Below is more from Rule #2: Don’t Be an Asshat: An Official Handbook for Raising Parents and Children. This is where we define and own what we mean by family and parenting. Over time we will be posting most of the book, though, should this inspire you to buy a copy, we would not be offended 🙂 Posted chapters can be found in the Table of Contents.

Parents, Children, and “Family”

Never fear—we will get to the list of rules, but we also want to be sure that we lay out a few assumptions that we hold as we discuss “parenting” and the cast of characters involved in the real-life drama of raising children today.

So about what we consider “family.” Well, obviously family has only one meaning: one mother, one father, one daughter, one son, ½ of another child, a playful puppy or an aloof cat, and weekends spent blissfully skipping through the park, picking daisies and swinging your 2½ children by the arms. The wondrous day in the life of a “regular” family is topped off by a raucous, breadstick-driven, and ravioli-filled meal at the local faux Italian eating establishment.

Oh, wait, are you gagging just a bit?

No worries—us too.

We all know that families come in all forms and flavors. In fact, in our experience, there are more families who do not fit the traditional definitions than those who do. Rather than compile and review the official “Robin and Bruce’s Approved List of Family Structures,” suffice it to say that in our world, if you consider yourself a family, regardless of if we agree with your choices and beliefs, then you are a family. Period.

Okay, now that the whole “What defines a family?” question has been answered, we can move on to the sticky situation of the baby humanoids, often called “children.”

We know that the topic of children can create all kinds of awkwardness and tension in a room. We collectively make assumptions about the role children play in people’s lives, we assume people want or are planning for children, and we make people without children feel like outsiders in a world that has made children the ultimate destination of all people and the sole purpose and preoccupation of women.

So while this is a parenting book, we make no assumptions that everyone should be a parent, that everyone wants to be a parent, or that everyone is able to be a parent even if they yearn to be so. Becoming a parent or primary guardian of a child is not for everyone and must not be the measure of anyone’s worth or value. If at any point we have communicated this idea or do so in the future, we apologize for being exactly what we hope our children are not—asshats.

But hold on there—not so fast. Not everyone is the primary parent in a child’s life, but we all have children in our midst, from nieces and nephews to those rascally kids down the street to the child who merely crosses our path because of circumstances. Not having legal responsibility for a child does not mean you abdicate the collective responsibility we all have to care for and protect all children.

Now, before you get all carried away, this responsibility does not mean that we can become those adults who offer unsolicited and passive-aggressive parenting advice to strangers at the grocery store—more on that later—but it does mean that we must take seriously the responsibility that we adult folks have in the lives of the children in our lives: in our families, in our neighborhoods, and around the world. Yes, in our understanding of the world, we are all charged to some extent with raising all the children of the world.

So about those children…

As we offer these ideas, we know that we have had a relatively easy go of it as parents. Our three daughters, so far, have not caused their parents huge amounts of pain, strife, or struggle. For this we are grateful. That said, we fully recognize that this is not the case for all parents and their children. We know from friends and families that how a child “turns out” is formed by many things—some circumstances we understand, and others we do not and cannot. Some children have physical, mental, or emotional realities that create great tension, conflict, and struggle because of how society perceives and responds to difference. Other children, because of things like family systems, class, gender, race, or geography, are impacted by the stark reality that has derailed and deconstructed the myth of “the American dream” or the idea that prosperity comes “if you just work hard enough.”

With all of the variables that impact child-rearing these days, it is not enough to say that parenting is hard. The truth is that in such a complex and chaotic world, there are times when parenting will feel like you are being continually pelted by swirling debris that only comes from a physical, social, and emotional class 5 shitstorm.

While we very much commiserate about the parenting struggle and the yearning for effective parenting tips, tools, and strategies, we are in no way offering a foolproof cause-and-effect child-raising process, nor are we claiming to have have found the holy grail of parenting that is guaranteed to produce children of magnificent character, infallible values, and stunning achievement. If we thought that we had all of the answers or thought that some version of predefined perfection was the goal, we would have titled this book How to Raise the Perfect Child, or If You Don’t Raise Your Kids Like This, You Don’t Really Love Them, or Screw the Village: We Know the Best Way to Raise Your Child, or How to Raise Kids Who Will Make Enough Money so that You Can Retire to Maui, Play Golf Every Day, and Greet Each Morning with an Acai Smoothie Sipped Through a Compostable Quinoa Straw.

