10 Ways Progressive Parents Parent Differently, And Why
by Sabrina Joy Stevens

When I first started working in the progressive nonprofit world, I was amused by my friends who told stories of growing up among generations of union organizers, political operatives, outspoken professors, writers, artists, public intellectuals, and more. It struck me as strange and exciting, since I didn't grow up that way at all. My own personal and political awakening began in my late teens and continued throughout my twenties, as I actively fought against the “work hard and keep your mouth shut” conditioning that prevailed in my family. As I've become a parent, I've discovered that there are certain ways that progressive parents parent differently from other parents.

Progressive parents are more common than you might think, and progressive parenting isn't at all limited to people who make politics their daily work. Indeed, there is a fair amount of political diversity among progressive parents, because our focus isn't on raising kids who think a certain way so much as on embracing an authoritative (rather than authoritarian) framework for relating to our kids, as well as on raising kids who have generally pro-social values.

There are lots of parenting styles and choices represented among progressive parents. Progressive parents breastfeed and formula feed, co-sleep and don't, birth in a variety of locations and ways, and carry their children in whatever works best for them. Our kids attend public and private schools, or are home or unschooled. We include blended families and nuclear ones, headed by single parents, same sex couples, poly folks as well as straight couples, who may or may not be married. We're lots of different races and live in lots of different places. Yet, with all of this diversity, there are certain things progressive parents have in common, including the following ways we tend to parent differently:

We Explain More Than We Direct

Progressive parents typically don't rely on “because I said so!” as a means of getting our kids to cooperate with us. We're not going to let our kids run into traffic, of course, but aside from life and death situations, we will often take the time to talk with (even very young) kids about what's going on and why it's going on, instead of simply ordering them around.

We Value Critical Thinking Over Obedience

That tendency to explain rather than direct is part of a larger belief among progressive parents, rooted in the idea that critical thinking and learning are how we make (or should make) decisions, and it's an important practice that starts and can be facilitated at a young age. We encourage our kids to participate, as they are able, in decision making in our daily lives, and may even support them to challenge our and others' authority in situations where it's appropriate.

We Treat Our Children Like Autonomous People

Progressive parents understand that our children are not merely extensions of us, but are whole people in their own right and who have certain, undeniable rights. That's why we want to make sure they participate (as much as they can) in decisions that affect them. After all, that's something all people have a right to do, and something they will need to do more and more as they begin to live independently of us.

We Tackle Big Issues…

Conversations about identity and social issues that might go unspoken in other homes are common for progressive parents. We understand that power and identity affect all aspects of how we live our lives, so we work to help our kids understand those issues, and ensure that they know home is a safe place to ask questions about and unpack issues related to race, class, gender, ability status, and more.

...So We Try Not To Sweat The Small Stuff

There's a limit to how much a person can do and prioritize. While we make a point of ensuring that our kids are learning our egalitarian values, we aren't always as insistent about things like appearance or keeping things perfectly neat and tidy.

We Approach Rules Differently

In addition to accepting some of our kids’ input about how things should run around the house, many progressive parents adopt a less-is-more approach to rules. We often try to keep the phrase "do not" to a minimum, and essentially limit the number of power struggles and conflicts we have to engage in with our kids. Instead, we prefer to focus on creating a safe and flexible environment, making parts of our homes a “yes space,” as much as possible, and modeling and promoting the kinds of behavior we want to see.

We're Not Afraid To Apologize Or Admit Mistakes

Parenting is tough, in every possible way, and no one can ever be perfect at it. Parenting can be especially difficult for those of us who are trying to raise our own kids differently than we were raised. Progressive parents know that it doesn't diminish our authority or our value (as parents) to admit to our children when we make mistakes and explain to them what we intend to do to make it right. Indeed, modeling how to make amends after hurting others reinforces one of the skills were trying to instill in our kids.

We Try To Teach Instead Of Punish

Progressive parents don’t believe that our children are innately "bad," or that it’s our job to “break” them so they can be decent people. We understand that our children are born worthy of love and belonging, and that they’re just new to the world and need us to guide them and help them understand how things work. When they make mistakes, we make sure they know what the rules are, and we rely on natural or logical consequences rather than doling out arbitrary punishments.

We See Behavior As Communication

Instead of using behavior as a means of assessing whether our children are inherently “good” or “bad,” progressive parents see behavior as a way to express or meet a need. For example, if a child is acting cranky, we try to figure out what their unmet needs are (like food or rest or connection or fear) instead of judging, shaming, or punishing them for how they’re acting.

We Parent For The Bigger Picture

Progressive parents may not all agree on what a "perfect world" would ultimately look like, but we do know that how we raise our kids affects the kind of world we ultimately live in. We know we're not just keeping our kids safe, happy, and healthy now, we’re also raising someone else's future partners, neighbors, and so much more. Whether we’re teaching our kids about consent, making sure they understand privilege, raising them to be body positive, or anything else, we’ve got our eye on how our parenting choices not only affect our families, but the broader communities to which we belong and contribute.