160: Wanting What’s Best with Sarah Jaffe
There are lots of books available now on how to talk with children about issues related to race, but Sarah W. Jaffe noticed a gap: there weren’t any books geared toward non-academic audiences talking about how the choices that predominantly well-off, predominantly White parents make impact other people. From childcare choices to school to college, at every step of the way we make decisions that reflect Wanting What’s Best for our own child, but very often these decisions are rooted in the fear of our child falling behind in some way, and when we try to elevate our own child we often do it at the expense of others.
Sarah’s book uncovers the ideas that underlie the seemingly innocuous decisions we make so we can ensure that our choices are really aligned with our values. It also provides a great counterpoint to the book that I’m in the process of writing, which will be on the ways we either pass on or disrupt the tools of White supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism to our own children through the daily interactions we have with them that don’t seem to be about anything related to these topics. Publication date September 2023: stay tuned!
Click here to order Sarah W. Jaffe’s book Wanting What’s Best: Parenting, Privilege, and Building a Just World (affiliate link).
(02:37) How our child should engage in the world.
(03:57) Learn why our fears affects how we raise our children.
(05:58) The importance of racism, patriarchy and capitalism conversation in our child.
(07:42) The inadequacies in the system and issues with childcare wages during the 1960s.
(10:07) Why is our Social Security System being unfair and unjust to farm laborers and domestic workers.
(11:45) How should we deal with the childcare systems as privileged parents.
(13:20) The ideal factors in choosing a daycare arrangement between public schools and private ones.
(14:19) Is it a good idea to take the funds from one school and give it to the other schools.
(17:17) How racial makeup of a school does play a big part in the perception of WHITE parents when choosing a school.
(18:57) The good benefits of exposing our kids to a school with a diverse student body.
(19:43) The challenges we experienced as parents while working against racism.
(23:05) Anti-racist work practices that we can start now.
(25:29) The real picture of how colleges and universities consider students seeking financial aid.
(31:42) Should we consider it a parenting failure if our child didn’t attend college.
(33:21) What it means to be a good activist.
(35:56) How does social change start in volunteerism.
(38:26) Money talks with our child.
(40:17) Every part of how we live is infused with capitalism.
(42:20) How would advocating for other children’s rights in the same manner that we advocate for our own children make a better future generation.
Hi, I'm Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives, but it can be soJenny:
Do you get tired of hearing the same old interest in podcast episodes? I don't really but Jen thinks you might. I'm Jenny, a listener from Los Angeles, testing out a new way for listeners to record the introductions to podcast episodes. There's no other resource out there quite like Your Parenting Mojo, which doesn't just tell you about the latest scientific research on parenting and child development, but puts it in context for you as well. So you can decide whether and how to use this new information. I listen because parenting can be scary and it's reassuring to know what the experts think. If you'd like to get new episodes in your inbox along with a free infographic on 13 reasons your child isn't listening to you and what to do about each one. Sign up at YourParentingMojo.com/subscribe. You can also join the free Facebook group to continue the conversation. Over time you might get sick of hearing me read this intro so come and record one yourself. You can read from a script Jen's provided or have some real fun with it and write your own. Just go to your YourParentingMojo.com/recordtheintro. I can't wait to hear yours.Jen Lumanlan:
Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. I have Hannah and Kelty's upbringing to thank for connecting me with today's guest, who is the author of the new book, Wanting What's Best: Parenting Privilege and Building an Adjust World, and that is Sarah W. Jaffe. And it turns out that W is kind of important because there's a lot of Sarah Jaffe in the world, I just realized. Sarah was an attorney for children in the foster care system. But when she became a parent, she realized the stark differences between the children she was representing and the children that her own child was interacting with. And she wondered what her role in the system was to make sure her daughter got the best possible start in life or to try to support all children. And if it was the latter, as a WHITE parent, what was her role in perpetuating systems that can harm some children? And how could she do things differently? Sarah has written about parenting, foster care, and inequities in the healthcare system for Slate Catapult, the rumpus-lit hub and romper. Welcome, Sarah. It's so great to have you here.Sarah:
Thank you so much for having me.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay, I was super excited to read this book. So I guess I want to start out with, why did you write this book? Why did you think it was needed?Sarah:
