By Chip -- A few posts back in a comment Justin questioned whether being home full time with our kids is actually "social change work"; he argued that it was not, and that raising our kids is not the most important job in the world. In his words it is "important but not revolutionary."
I have to say I disagree.
By revolution, I am assuming Jason means bringing about social change "from below," that is, building consciousness and support among real people. I think anyone talking about "revolution" in the US these days is probably actually referring to this form of change rather than the traditional meaning of the word, which involves actual violence.
And it is exactly in this goal of bringing about social change "from below" where we as parents play a crucial role. There are two ways we do so, one direct, one indirect.
The direct way involves a number of discrete elements. The first is that by spending time with our kids we show them through our actions that we are commited to them, that they are important to us. This gives them the confidence and psychological health to act on their principles in the face of a society that is hostile to those principles and values.
If we let our kids be raised by societal norms, we are doing the opposite of progressive, positive activism. Raising progressive kids requires being very proactive, being very involved in our kids' lives, talking to them from the earliest days about the values that we believe are important, about the changes that need to happen in our society, and living those values.
For me, the foundation or prerequisite to doing that was to be an involved father. First and maybe most directly, in the area of gender relations: if we want to bring about change in that area, we have to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.
As a guy, I can thinking of nothing more subversive of "traditional" conservative values than the fact that I chose to stay home full-time with my daughter for the first two years of her life; that I chose to downsize career ambitions to spend time with my kids and to be more involved in their lives than I could have if I had followed my earlier ambitions. I understand that in many ways my ability to do this is related to my class privilege and educational background. Nevertheless, I think that exactly because of those factors, and the resultant fact that I had many other options, it is important for me to take steps to undermine gender hierarchies in the eyes of my kids as well as in my wider community.
Apart from gender, it takes a lot of work to deconstruct or innoculate our kids against the insidious right-wing values that suffuse our culture and society. I'm proud that, for example, my kids actively question US nationalism, that they understand that poverty and injustices are not the fault of the victims but rather of the structure of our society and economy. Getting them to that point is important work. Without this kind of work, social change is much less likely to occur.
So while Justin feared that spending time in the nuclear family is a conservative value, in fact I'd argue that it's a key way to spread progressive values. One reason conservatives cocoon is to be sure that their children absorb their values. In that sense, by not seeing family as vitally important, progressives abandon a major area of work. But unlike for conservatives, whose focus is on a competitive, disempowering individualism, for progressives the family is just the start, it's the foundation of building a conception of solidarity, the only way that social change will come about.
Indirectly, family time is crucial because activists and others committed to progressive social change need a private life. Like all humans, we need love and affection, joy and enjoyment, in order to maintain energy, motivation, and perspective. Nothing energized me more to work for social change than the time I spent with my children: directly, because I realized they are going to be living in the world we create; and indirectly, because of the energy and strength I get from those relationships.
Raising our kids as progressives is a revolutionary act. Dads staying home full time, dads being very involved in their kids' lives, is a revolutionary act. It is the most important job, it is social change work. Unless we model our commitment to a better world, including in the very concrete context of our immediate families, our kids will be much less likely to internalize the kinds of values that will lead them, in turn, to push for progressive social change when they grow up.
As Steve Earl says, the revolution starts ... Now.
Cross-posted at daddychip2