Anarchist Parenting, Why Discipline is So Important.

There is an aspect to Anarchy that isn't often addressed, but has been brought to my attention through some well meant ribbing. That would be parenting. Because many people believe that Anarchists have little use for any rules whatsoever, and amount the entire ideology to that of a chaotic and violent world, it's only logical to assume that this thinking would apply to parenting as well.

Well, it doesn't.

In fact, as I pointed out in an earlier post Anarchists aren't against "house rules" per se. Those rules and morals and social ethics are mutually beneficial for individuals and the tribes they belong to. No, it is the State enforced laws - often created by people too far removed from anyone affected by said laws that Anarchists oppose. Those laws are reactive, rather than proactive, and often times arbitrary with regards to behaviors that are or are not beneficial to the people who must abide by them. Of course, I've already delved into all of that, let's get to parenting.

Keeping in mind the acceptance of "house rules" or "natural law" as some would say the natural progression of logic would mean these rules are also applied to parenting. Anarchy itself is a rather disciplined practice. Individually disciplined, that is.

First, I would like to go over some basic terms, to make sure we are all on the same page here. When I talk about discipline, I am not talking about punishment. Punishment is only a fraction of what discipline entails. To be disciplined one must be well learned in the ways of whatever ideology they follow. In humanitarian terms, that means learning responsible, ethical and moral behavior. I hesitate to say "good" behavior because "good" is also interpreted as "desirable" and that which is considered to be desirable behavior swings wildly from individual to individual and the outcome isn't always "good", or should I say, ethical and moral? Sometimes punishment is needed during the learning period, but it is not, and should not be the first line of defense of a teacher.

So, as we parent we apply discipline, the art of teaching our children what kind of behavior is appropriate, good, moral, ethical, and responsible and we reinforce these lessons by rewarding good behavior, and punishing bad behavior. This might also be a good time to point out that in child rearing terms, these life long lessons are the building blocks of a child's moral character, and this learning occurs most rapidly between the ages of birth and age 7. After the age of 7, or the "age of reason" information that is taught to the child goes through a filter which did not exist for the first 5 to 7 years of their life. The youngest years are the most crucial years in a child's development. So, when I am referring to children, I do mean young children.

If you're wondering what I'm rambling about, I'll get to the point eventually, I promise.

In a joking manner a fellow blogger expressed humorous shock at the fact that an Anarchist expected parents to construct rules and structure for their children. Of course, there is a pragmatic reason for doing so, and it seems so obvious I almost shouldn't even go into it, but I will.

Children are not adults.

Adults maintain the ability to use reason and logic, and understand the link between cause and effect. This allows adults to function within society in a manner that will keep themselves, and others safe, happy and healthy. Children, however, lack that ability. Anyone who has ever cared for a child knows that children haven't got any common sense. They have a very limited comprehension of cause and effect, and have limited use of reason or logic. Although a child may seem to understand that activity X causes result Y, they in fact have not made the connection between the cause, and the effect. Which is why parents and caregivers know that even if the child physically experiences cause and effect, the child will soon forget, and try it again. Running comes to mind immediately. No matter how many times you tell a child not to run because they might get hurt, they do it anyway. Even if they get hurt, they will get back up and do it again.

Hence the need to create and enforce rules. It's for their own safety, as children are incapable of keeping themselves safe without the help of a parent.

There is another reason, however. Children, being a mostly empty little vessel upon birth, will be filled up with life lessons, and quickly at that. It is a parent's responsibility to ensure that their child be filled with solid, informative, and beneficial life lessons. This is where the ideal of Anarchism come into play, at least in Anarchist households. Although, I suspect that many parents do this without even realizing it is an Anarchist principle.

Teaching a child the discipline of personal responsibility is one of the key elements to teaching a child the basic principles of Anarchism.

You can't teach a child how to be a responsible person, if you don't have any structure, rules, or discipline in place. The rules here are not to be confused with authoritarian style dictatorship. On the contrary, when you discipline your children in a structured manner, you teach your child to make their own decisions based on the moral, ethical, and responsibility building blocks they need to become well adjusted Anarchists adults. They will grow into adults with the knowledge that they don't need a governing body telling them the difference between right and wrong, they are more than capable of making the distinction on their own, and are prepared to actually follow through and do the right thing.