Well, I think I've heard it said that you should write the books that you want to read. And I think that holds true for my journey to writing this book. There were a lot of parenting books out there that I thought were great. And but they were very narrowly focused sort of on what it means to raise a good person within the walls of your own home. Teaching your kids politeness and compassion and all these other things. That's great. And I do hope to do that as a parent, certainly. But I didn't feel like there was something that really spoke to what you do outside of your home, how you engage in the world. And even the basic questions of how should you equitably set up a childcare arrangement? What does it look like to figure out what school your kids should go to when they're of school age, that was where it came from. I felt like there wasn't something that spoke to those concerns. And I wanted to kind of figure out those answers for myself through writing it.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay. I think you really sort of get to the heart of it in the introduction, when you're talking about why parents make decisions that they do, and specifically WHITE parents, and that we very often make decisions based on fear. Can you talk a little bit about that fear and how that plays out? And how you've maybe seen it in your parents decisions? And how you saw in the people that you interviewed?Sarah:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that we live in a very hyper-stratified society. And that's just a fact where wealth inequality is huge. And the prospects for kids at the top of the income brackets vs. the bottom are vastly different. They might as well not even live in the same country. And so that causes a lot of fear and anxiety. I'm not trying to downplay those concerns or say these disparities don't exist. But I think that when we're ruled by our fear, and when we make decisions, just out of fear, and just out of a concern that, you know, we're not getting everything possible for our own family and our own kid, that's not the best version of ourselves, the best version of our parenting selves or ourselves as humans that we want to be.Jen Lumanlan:
I think it's super easy to get caught up in that sort of capitalist idea right where there is scarcity. And I want my child to have things to have and a relatively easy life. If there's scarcity, then that means that if my child has those things, then another child can't have those things. And it's not like I'm working against the other child. I'm just working for my child.Sarah:
Right. Is that what you found in your research and your reading?Sarah:
Well, I think that parents I talk to, by and large, I love to talk to people who may have experienced that feeling of scarcity but try to get beyond it and are trying to ask a question of, you know, how can we make the pie bigger for everyone, not just how can I make sure that my child has the piece, it's not about all, you know, not doing what you need to do for your own kid. Or is that not even close to what these parents are doing. They're just asking a slightly different question of how can I serve my own family but also the other families in my community?Jen Lumanlan:
Okay, so I guess I do want to be super clear about one thing before we move on to the specific topics that your book covers. And you've talked about how this is sort of work facing out into the world. And I think what you're not saying here is we shouldn't stop talking about race and racism and patriarchy and capitalism to our children. And I actually also layer in the book I'm working on about how the interactions that we have with our children that don't even seem like they're related to those topics, but seem like they're just how we are in the world with our children also have implications for perpetuating those systems. So we're not saying don't have these conversations, don't look at these kinds of things. But that also means we need to be looking outside our homes as well. I think that's what your argument is. Is that right?Sarah:
Yeah, absolutely. And I'm really excited to read your book because I think it's very true and is related to kind of what I wrote about, that all of this is so baked into every interaction that once you see it, you can't unsee it. But right. I mean, I think that we're kind of kidding ourselves, particularly for WHITE families, if you think that we can talk a lot about race, but if our child sees that the schools that, you know, are in their neighborhood are segregated, and we don't ever address that aspect of things with them, they're going to internalize perhaps a different message than we communicated with our words. And that's the gap that this book is trying to bridge.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, absolutely. Okay, So the book sort of follows chronologically through a child's life. And one of the things that I loved most about it is that it's not just a manifesto, right? There are a lot of manifesto kind of books out there. Your book gives the information, but it also gives some really concrete practices that parents can do. So what I'd love to do as we're talking is maybe just give parents just a snippet of the kinds of ideas that they can find in the book as well. So let's start with childcare. Because I know that's the topic that parents happen on first as we enter the world of parenthood. So what did you learn about childcare as you were researching the book?Sarah:
I knew very little about childcare. It turned out I had been a babysitter and a nanny, and I knew the very basics, but I didn't know anything about there's been a long history of activism in this country, particularly Esefora, Elizabeth Momen, Dorothy Lee Bolden, these activists, BLACK women from the south, who I had never heard their names before. Who have you know, since the 1930s been working for fair wages for childcare, I didn't understand the extent to which it literally didn't know how much it cost. Just I had kind of not wanted to actually look at those numbers, I learned the extent of the system's problems and failures, which I had some inkling of before. But this book really brought into sharp focus.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, I think that this is such a hard one for parents because we had a nanny for a stretch of time. And yes, we were paying her above the minimum wage, but even that is in the Bay Area. That's a difficult salary to live on. And yet it was a massive chunk of our pay. It's very difficult to square that circle, as it were. To make those two things fit together. What did you find out about that?Sarah:
