The Art of Imperfect Parenting

The kids are all right, even if they don't agree with you


| November-December 2003



Every generation, it seems, looks to its children for hope of a better world. Yet there are few challenges more daunting—or downright foolish—for progressive-minded parents than setting out to raise little revolutionaries. (They often turn out to be accountants.) Kids just seem to naturally follow their own inner voices. But don’t despair; no matter how far your children (or nieces and nephews, or other kids you care about) may veer from your own chosen path, there’s probably more of your values in them than they care to admit.
—The Editors

Ariel Gore’s daughter is a cheerleader. Make that captain of the cheerleading squad at her school. For most moms that might be a source of pride. But for the 32-year-old Gore, punk priestess of riot grrrls everywhere and publisher of the radical mothering zine Hip Mama, it is more than a little mortifying.

“I hadn’t been to a football game since I was, like, 3 years old,” says Gore from her Portland, Oregon, home. But the other day, she drove over to the school like every other dutiful parent to watch 13-year-old Maia help cheer the boys on to victory. When she tells me the story I can sense it was a disconcerting experience; and as a parent myself, I know what she means.

“My daughter is totally mainstream right now,” she sighs.

It is not an unfamiliar complaint among radical-minded parents whose values often get trampled by the forces of pop culture, peer pressure, and simple obstinacy as their children mature. Who hasn’t heard stories of the son or daughter of some shining radical who grew up to be an investment banker or real estate mogul. As a colleague of mine who attended the University of Pennsylvania pointed out the other day, “The Wharton School was full of hippie kids who are now happily looting Wall Street.”

It is, of course, completely unremarkable for children to rebel against their parents. I did it. You did it. It’s just the way things are. But it can be particularly devastating for parents intent on raising their children with a well-honed social consciousness. To many of them, the future of the planet hinges on their performance as parents—their ability to raise a good revolutionary.

kit kellison
2/5/2010 4:30:38 PM

When my daughter wanted to try out for the cheerleading squad (knowing full well my opinion on the concept of dressing in a tiny skirt to cheer on boys) I might have shocked her by telling her it was fine as long as she first read a short paperback book on the history of women. I really didn't expect her to change her mind. She not only decided on her own not to try out for cheerleading, she wore the book to tatters using it as a reference for high school papers and essays. When she was little I forbade Smurf-watching, but when she was old enough to think for herself, you kinda have to let them go.