When Principles and Parenthood Collide

Self on 06.24.11
Contributor bio | twitter

If Che drove a mini-van, would students still think he was cool?
Image credit: James Emery, used under Creative Commons license.

I consider myself an environmentalist. And i consider myself a liberal. I compost. I've installed solar water heating. And my wife and I are at least trying to exert some moderation regarding the amounts of plastic crap that parenthood has brought into our lives

Bowing to the Inevitable?

Yet as we await the arrival of our second child, I am reluctantly embarking on a quest that I have always scorned: the search for a bigger car. I'm not quite ready to jump in an SUV, but I am looking at something just a little more spacious, and perhaps a little safer, than our current ride. Sadly, that almost certainly means worse gas mileage too.(The 7-seater Prius being out of reach for some time to come...)

It's a tricky conundrum. Assuming you don't buy into the anti-science nonsense that's been floating around the airwaves in recent years, most parents know that our kids face some tough challenges regarding the impacts of climate change or the impending reality of peak oil. Yet we also know that it is damn hard to cram two kids, a weeks' worth of groceries and a whole bunch of plastic toys (hey, I said I was exerting some moderation!) in the back of your average car and stay sane. We also know that larger cars are, on the whole, a little safer - for those inside them at least.And, i would argue, most of us know that our own individual choices are only one part of a much larger puzzle - a puzzle that must be fixed with systemic solutions for what is, after all, a systemic problem.

Social Pressure to "Do the Right Thing"

Of course there is also a flipside to all this. Those parents who choose to buy smaller cars, or perhaps even bike with their kids on the back of a trailer, may find themselves the object of social disapproval from friends, family or even strangers. One Parentables colleague of mine mentioned how her mother-in-law won't even step into her hybrid for fear of death, and at least one cyclist has been shot in the head for riding a bike with their kid on the back.

The Diaper Dilemma

Choice of car isn't the only trade off between parental concerns (and conveniences) and the greater good. Many of us bleeding heart parents use cloth diapers - yet I'll admit that when it comes to heading out in public, we usually have some bleech-free disposables close at hand.And I've heard from more than one die-hard cloth diaper advocate who leaned heavily on disposables once the second, or third, kid arrived.

Is School Choice a Political Statement?

And then there are the social concerns. Until I had kids, I was always uneasy with the idea of private schools - including the plethora of "alternative" schools from Montessori to Waldorf that seem to serve the socially concerned, yet so often privileged, among us. After all, the more our education system is divided, the more our children will only meet others like themselves. And the more that those with the means to do so take their kids out of the public school system, the less incentive there will be for the powers that be to make resources available for the students that remain.

And yet, when I look at the public school system there is so much that runs counter to what I believe it. From its overly strong focus on testing to discipline to a college/career-centric worldview, I can't help but wonder whether some of these alternative schools are, after all, a saner choice.

Principles and Pragmatism Must Always Co-Exist

Ultimately though, such conflicts are not exclusive to parenthood. And they are not exclusive to the liberals among us. Whether you are a Tea Party activist, a pro-life Conservative or a treehugging vegan, having principles is inherently tricky. And having principles and trying to live in the real world will inevitably result in a need to compromise.

I've written before in defence of hypocrisy - or, more accurately, in defence of the idea that none of us are even close to perfect. The fact is that we should all do what we can, when we can. But we should also be aware that we cannot fix the world by ourselves - and we cannot simply consider our kids as tools for expressing our own personal, political or religious beliefs. We need to stand by our principles, but we also need to be aware that we live in the real world - and we have to be pragmatic about when and how far to compromise in the interests of staying sane, safe, or simply cutting ourselves some slack.

And as for the choices of others, I'll say it once again - "judge not" must be the first rule of parenting.

More on Parenting and Sustainability

Must Parenthood Equal Consumerism?
Can Parents Still Worry About Overpopulation?

Why I Killed Baby Ava

Tags: Zen