I will quote Ai-jen Poo, who's the activist and leader of the Domestic Workers Alliance, who has been doing this work for decades. And her line about it is just that "childcare is not a problem, the market consults" because of exactly what you're talking about. It just doesn't work. It doesn't work on the daycare level, it doesn't work on the in-home childcare, nannies, au pairs are a whole other way of trying to square the circle, that also doesn't really work because of paying someone below minimum wage. This is a clear example where we simply need government subsidies to make this work. And while I was writing, the chapter building back better was in flux, and maybe it was going to get passed, and maybe it wasn't. As we all know, that unfortunately did not happen. But I do feel like conversations that used to be sort of in the childcare activism space about childcare being infrastructure and about the necessity of subsidies were suddenly in the mainstream and becoming part of people's consciousness. So was very disappointing. Of course, I wish I wanted to be able to just basically delete that whole chapter, not that there weren't still some issues to talk about, particularly with nannies that didn't address that. But we're not there yet. But I do have some hopes that It will move the conversation forward.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, And I think it's super important to get back to that conversation about where Social Security came from originally, right? And who that was promised to? I didn't know until somewhat recently that there were two groups of people who were explicitly and deliberately excluded from Social Security. right? You want to tell us about those?Sarah:
Sure, yes, they are farm laborers and domestic workers.Jen Lumanlan:
And who does that affect mostly?Sarah:
That was very explicitly this carving out of BLACK workers in the South. BLACK men were predominantly farm workers, BLACK women were predominantly domestic workers. I didn't realize that either. When you learn about the history of that law in class, I don't remember learning about those rather alarming carvings. The racial motivation is kind of impossible to ignore.Jen Lumanlan:
As we think about, well, what can parents do about this? I was really encouraged by the response of the head of the daycare when one of your interviewees wrote and asked, you know, how much your employee is getting paid. And she basically responded, "Thank you for answering this question." Because when my daughter was in daycare, I kind of felt like that was something I wasn't supposed to touch. right? As a WHITE parent on the beginning of an anti-racist journey, I touched a fair few things. That was something that felt like I shouldn't go there. And now I'm realizing... well, actually, I probably should have asked, how much are they getting paid? Are they getting paid over a minimum wage, because I remember one of your heads of daycare responded, you know, people are getting paid a minimum wage, which wherever they were, it was like 7.25 an hour, but we have a lot of love. And love is awesome. And love also does not pay the rent or the mortgage. So would you advise parents to start there when you're thinking about the ways that you, as a WHITE parent, as a privileged parent, interact with child care systems?Sarah:
Yeah, I feel like it's a very hard question. And I do think that things have even gotten worse. When I wrote that chapter in terms of the number of childcare facilities that have closed down during the pandemic, I think it's something like 16,000 that have closed across the country. And for parents, particularly in some markets, there is just no choice. I mean, they get on every waiting list. They can pay large sums of money to be on the waiting list. If they get that call, they jump at the chance. So we really want to acknowledge that reality and not pretend like we're in some utopian ideal, you know, a beautiful world where we can make a lot of choices about our daycare arrangements. So many places in the country that isnt true. It's not nearly as bad in New York. And actually, I can't ask those questions. And I have. And so I think that having that in your mind, as you know, is a question to ask as definitely a very important factor in choosing a daycare arrangement. Yes, you want a safe, wonderful place for your kid. But is it so important that it says "Montessori" on the front vs. not? You know, this can be part of our decision making in choosing the facility.Jen Lumanlan:
And so once we get through the daycare years, then there's a school year? Yes. And that was a whole different set of decisions. And I think that privileged parents tend to approach this decision-making process in a certain way. Right? Can you tell us what are some of the ideas that we have? What are some of the stories that we tell ourselves and tell other people about schools?Sarah:
Well, I think that in certain circles, there's a very comforting idea that if you choose a public school at all, you've made some kind of amazing investment, you know, in our broader system, and then in equity, and if you can afford a private school, but choose not to send one, you've already done a lot of important work. I don't really think that's an accurate viewpoint. I think that there are plenty of public schools that raise a hell of a lot more money than private schools and serve a wealthier population than some private schools. So the distinction is just not as clean as we'd like to make it. That's part of it.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay, there are definitely places where there's a lot of privilege in the kinds of parents the kinds of families who are in public schools and then sometimes within the same school district.Sarah:
There are situations where that privilege is absent. What did you find there was one set of parents and I don't remember their names, but they were active on their PTAs in the same district. Can you tell us a little bit about that story?Sarah:
Yeah, So those were Biz Lesely Ryan and Tina Carthage in Evanston, Illinois. They were fantastic and had belonged to a school district with I think, 16 schools. One of them had their kids going to a very well-resourced school, one of them didn't, and they jointly shared a vision of what if all the fundraising that happens at our individual schools went into one pot and got redistributed to the schools on an as-needed basis, so we didn't have this, you know, enormous discrepancy of one school is building a new track and one school, you know, can barely keep their copier paper stocked. Because even in an Evanston is a famously progressive city, a small town does discrepancy still existed. And so it took them four years of really serious effort. But they got buy-in from their school district and from the other parents to move to a what they call a "one fund model." That was an exciting story I thought where it just showed, you know, the history of the school district, that's never been the case, there were just always these discrepancies that maybe people noticed, but didn't feel like they could do anything about it. And these parents said, "If you don't need to live like this, this is unacceptable and unfair." And they got the buy-in to change.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, and I think that was the super exciting part of the story for me was that they got the buy in. They saw how these kinds of efforts have failed in other places. And I'm thinking of Malibu, which you quote in the book, which I'd heard of, which is made up of one school district that has one set of very affluent schools and one set of not so affluent schools, and who is it that has been fighting the one pot of money attempt, you know, movement in that direction. It's the WHITE parents who don't want to have their resources diluted and sent to the school where there is greater racial diversity. And so in Evanston, these two folks were super intentional about saying, Yeah, we could force this through. We could pack our committees with people who are favorable to this idea. And then all of it is going to fall apart afterwards. Or we can really do this slowly and hear people's concerns and really make it something that the entire community is invested in. And that's what they did. And to me, it's going to be a much more stable foundation for this to sit on. And something is not going to implode in lawsuits. And who knows what else in two years?Sarah:
Yeah, I hope that too, and they did it in 2020, like in early pandemic days, and it's still going strong. And they have a toolkit for parents who are interested in trying to do it in their own school district. They're trying to replicate the model in other places, too.Jen Lumanlan:
That's really cool. Okay, I guess I also want to talk a little bit about why privileged parents and specifically WHITE parents don't consider some schools? And can you speak a little bit about the racial makeup that's considered okay by privileged parents in a school and what's not considered okay, and why you think that is.Sarah:
There's sociological research about this. And that suggests that well, WHITE and privileged parents, they feel that there's other reasons for considering, you know, test scores, and it doesn't have enough outdoor time, it doesn't have XY and Z, and I'm thinking about an article recently where this woman was quoted in the New York Times, saying "she couldn't possibly consider such and such school because they didn't have a Japanese program." And like, that was the most important thing for her kid. And then, spoiler alert, she sends her kid to a school without a Japanese program that had a very significantly more WHITE makeup than the school that she rejected. So that's kind of what the sociological research tells us. So that's uncomfortable, I think, to confront that, that the racial makeup of a school does have a big part of the perception of what WHITE parents, you know, if they look at it, and consider it a good school or a thriving school, the color of the kids in the building plays a big role of that. There are certainly big disparities in the funding and resources and, you know, teacher training in schools that are more segregated. I think that that's also well documented. It's kind of a hard to pull apart issue. But I think that the research, just being aware of that research and being aware of the fact that WHITE parents and families feel uncomfortable being in the minority in any community, that causes a great sense of discomfort that then, you know, feeds into our perception of the school, maybe not being the right fit for our family.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, and we also, I think, don't acknowledge that discomfort can exist for other folks as well, right? Like, if a school is majority WHITE and there are some kids in the school who aren't WHITE, then you know, it's great. And it's increasing diversity, and it's exposing my child to beneficial effects. And we don't acknowledge the effect that being one of the few non-WHITE kids in a school in a class can have on that.Sarah:
Absolutely, yeah, right. It's this idea that integration looks a certain way. Integration means we invite in a few families of color, typically those who are pretty economically well off, into our school. And Nicole Hannah Jones has the line about how we can brag that our school looks like the United Nations, but that doesn't meaningfully integrate our school system.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay, and I want to quote from the book because I think that this parent has a really interesting perspective. It's a quote from Megan Hester, who's the director of education, justice research, organizing collaborative, and she says, "As a privileged parent, you get to choose your struggle. One struggle is you get thrown into making relationships with people of different classes, races, languages, and religious backgrounds, and going outside your comfort zone. But if you send your school to a more homogenous school, well Its now I have to make sure my kid doesn't live in a privileged bubble and internalize these notions of superiority and entitlement. That's another kind of struggle. But is that really the kind of struggle you want to be engaged in? Do you want all the energy and effort you'll spend fighting for your child's well being to be one of the same with fighting for other kids in your community and for equity? Or do you want it to just further widen the privilege gap?” And I love what she's thinking about this. And I guess I'm curious as to what you think about that quote, and whether you see things in the same way. And and I wonder if the idea of a struggle is part of what makes this difficult for parents, right? It's like, I don't want to struggle.Sarah:
Yeah, is there a way we can reframe it to not be a struggle? Or is that just part of doing anti racist work? Is it a struggle?Sarah:
Yeah, I mean, I think I'm going to go more with the latter. And I had the same desire. I would like to just be able to choose the local school, and it's beautifully diverse, and it checks all the right boxes, and I don't really have to think about it anymore. And you know, instantly, my kid is friends with a beautiful rainbow children. And, you know, all the parents get together in this utopian society. And it's just like, that's just not the reality at all. It is going to be a struggle. And of course, this book is aimed at parents who are already interested in anti-racist work and in figuring out a way to not just consolidate their own child's privilege. So, it's not a struggle if you don't view that as a goal. That quote, I think, is true for the parents, who I consider to be the audience for this book. If you are invested in being a good citizen and a good parent, basically, it is a struggle. There's not just this easy, perfect way to do it.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, because the way our culture teaches us to be in groups of people who are like you, any attempt to step outside that feels uncomfortable. When it's deeply aligned with your values, you're going to do it anyway. And it's hard.Sarah:
The interview was great. And part of it didn't make it into the book. But Eva was sort of lamenting that birthday parties are a lot harder than it would be at a school where the parent group looked more like her and had a similar upbringing to her, like birthday parties were not so much a thing for the majority immigrant community that made up for her kids School, and she was lamenting that and say, you know that I wish it were different. And Megan, who's further along, you know, his kids are older, was saying, "Well, it was for me for a few years. But we've know as I built the relationships, it's gotten easier.” And so all of that was just good to hear. It's unrealistic to expect it to be easy or instant, or that there's not that being outside of your comfort zone is inherently uncomfortable, like guess, is all I'm trying to say.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, for sure. I wonder if maybe you can give us an idea of a practice that parents can start with, right. Like if we're interested in creating a school that's actually supportive of all children. What would be a practice that parents can begin with?Sarah:
Just a few things. One is that schools can do a lot of fancy footwork with demographics, and you know, every school claims to profoundly value diversity on their website. And, you know, to do XYZ for low-income students, it's incumbent upon parents to look behind those numbers, you know, and see if they're really walking the walk, or if it's essentially about just a slogan on the website. And then it's a lot about building relationships with lower income families with families whose children may have different needs than yours, and finding out from them how the school is working for them. It might be great for your family and your kid and for your neighbor's kid. It's a completely different experience. And I think,it's just part of the spirit of the book is about trying to get out of our own household bubbles and our own isolation and more of a spirit of community and starting there and figuring out how do other people feel, you know, the schools working for them, particularly if they are a foster parents or parents of a disabled children, you know, these groups that tend to get totally left out.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, and perhaps there are things that they've been asking the school for some period of time. And then we come in and if the first thing we're asking for is a Japanese program, then perhaps that's not necessarily supportive of what will actually help the most children in the school.Sarah:
Absolutely, absolutely. Right. That is the framework of nice WHITE parents. Another Megan Hester quote said, "If you move through the world with privilege you think that what you want is what everyone else wants you assume.” Well, this would benefit everyone. And maybe you're right, but if you don't actually hear from the community and hear from the people affected, you don't know if you're right.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, absolutely. Okay, great. And so, we've made it through schools, going to college maybe. Which I think it could be entirely own topic for podcast. Is the idea particularly in the US, I think it's less so in England, where I'm from, but the decision is automatic, you're going to go to college or there is some kind of failure on somebody's part, and probably on the child's part, and maybe on the parents' part too, but let's just say for the sake of argument right now that our child is going to go to college, what should we know about that? and you talk a lot about the cost of college in the book specifically. So I wish we knew about it.Sarah:
