of happiness or success is not respected equally. As the contemporary punk song, Sat in Vicky Park relays “numbers on a payslip are no indication of worth”.  The happiness of a new iPhone is likewise a shat upon joy.

Punk ideals are difficult to describe positively. Partly this is because many punk songs are negative – they describe what they don’t like. Partly this is because (as I see it) the primary ideal of punk is just a brutally honest reciprocal respect (for people not things). This includes honest call outs if you are being an asshole and a commitment to anti-discrimination. Sensitivities and prejudices are not coddled in Punk.

This can look like rudeness or even amorality. Punk certainly has no reverence for traditional moral absolutes such as property and sexual purity. Punk has subsequently been judged as a rejection of all standards - including musical ones. Rather it is that Punk recognizes that adding false standards takes away from the few that really matter. Punks rage is a focused lens. As George Bernard Shaw once said “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.”

Other punk principles include a high premium on creativity and absolute control over that creativity by the artist. This is tempered by a strong acknowledgement of the shared creative process. Punk artists recognize the lineages they draw on and this creates an artistic debt to the world.

Punks ideally share any wealth and good fortune from this perspective. The punk lifestyle of low budget creation and self-made fashion while proudly squatting is intended to be accessible to all. That’s a return to that reciprocal respect. Anyone can publish a zine and there are loads of people prepared to show you how.

How does this relate to my parenting? For my child at her age it’s really a case of modeling. I try and live economically in a way I’m proud of as much as I can. I’m as proud of the work I do for no pay as any job I have. I don’t need to judge people who live differently but I also don’t need to gush with awe at others’ wealth in front of my kid. I can rather save my highest regard for the art of making a difference in the world.

I also don’t tolerate bullying. My kid already knows some of the ways that bullying is acceptable in our society – such as Australia’s treatment of refugees. She sees me and her mum opposing that. I could be more careful not to add more standards than this. It’s amazing how many rules I find myself coming up with some days. I need to consider whether the more standards and morals I add diminish the importance of the key ones

Punk rejects forced choices.

Rage Against the machine - Testify

When our kid was young my partner and I discovered the benefit of offering forced choices. Instead of asking if our daughter wanted to go to bed we asked if she wanted to go to bed now or in ten minutes. Or we asked which book she wanted us to read instead of whether she wanted stories at all.

This same forced choice management style is everywhere. Instead of asking if we want a career it’s choose one. Pepsi or coke, environmental destruction now or in ten years, they’re all choices that aren’t any choice at all. Punk smells that rat. I hope my kid does too. So I need to face the contradiction between that hope and trying to get away with giving forced choices.

When my kid becomes a teenager I definitely don’t want her to accept the forced choices life offers her. I want her to be prepared to knock all the options off the table and imagine something different – something that doesn’t compromise her values. That requires skills and courage that she can practice on me. 

Punk demands a joy-filled, creative life.

The Ramones – I don’t want to grow up

Punk takes a look at the adult world of submission to chaos and stupidity - with the panacea of a few trinkets and therapies to get us by - and says “no fucking way.”
As several members of The Clash members express in a very watchable 1981 interview with Tom Snyder “Life is Boring and we want to make it interesting.” 

Traditionally parenting seems to include preparing our children to accept authority because its there, follow rules without reason, endure long periods of time wasted and so on. That’s what I might have to do as an adult after all. The line “I don’t always want to go to work but I still go” in response to our child saying that they don’t want to go to school has actually left my lips.

That attitude might make good sense if I am struggling to pay for the roof over my head, but not to pay for a sea of luxuries that don’t actually make me happy. In such a case I should hope to God my kid ignores me. I’m just peddling my fear and laziness.

I see this becoming especially pertinent when my kids become teenagers and the issue of their risk–taking appears even larger. My partner and I need to be honest with ourselves (and with our kids) if there are risks we are not taking that maybe we ought to. Have we grown too cautious after falling or have we found a rut to get stuck in? I should ask myself “What does such a person look like when they try to discourage risk in others?” Not like someone worth listening to.

To discuss risk with our children we may need to be prepared to be more adventurous ourselves. We need to be pursuing our joy with full gusto before our advice is worth listening to. After all there are lots of ways to go down the gurgler – sudden death by car accident or a slow death by sadness treated with chocolate and television.


These are just some initial thoughts on the topic. As I qualified in my last post, hard core punk isn’t my preferred music style. (Hence the use of some not exactly punk bands in these posts). However I find in Punk philosophy a criticism of power and refusal to be powerless that I try to share. It’s the voice of the angry youth railing against the establishment. That’s a sentiment that inspired freedom for me when I was younger. Figuring out how to honour that sentiment I think will make me a better dad.

Most of the time authority can’t see itself very well. I remember working on a ward with a boss who described patients as “attention seeking” – in a perjorative way. This boss had meanwhile put their name on their office door in gold letters. Like that boss I will probably struggle to notice the hypocrisies in my exercise of power as a parent.  Coupling my parenting with a philosophy that holds a blow torch to authority should help to catch myself.

If nothing else writing this post has taught me about the amazing and ongoing history of punk music. I regret not sourcing more female led bands. I really liked Bikini Kill and Bratmobile but didn't find a song relevant to the topic. I'm continuing my education aided by the Bad Reputation blog and their authors compilation of some global Riot Grrl songs. Check em out.

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