OK, at this point, you may be ready to toss this book into the recycling bin while screaming, “Well, thanks for nothing, Robin and Bruce! You’ve painted such a lovely picture of what it means to be a parent. Why should we even try? You suck! I hate you. No, seriously, I hate you.”

Sorry about that. We just want to be honest about the ramifications of thinking that you are in control. Knowing you are not in control does not mean that how you parent and live as a human being is not important and has no impact on the children around us; it does—but “if this, then that” thinking works better for computer programming than parenting. It might be more realistic to say, “If this, then maybe that,” or “If this, then hopefully that,” or even “If this, quite possibly, if we have done the best we can and surrounded them with good people, and outside forces have smiled upon us—then that.”

The kind of parenting that regards children as programmable machines that can, will, or want to mimic everything presented to them is highly subjective and is often an exercise in arrogance and privilege. “Whoa, did they just mention ‘privilege’? We thought this was a safe, hippie-talk-free book about parenting.” Cool your jets, Sassy McSasserston, but yes, effective parenting today, especially in the United States, requires us all to understand the nature and impact of privilege.

Privilege has to do with race, class, socioeconomics, geography, and any time we associate a particular group of people or social location with the labels “good” or “bad” and assume that our experience is the norm. We see this played out when we praise parents whose children do well. We give all the credit to hard work and good parenting without ever acknowledging that some children simply have better resourced educational systems, more access to economic opportunities, in-place support for emotional and physical health emergencies, and enhanced opportunities for social exploration. There is never a guarantee of success, but some children are are given a  head start and a better chance for success.

Privilege, and the false sense of superiority that it creates, can also impact how we view and react to children’s achievements and struggles. When children from a certain demographic fail, there is a shocked sense of disbelief. People gasp, “But they came from such a good home,” because good homes only produce children who burp sunshine and fart rainbows. Conversely, if we see children from another demographic behaving badly, we immediately blame the parents for not “raising them right,” and children who do well from the same demographic did so despite the parenting at home—as if “those people” couldn’t possibly be good parents. We essentially sit on our throne of privilege and cast aspersions upon those whom we perceive as different while giving a pass to those whom we deem normal.

And possibly the most insidious form of privilege is when we parents claim all the credit but fail to acknowledge that, in the United States, not all children are treated equally or have the same opportunities as other children. Race, gender, sexuality, economics, privatization, and other factors impact how our children are treated, educated, and influenced. To ignore these realities is to give children a false sense of self, either overinflated or dangerously low. Helping our children understand that there have been and always will be forces working both to help them succeed and to place obstacles in their way equips them to navigate the world with that much more wisdom, humility, and insight.

Again, all of this does not mean that parenting does not matter. After all, if we thought this was a total crapshoot, what the hell would we be doing writing this book? What we hope to convey is that this parenting thing and the children who have been gifted into our world are messy and will require of us the courage to see the work not as a burden but as a joyful (most of the time) opportunity to explore the complexities of life like no time before—and to help the next generation to be better for it.

With so much to acknowledge and navigate, we certainly have fought the urge to be overly directive in our children’s lives. We have, for the most part, held a broad view of life and maintained some perspective on the impact and causation of our own actions. We understand that, when it comes to raising kids, we can do our best to provide an environment where they can thrive, and try to model what we hope to see—but parenting is still like consulting a Magic 8 Ball that continues to tell us, “Do your best and they will turn out fine.” What we are attempting to do with the resource that you hold in your hands is to tilt that fortune-telling sphere a little more in your favor.

So if nothing else, please know that we offer these ideas with much humility, generous amounts of optimism, and a smidge of playfulness. And we do so in the hopes that you will find a few meaningful nuggets that will help with the particularities of your parenting journey.

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