Oh, wait, maybe I did mean to say Anarchist after all.

This method is a proactive method, and there is no need for a government to create laws to make it work.

In any case, that is why structure, discipline and rules are so important to Anarchist parents, without it, our children will not learn the much needed practice of responsibility, ethics, and even self reliance (at an older age) that an Anarchist needs in order to live, as an Anarchist.


Don Lewis said...

Hear Hear!

It can't be emphasized too much. To be able to make rational anarchistic decisions, you must have a grounding in logic. Logic is not an instinctive attribute - unfortunately. Logic must be taught, practiced, and critiqued by those with the greater experience in wielding it.

And since one of the principle pillars of logic is consistency, (i.e. similar actions bring similar results) a fair, but consistent system of discipline is essential to the education of children.

Caroline Jaine said...

Who would have thought I would be reading about anarchist parenting at 8 o'clock on a sunday morning! You intrigued me. I prefer the angle of teaching your kids responsibility and consistency rather that the word "discipline" which has different connotations for me. Child rearing for me has everything to do with having the honour to help create a happy, healthy, ethical, responsible, inspiring, caring human adult. Sometimes people loose sight of this.

Anok said...

Thanks guys. After I had just finished writing this I listened to an interview by some anarchist who wrote some book - on parenting and Anarchism. It blew my mind, the correlation of discipline and "oppression" and rules and structure with "authoritarianism" of a totalitarian order...

"we should be our child's friend and not impose societal rules upon them" UGH! This is the problem, and this is why I'm speaking out as an Anarchist and a parent :D

I'm tired of people behaving this way, because in order to realize a world where Anarchists can actually live as they see fit, we MUST teach our children when they are young just how to do this!

Caroline, just remember, discipline means to teach - and to practice. Not to punish.

Ian Thal said...

Anarchism is about getting rid of unnecessary hierarchies. For instance: sometimes the only way to put out an effective anarchist publication (anarchists like publishing) is to have an editor-in-chief but that editor has been given only as much authority as needed to get the agreed-upon task accomplished. The same with parenting: children are not born with an innate sense of ethics and morality, let alone common sense, so it is up to adults to cultivate such capacities.

We need to get past the old 18th century concept of "power." Power is not only "power to destroy" or "power to subjugate" but "power to create" and "power to nurture." Anarchism is opposed to some types of power and celebrates other types of power.

Anok said...

Ian, you bring up an excellent point. Anarchy, and Anarchists have to stop and consider any position of authority and decide if said authority is valid, or not.

In the case of a parent child relationship, the parent has a position of authority - whether the parent wants it or not, they are in control of that child's life from the moment of conception, because every decision the parent makes directly affects that child until the child is old enough to no longer be affected.

this type of authority is not only valid - but necessary and unavoidable. Even the parents who say they will raise their children without rules so as to no be an authority has used their authority to make that choice, and has ultimately determined the lifestyle of the child, for the child. There's just no getting around it.

There is another aspect that Anarchist parents are taking that bothers me to no end: the notion that we, the parents don't actually know more than our children do, ergo, we shouldn't make decisions for them. This ideology is ludicrous to me. (I'm just ranting now, by the way)

Children are smart, they are not wise.

What that means is that children may know a lot of "things" but they lack the experience as well as the ability of comprehension of said things to actually use what little knowledge they have in a useful manner.

Or, we might actually be smarter, and know what is better for our children than our children do.

Meh - i get fed up with parents sometimes. :D

an average patriot said...

Very Good! I am an absolute 100% total disciplinarian and raised 4 men who were and are my best friends and total disciplinarians themselves. you need discipline but you need equal when deserved measures of love.
You get loved and disciplined not in equal measures but when you deserve it. You know it and act accordingly. My sons all knew their lives depended on living and learning from me. I just wish they weren't at war!

Highlander said...

I think you could take the 'Anarchist' out of the title and "Parenting, Why Discipline Is So Important", and the accompanying post, would be just as valid.

voodooKobra said...

Anok, I agree entirely.


