Drawing on her experience growing up in a working class
African American environment, bell hooks finds collective
parenting to be a radical alternative for raising children.
Although none of the women at this month's session are
mothers, we were by and large receptive to approaches that
circumvent the nuclear family socialization process.
microcosm of patriarchy, it serves as the primary training
ground for hierarchical, authoritarian values. Long before
the nuclear family's arrival, communal childcare for
thousands of centuries was a fundamental element of human
society. Throughout much of the world today, kin as well as
kith continue to share parental responsibilities, as
exemplified by the African saying, "It takes an entire
village to raise a child."
One woman, however, argued
that it is unrealistic to expect extended parenting to work
in an industrialized world. The maw of capitalism has
eviscerated community and family bonds. A lot of people no
longer live with or near their families, neighbors are often
strangers, and friends too busy to impose upon.
centers are clearly necessary, even though too many of them
commodify the rearing of children. hooks advocates more
small, affordable, public, tax-funded centers. In keeping
with an ecofeminist ethic of inter-connectedness,
community-based childcare centers have the potential to
strengthen fragmented community ties.
Given a restrictive "family values" climate, a
few women were reluctant to trust their own communities. For
example, a growing number of lesbian mothers have had their
children taken away from them and placed with heterosexual
relatives. As one woman remarked, "I don't want the
community involved if the community is homophobic."
While certainly not as harrowing, another woman mentioned an
article written by a working class mother who took issue with
the Big Brother/Big Sister organization, a mainstream
variation of community parenting. She criticized the school
guidance counselor for recommending that her children
participate in the program, as if all working class families
are disadvantaged and need help raising children. She
wondered whether similar options are presented to upper and
middle class parents.
In exploring collective parenting
possibilities, class issues continually surface since low
income families have fewer resources to pursue alternative
strategies. A particularly insensitive incident was the
Ms. Foundation's Take
Our Daughters to Work campaign designed to introduce
young girls to career opportunities.
How many domestic
workers, for example, took their daughters to work in hopes
that they might follow in their parents' footsteps? And what
about migrant workers who often have to take their
daughters to work? As hooks points out, childcare was not an
issue until middle class (white) women needed it.
One woman questioned hooks' frequent use of the words
"fathering" and "mothering," since these
terms seem to perpetuate the idea of separate ways of
parenting. Another woman responded that it is problematic to
speak generically about parenting because it's still too
widely perceived as the mother's responsibility. hooks warns:
"As long as women or society as a whole see the
mother/child relationship as unique and special because
the female carries the child in her body and gives birth,
or makes this biological experience synonymous with women
having a closer, more significant bond to children than
the male parent, responsibility for child care and
childrearing will continue to be primarily women's
Some of us felt hooks mistakenly combines childrearing
with childbearing, as if both were examples of
myths about mother/child bonds. While it is true that men are
just as qualified to parent as women and that women are no
more inherently nurturing than men, a woman's ability to give
birth and to bond with her baby during pregnancy are
indisputably unique and special.
We must honor our essential
biological powers, not diminish them or distance ourselves
from them. Additionally, we can't allow society to use this
as an excuse to confine the rearing of children to women or
for enabling men to avoid full, equal participation in the
Both men and women today need consciousness raising to be
non-sexist parents. hooks cites Elizabeth Janeway by saying
that "the idea of an individual having sole
responsibility for childrearing is the most unusual pattern
of [human] parenting in the world." We especially
empathize with the problems single mothers face. If society
can find ways to help senior citizens or the handicapped,
surely we can assist single parents.
One woman suggested
special privileges such as discounts at movies to offset the
cost of a sitter. Or front row parking at supermarkets to
facilitate the management of kids and groceries. Another
woman proposed single mothers band with other single mothers
to set up households for sharing resources, camaraderie, and
parenting. Someone else mentioned an innovative custody
arrangement devised by a divorced friend. For stability, the
children remain in the family home. The parents each reside
elsewhere and then rotate weekly stays with the kids.
Alternatives are possible! Has patriarchy so
programmed us for the nuclear family that we've forgotten our
historical heritage of community parenting?