Sunday, June 15, 2008
Parenting: A Stochastic Process

My father always said, "Babies dont come with instructions, you just do the best you can with what you have." His statement rings with a truth that is as obvious as the sky is blue. I'm still extremely grateful to him for being the best father he could be to me throughout my years. Thats truly all you can ask for from your parents. What he did and still does as a father continues to help me grapple with life's challenges generally and fatherhood specifically. But, even if there were a manual which came with babies and taught us the 'right' way to raise children, it still would not work every time for every child, because parenting is not an exact science. This reality is what makes parenting a stochastic process:
Stochastic crafts are complex systems whose practitioners, even if complete experts, cannot guarantee success. Classical examples of this are medicine: a doctor can administer the same treatment to multiple patients suffering from the same symptoms, however, the patients may not all react to the treatment the same way.
Although there are no 'right' ways to raise children, I think there are methods which lead to 'success' more often than not. The approach that my wife and I employ is what most people I know view as the correct approach: love your children, develop their self-esteem, and expose them to a wide array of arts, sciences, and other experiences which you think will stimulate their intellectual curiosity and development. As I've said before, parenting is typically a difficult job for anyone, and I think it's important enough to require a license. But being black and radical in a capitalist society, which is stubbornly white supremacist, means that some of the things we teach our children deal specifically with that reality, even at their tender ages of 1.5 and 2.5 years old.

Raising 2 black girls, means that addressing their self-esteem needs includes a belief in gender equality, and a healthy love of their brown skin and kinky hair. I'd hope that these efforts mean that our children would pass the doll test and would have them unafraid to tackle 'male' subjects like Science and Math. I would not teach them that they are princesses, because the notion that they are royalty, means that others are peasants. If I want to teach them they are special I can do that without reinforcing Bull#$%* notions about class status, privilege, and other bourgeois myths that the rich use to justify their position as exploiters.

As black parents, I feel we especially need to balance the importance of them having the freedom to explore, against the need for them to have disciplined behavior; because I believe society is less forgiving of black people who make mistakes. (Side but important note: I'd emphasize the need for discipline more strongly if I had a boy, because the challenges Black boys face on the path to manhood, more often steer them into prison or early graves). Most of these needs can be addressed rather easily while they are still very young, but as they grow older, the way they perceive the world becomes more complex, and our responsibility to train them grows with it.

We will eventually teach them that their public behavior, academic achievement, and personal relationships reflect not only upon themselves, but on their family and community as well. We'd teach them that blackness shouldn't be measured by the 'black' books, artwork or dashikis you posses, but instead by the degree to which you use your talents and resources to deal with the problems that Black people face in the United States and throughout the African diaspora. I'd teach them that their value as a woman isn't connected to whether or not men find them attractive. I'd also teach them to avoid the empty consumerism which has so many black women sporting the almost obligatory Gucci, Fendi or Prada handbags as status symbols. Rich, white people's names on your personal items do not make you special either, got that princess?

There are so many other critical and mundane things I hope to teach my girls as we grow together. I'd like to teach them how to respect their bodies, how to drive a car, and how to demand respect from others. But in the picture above, while she struggled on the toilet with a stomach ache and sleepiness, the lesson I taught my 2 year old daughter was simple:
Daddy loves you and will always be there for you.
Thats probably one of the most important lessons I'll ever teach her. Happy Fathers day.

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