Being a parent is a very demanding job. It involves huge sacrifices and requires a willingness to give up most of your own life for the sake of another person. Parents have to constantly fret about what impact their decisions will have on the well-being of their children. For a parent with politically radical ideas and whose life is based around radical activism, the task is made even more difficult. Because of the inherent contradictions between my values as an activist and the values of good parenting, I have decided to be childfree.
The most important thing to keep in mind while thinking about parenthood is that having a child is a choice. Thanks to the pill and other birth-control technologies, no one has to bear children if they choose not to. Simply because the dominant culture emphasizes parenthood and because it is a “biological imperative” to have children, doesn't mean that not having children is somehow wrong or immoral. Having children and not having children are equally valid lifestyle choices.
I think that a good parent is someone who puts the needs of their child before the needs of all others, including their own. On the other hand, I think that being a good activist means that you privilege the greater good above the needs of any individual or group of individuals. Logically speaking, it would then be impossible to be both the best parent possible and the best activist possible at the same time. At best, concessions could be made towards one identity or the other, depending on the circumstances. In the end, you would either be compromising your parenting or your activism. Since my aim is to be the best activist I can possibly be, I have to choose not to be a parent.
A related tension that would potentially arise when trying to be both a radical activist and a parent would be between being completely devoted to living your ideals and being completely devoted to being a good parent. I find it difficult to imagine that I could achieve both. An example of a situation where this tension would arise would be selecting a school for my hypothetical child. It would be the right choice to enrol my kid at the nearest inner-city school. This way, racial segregation between visible minorities and whites would be lessened and my child would have a full understanding of the implications of inner-city ghettos for the poor. However, because they would be white and relatively privileged, they would probably experience hostility from their fellow students. They would also receive a poorer education than they would at different school in a more affluent area. Because I would love my child and would not want to sacrifice their well-being for a principle, I would probably put them in the school that best serves their interests. I would put the needs of my child before the needs of the racially and economically marginalized. As I have already stated, this should be antithetical to the values of any good activist.
Learning about the horrors of the world (colonialism, genocide, poverty, etc.) is a thoroughly traumatic experience. Because I was raised in a white middle-class household, I was guarded from the naked truths of the world until I was an adult. By that time, I had built up enough emotional maturity to deal with reality and turn my anger and despair into something constructive (IE The Plan). If I were to have a child, it would inevitably be exposed to the worst of human nature, just by overhearing conversations of adults around it who are concerned with making the world a better place. I think it is likely that if the curtain was pulled back a few years earlier, that I might be institutionalized today. It would be hard to justify choosing to bring an innocent child into that environment knowing the near inevitable result. This is not to mention the other problems, such as being made a pariah by their peers for having strange thoughts about systemic oppression or veganism. Is it even possible to raise a child in a radical environment that doesn't grow up to be both self-loathing and hateful of everyone else for assisting in the daily atrocities committed by human beings against each other and the planet? I'm not sure it is.
So what would being childfree and trying to help all children look like? Besides endeavouring to end capitalism and replace it with a more humanitarian economic system, there are many practical things you can do. For example, I volunteer at the Winnipeg Remand Centre with a program called 'Get The Story Out'. It involves bringing children's books to the inmates and having them read out loud into a voice recorder. I then send the book and a CD with the inmate's voice on it to their child. My hope is that by doing this, I'm in some small way fostering the connection between those children and their fathers and that that in turn may end the cycle of incarceration for that family. Some other options for volunteer work include helping out with an after school homework program like the one at the Spence Neighbourhood Association, or supervising in an inner-city school lunch room.
All this having been said, I know some great parents who are also great activists, and my intention is not to disparage the choices that they have made. I also don't mean to omit the many other great reasons for not having children such as saving money, having free time, protecting the environment, simply not wanting any, etc. Living life childfree and living with children are profoundly different lifestyles and I encourage everyone to consider their options carefully.