Wow I can see why you get so much respect.This post is brillant and I'm NOT British.Thanks for the comment.See maybe I was just testing people and out of 100- 1 step out of the crowd.I don't know if you have other blogs but I totally admire your steering a straight course for the cause,without deviation.I read through some of your archives/ history.I know your writing for a reason but if I was you I'd be very proud of the strength of your voice and all the excellent work you've done.
Americans have no clue and it will be to late unfortunately Paul Revere is dead and people being in the coma that they're in will all of a sudden want to be American when 200 million Chinese are hitting our shores.It's inevitable but we can't say we didn't warn them.

Highlander said...

johninkeywest - The Chinese already own your shores.

Michelle said...

As previously stated, this is a brilliant, well articulated post.
I haven't read much about anarchy beyond the (presumably false) stereotypes and negative press, so this was a refreshing induction to what anarchy is really about.
Thank you so much for sharing!

Jeanine said...

Very interesting article. I agree that parents need to discipline in the sense of teaching morals and values. A child may stop a behavior due to a punishment but has not learned why that behavior is not desirable in terms of ethics/morals/values.

The Domestic Anarchist said...

I agree with most of this. parents should be teachers, not dictators. I like to refer to our home as an "autonomous collective". we have a header of house rules that we all drew up and agreed upon (well, except for our 3 month old), and if we ever have any disagreements in the house, we sit down and work things out to the satisfaction of all, usually with my son speaking for fairness, and my husband speaking for safety, and me mediating. there is no "punishment", just rules that help everyone live together happily. our #1 house rule is respect for all.

Tiecuando said...

Bravo. If I have children, I'll take your advice.

Janey_Monster said...

Wow, i did a search for "Anarcho-parenting, hoping to find information, or maybe just people who are in/have been in my shoes, and your blog came up, it's a great write-up of what i myself believe (down to your thoughts on the use of the term "Good behavior") i take it then that you're a parent as well?

there is a formidable anarchist group here in phoenix. They're mostly immigrants rights protesters, none of which have children, except for me. i've often wondered if i was the only person with anarchist core beliefs ever to concieve... wouldn't that be a tragedy? lol... it's good to know there are other parents trying their best, teaching morality and equality.

w said...

Two thoughts come to mind; I do not subscribe to the "empty vessel" idea. Neither of my children were born empty vessels, they were born with characteristics of their own, as was I.
Second, the "Revolution, It's the Patriotic thing to do" flag logo on the bottom of the page is offensive to me- in my opinion there is absolutely no virtue in patriotism. I believe that you may not have thought this through...

marci said...

Hi! An anarchist mama here-- loving your post. I think it's spot on, 100%.
Someone mentioned an anarchist parenting book in the comments earlier-- can you provide the title?
My partner parent and I just read the book Unconditional Parenting... if you haven't seen that, it's the first thing I've read that seems to come very close to integrating parenting and anarchist thought.
Glad to see other like minded parents out there! <3 and solidarity...

xrodolfox said...

I completely disagree with your article.

I'm an anarchist parent of two, and I've found that "discipline" is not at all the binary approach I use to parenting children that are ethical, hard working, self-directed, and eventually free adults.

I use a modified "unconditional parenting" approach.

What I find is that what ISN'T the norm for parenting styles since the 1900's is consistently parenting and not withholding love or trying to mold the child into a particular image. That is the opposite of the "free love" period where absent parenting was equal to letting the children be "free".

Parenting should be about being there and caring all of the time, and not trying to manipulate the children.

That's quite different than boundaries, which is what I think you mean by "discipline". But frankly, as someone who is a prison abolitionist I can hardly put my children in a "time out" and be able to look myself or my children in the eye. It is VERY EASY to love your children unconditionally and help them succeed without the ego-inflation of the 1990s or the permissive parenting of the 70s.

I think that by putting "discipline" on a pedestal, you undo the hard work of the parents who are actually succeeding in raising children to be ethical responsible adults ready for real anarchy.

Chris Knight said...

I really like and agree with a lot of what has been posted in this blog and the comments to it. Discipline, in terms of enforcing certain boundaries, is important, but so is unconditional love. I believe in allowing children to make their own decisions, while at the same time maintaining that liberty is not license, and they do not have the right to intrude on others rights. When they do something that is in violation of other's rights then I believe that a restorative justice process should be used, and not punishment.