How to Parent As a Punk

Raising a kid in opposition to borrowed beliefs and institutional power means nurturing and protecting the wildness and openness they are born with.

Kids are born punk.

I don't mean they dig the Ramones onesie you bought them or enjoy listening to Converge in the car. I mean they embody the best of what punk rock has always told itself it is: raw and real and compassionate and open to all manifestations of love. Oh, and they complain a lot. As they should—the world is shitty and terrifying in many ways, and one of the scarier things about the world is the way it slowly but surely perverts and pathologizes our innate love and compassion, so that we might be afraid enough to embrace phony cures, poisonous ideologies and subpar Marvel movies.

Raising a kid in opposition to borrowed beliefs and institutional power means nurturing and protecting the wildness and openness they are born with. There are many ways to do this. I turned to punk rock as a teenager to relearn my heart's true beat, and even though I grew disillusioned with the culture, I retained my faith in the power of community and collective struggle.

It is this faith I have decided to raise my child in, and I lean on lessons learned from DIY punk scenes when I think about how I want to communicate the beauty of that faith to my kid. The flawed advice that follows is written from a punk perspective, but I believe it might be of use to anyone who wants their kids to reject what is untrue and fight for what is right.

Year One

The first thing you should do is vaccinate your baby. Whatever you do after that is none of anyone's business, as long as you love your child in a way that helps them become a decent version of themselves.

But if punk rock taught me anything—beyond the obviously true fact that Green Day is the best band in the world—it's that communities of kindred spirits are vital for human happiness. The nuclear family can be a loving and caring zone, as well as an agent of isolation and alienation.

Your kid will eventually find their own chosen family, one that nurtures them in ways you cannot, but it's never too early to introduce the concept of community. Take your child to house shows, where they will absorb the sights and sounds of a shared joy that exists beyond the confines of family and commerce. It's like church, basically, but it won't start on time and you have to bring your own wine.

Recommended soundtrack: Sleeping Lessons by Alien Boy, Hello Hello by Divers

Year Two

Your lump of bottomless need is now saying a few words, utterances bracketed by incoherent nonsense. They are ready to enter the world of activism! Their leveling up will dovetail nicely with your redoubled interest in making the future a more livable hell.

Oppression will not magically disappear. Income disparity will not fix itself. Pale gargoyles in gray suits will not suddenly stop despoiling the planet. Your child will learn these harsh facts simply by being in the world. You have to show them there are people who channel their despair and outrage into necessary acts of rebellion.

You don't have to get super radical. My dad, by no means a leftist or someone who even cared about politics, brought me to the picket line when he was a striking steelworker, and I found out what solidarity meant. In that particular case, it meant dudes standing around eating doughnuts in the wan light of dawn and refusing to work. I don't know what solidarity means to you, but whatever it is, show your kid. They have some big fights ahead of them.

Recommended soundtrack: The System Works for Them by Aus Rotten, True Self Revealed by Spitboy

Year Three

Stay-at-home and work-from-home parents: Your kid needs friends, and you need a few hours to yourself once in a while. It's time for preschool.

Your financial and temporal resources will help make this decision for you, but if you can swing it, I recommend joining an affordable co-op preschool. I know what you're thinking: "Co-ops are buzzing hives of ideological in-fighting and sneaky power grabs and mismanaged resources." And you are right! You will find such nagging aggravations in a preschool co-op, but it's totally worth the hassle.

As a co-op member, you will work weekly shifts at your child's school and take care of other kids as if they were your own. You will learn how to love other children, and your child will witness this love. They will see that family love is not the only kind of love, that we all must look out for each other.

You may find yourself holding three to four bawling kids close to your chest as a classroom devolves into total chaos. You may find yourself deeply invested in a lengthy parental debate about what kind of sand to buy for the playground. You may find yourself stunned by how much you care about a bunch of kids you didn't even know existed a month ago.

It might not be as romantic as the intentional communities you dreamed about joining as a young punk. But raising a kid isn't about romance. It's about wiping some other kid's shit off a wall because you believe we are in this together.

Recommended soundtrack: The Feeding of the 5,000 by Crass, The Shit Split by Blatz/Filth

Year Four

You are starting to realize your child is not a mini you. They don't want to listen to Aus Rotten in the car. They think house shows are boring. They complain at union meetings because union meetings are also boring. They are not wrong.

They have probably fallen deeply in love with a pop-culture phenomenon that repels you. They are picking up ideas that don't necessarily jibe with the existence you have carefully curated for them. All of this is great. They are beginning to recognize themselves as an autonomous being.

Let them know you have their back. Let them know your choices do not have to be their choices.  Let them know you love them. Maybe listen to some music that was made this century. Whatever you do, keep your friends close and encourage your child to do the same. We need to do this work together.

Recommended soundtrack: NVM by Tacocat.

An Adult's Guide to What's Hot in Children's Entertainment 

How to Navigate the Awkward World of New Parent Relationships

 A New App For Connecting Lonely Moms Has Found a Huge Audience in Portland 

Infiltrating Stroller Strides, the Workout Class for New Moms 

How to Parent As a Punk 

Every Parent Needs a Break. Here Are 10 Indoor Places in Portland to Bring Your Kid When You're Desperate For a Breather.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.