Yeah, so I thought it was very interesting to learn that colleges price themselves, as one journalist said, like airlines do they're trying to induce you to come to their school to bring dollars to their school. And the way they do that is that a lot of the financial aid goes to families who aren't in the most desperate need of financial aid. They instead give these merit scholarships to students that are sort of a discount of the full tuition, and to try to get them in the door and bring you know, they they're still paid 60–70% of the cost. So that was really interesting. And I think that families, you know, understandably, are very proud when they get merit scholarships, their college bound kid gets a scholarship that's viewed as, you know, gold star parenting, there's a whole machine behind the curtain that's really all about dollars. It's about getting the kids who can bring tuition dollars. They just get into schools easier, which doesn't mean the college admission process is not incredibly competitive for all kids. It is. If you're a kid who needs a full ride to get in, it's a much, much steeper hill. It just is. And I didn't realize I had Oh, yeah, need blind admissions is just the standard. That's just not it's, yeah, a few colleges are truly need blind, and they tout that very loudly. But that's not the majority of our higher education system.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, it's not and I think ultimately can come down to who can tell the better sob story, right. I mean, I was actually lucky enough to go to Berkeley on a full ride scholarship. I mean, this was 15 years ago now. And every semester, they would try and get me for non-resident tuition. But I was actually a resident of California. Again, send them their $27,000 bill back and get this scholarship for $3,000. That would cover my tuition. But ultimately, I did not have an easy time until that point, and had come out of a marriage that was somewhat damaging. And basically, if you're telling that story, I think it was probably something that helped me to get that scholarship. And, you know, I was financially alone, of course, and not making much money. And I think I've read elsewhere as well, that you're basically, you know, it's like trauma porn, right? You're trying to tell the worst possible version of your story so that you can appear needy enough to get this full-ride scholarship. I mean, is that how we want to be judging our young people's potential?Sarah:
That's something really important, which is that we, as a culture, we love the story of, you know, the homeless kid who gets a road scholarship for the immigrant kid whose parents work six jobs, and now he got a full ride to Harvard, and they're great and happy for those kids. But that's not the vast majority of how, you know, our populace is going to get educated. Those are extreme exceptions. The majority of low-income kids, a lot of them get snapped up by the for-profit college system, which is its own bad actor, you know, taking kids' dollars and leaving them with very little to show for it. And if they get steered in the right direction, 1000s and 1000s of people go to community college, but we talk about college, I think, you know, in privileged circles, like Harvard, and Williams, and Berkeley, and that's what the system is. That's what college certainly meant to me. And those are really have very little to do with the broader higher education system. It's the community college, the state university, you know, the public universities educate hundreds of thousands more kids than the schools that the elite colleges do. So I think the writing in the chapter really helped me to see that clearly and see that's where the investment and our attention needs to be spent and much less attention on the one kid who made it into Harvard stores.Jen Lumanlan:
Yep. And I should acknowledge that I spent my first two years of community college. Actually, four different community colleges based on which one offered night classes that would fit my schedule. And I would say, I know that that was looked down on at least twice as I progressed through higher education. Oh, you went to how many community colleges? Oh, you went to community college? You didn't do all of those four years at Berkeley? Yeah, and so there's still that stigma there as you progress.Sarah:
Absolutely. And your story is just so much more common than as a way to get through school. And of course, ideally, you would not have to have gone before to different schools, like going in and making college more equitable and accessible to everyone involves real investment in community colleges more than it involves trying to get these elite small liberal arts colleges to get more scholarship money are wonderful. But in terms of our attention, it has the most impact. I think it's more of the former than the latter.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, I was always proud of myself for never once showing up at the wrong college on the wrong day. And so I wonder, are there practices that parents because most of the folks who listen to the show are parents who have younger children who are thinking ahead to college and their future? Should we be saving for it? Is it even possible for us to save for it? What's maybe one practice that a parent who's in that boat right now could be thinking about?Sarah:
Doing simple work to try to decouple in our mind, the idea that the end goal of our parenting journey is such and such elite college, it's challenging, because that point of view is pretty pervasive in certain circles, accepting the idea, that's just a very narrow, frankly, depressing way to view your child's life and broadening your picture of what a successful future could look like. Some of it's just about seeing the bigger picture if you're not there yet. And there's some helpful books to read in the further reading section of that chapter that I think have helped me a lot there. I do hope my daughter goes to call hitch. She has a 529 plan set up by my own parents, and that's part of what makes her a particularly privileged child is that we have that already understanding. And that's not something that everyone has and thinking about more than just what does higher education look like? But you know, how can I be a part of supporting higher education in this country as a whole? There's a lot of it.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, you're pretty open in the book about how the extent to which higher education has played a role in your family. Yes, there are generations of college, not just college graduates, but college leaders. So this is sort of baked into the narrative of who you are, right? What it mean to be part of your family? And I think that this idea of sort of letting go of his attachment to well, my child will go to college, and if they don't go to college, then I have somehow failed as a parent, and that maybe we could get to the point where we could think to ourselves, my child could go to college, my child could not go to college, and either way, my child would be okay. And that doesn't reflect on my ability as a parent.Sarah:
Absolutely, this stigma you talked about community college, I mean, I would love to see this next generation of parents move away from that, recognize those institutions as valuable and fantastic, and frankly, a lot more reasonably priced. The tuition is just getting so absurd at private universities that I guess I have a little bit of hope that it will, that people will eventually run screaming and decide to invest in supporting the working class colleges. Colleges which actually do a good job of moving kids who are from the bottom income brackets, and 10 years later, they're making more than their parents did. That's not the elite private colleges. They do that for a few kids. Your state university system is doing that for a lot more kids.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, for sure. Okay, you have a chapter in the book on what it means to be a good activist. What does it mean to be a good activist?Sarah:
An activist at all is a funny label, because anyone can call themselves that. And people who are pushing to make sure that their kids never encounter a gay person or a person of color in their school library also consider themselves activists. The activists that I talked to for this chapter, there are a few things that I think have made them successful. And I did want to talk to people who'd accomplished real change. I think that the parents I talked to make projects they're involved in just a regular part of their life, it's not kind of like it comes and goes. It's a part of their family's identity, it's a part of what they do. They are always at work, trying to move the ball forward, whether it's getting universal childcare, improving the foster care system, or whatever really speaks to them. I also thought it was important to hear that an activist and a savior are not the same thing. It is very appealing to the idea that we can fix all the problems, and we can swoop in and save our community from what Al said. And that's not really how it works, usually. And usually, if you feel like you've been the Savior, then you haven't listened to the people who are most affected by the problem. So that was a lot of it. Recording this on the day that Roey Wade was overturned. I mean, there's no shortage of pressing social problems. And I was inspired by the parents who kind of got things done on a local level. They were still engaged with these big national conversations. They figured out what they could actually accomplish on a local level, and then they just did a lot of the work that was not glamorous, like, a lot of what it takes to achieve social change is making sure the chairs and coffee are there for the meeting and less about talking to the newspaper reporter and having your picture.Jen Lumanlan:
Particularly having your child start their own charity, right?Sarah:
Yeah, I mean, those are adorable. But that's not what actual social change looks like. Is having your child look adorable and start to save the rainforest charity. Yeah, I mean, I was that kid. And my parents were supportive as they were not trying to get me in the newspaper or to even, you know, they were encouraged by social justice leanings, without any kind of triumph that aimed it as some achievement for them or me, because I didn't actually know what it took to achieve social change at nine years old.Jen Lumanlan:
No one does.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, if we knew that then. And so I guess I'm wondering where does volunteering fits into this. This is something that I haven't been super comfortable with for a long time. We actually talked with Dr. John Powell, probably a year or more ago now. And he talks about the idea of othering other people, and it's almost like volunteering is an invitation to other people because you don't volunteer in your community very much. You just do work together. Sometimes, maybe if that's even part of your community, you volunteer with somebody else in somebody else's community, which is "needy" in a way that your community is not. So do you see volunteering having a role to play here? Or is it more sort of, like mutual aid is the direction we should be going?Sarah:
I certainly hadn't made the distinction at all before I started reading this chapter of just doing good work. And good work is good work. And who cares what you call it? But, I do think that it is an important distinction. That mutual aid is about viewing that the community also has things to offer you and you're all in a community together, as opposed to your, you know, beneficent person giving your time or your money to the needy. They do think it's an important shift and framework, even if some of the work may look the same. But, proper volunteering does not encourage you to listen to the people who you are supposedly surveying. You're being told by some organization that these are what these people need.Jen Lumanlan:
And maybe they've talked to the people who haven't any.Sarah:
Exactly, exactly. Yeah, and I think it's also like, I'm not going to tell people not to take their kids to a food bank or soup kitchen. I mean, that's, it's like, being sure that you do see yourself as in part of a community rather than separate from the people who have greater needs than you, I think is very important. I did not grow up with that message at all. My high school did this thing called, they still have it, urban plunge, where you go volunteer in the community and then you come back and you talk about, like, how you learned, you know, how much better your life has been there basically.Sarah:
So those are the messages I got. I would definitely be lying. If I said that my brain doesn't still go there sometimes, you know, that's the more comfortable place. And it was only three years ago that I learned about mutual aid.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, Okay, So I think that segues nicely into the last topic of the book, which is about money, right? And how we use that to benefit our child or to benefit more than just our own child. What do you want parents to know about that?Sarah:
Some of it is about, you know, the messages that we give our kids. A message that is easy and comfortable is about, you know, we're generous. We give to the less fortunate. We have more than they do. Less comfortable conversation to have is to say, "Well, it's unfair that we have more and this is part of redistributing and making things more fair, but they're still not fair." I'm not engaged in such radical wealth distribution that I can tell my daughter that I've made things fair. Certainly not. It's my family, as you talked about, has generations of wealth that are this solid foundation beneath my feet and her feet, and a lot of it was because we're WHITE, we've benefited from certain laws, and we have been able to amass property and wealth in a way that other families have always been excluded from. I'm not having that conversation with my four-year-old. That's the idea I have. That's the way I'm trying to lead.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, and I think that's really important, because otherwise we will perpetuate the same ideas that you and I were raised with, which is basically not to talk about it, right? What we have is something that we earned, something that we deserve because we worked for it. And implicitly, other people who don't have that didn't work as hard, don't deserve it. I have one friend who actually is no longer using the phrase "earn," like I don't earn money, because that implies that what I do has more value than what somebody else does to also earn, right? It's just money that I have. And to decouple that idea from I am doing things that are that are deserving of money, the ideas around capitalism are so baked into every aspect of how we live our lives, from our kids' setting up corner shops in their bedrooms to sell a stuffies to starting their own lemonade stands, to the textbooks that assume that the way that we want to be a good citizen is to go out and buy more stuff.Sarah:
So if we don't counter that narrative, that is the message our children are getting.Sarah:
Absolutely, yeah, I couldn't agree more. And then there's a lot of messages that your duty as a parent is to set aside a pot of money for your kids future. And yes, their inheritance, you know, that's baked into our laws and our conventions and all of that. So I thought, you know, interviewing the people I did about preparations were about mutual aid, about moving money to people who need it now rather than waiting till the end of your life, when people need it now is the bottom line. And again, this is not something I feel like I have, you know, reached some perfect place with figuring out what feels like I can responsibly give and what do I still need to meet my family's needs. It's an ongoing question. It's an ongoing struggle, but I'm glad to be engaged in it in a way I wasn’t before reading the book.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, the answer of avoiding all taxes that you possibly can now and making that pot bigger, and then putting your name on something. At a college when you die. Is that the best possible use of the pool of money that we have access to? As a society? And quite possibly not?Sarah:
It is perhaps not. It is among the more absurd uses of money.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, right. When you think about it in that context.Sarah:
Yes, yes.Jen Lumanlan:
Yes, that's have my name carved in stone on something. Is there one idea that you would like to leave parents with as they are going out into the world today, interacting with the world, and, of course, going in buying your book and digging more into each of these ideas? Because we just kind of give you a nugget of what's in each chapter. What's one idea that you would want parents to take out into the world today?Sarah:
Well, I think in the introduction, they say that, you know, the pervasive message and the culture of modern parenting is that you owe your own child everything, you owe other children nothing at all. And trying to shift to that at any shift in that framework would make a big difference. Because I do think it's that extreme, I think we really get the message that we do not owe our resources, our time, our advocacy, or anything, to a child that doesn't live in our home. And that's led us to a place of deep, you know, stratification and diminished opportunities, and really a diminished version of all of our futures. And so if we can change that and think about fighting for other kids the way we fight for our own, we will have a much better future generation than we would if we continue with this status quo.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, and just thinking about how that applies more broadly, as well, and how we fight for ourselves and all of the people within our little nuclear family and ignore, I mean, we're taught that things, nuclear families are the proper way to have family. And the nuclear family living in the next house ever from mine is different from mine. And I need to make sure I get what I need, maybe they can get what they need to. But that's their struggle, right? That's their thing. Instead of seeing our needs as one in the sense of taking that idea out broadly into the world as well, and seeing the connections between us and everybody else around us, and that’s so important.Sarah:
Yeah, thank you so much for being here Sarah and for writing a book that's really I think, going to not just explain the ideas to parents, but actually give us some practices that we can take out into the world and do things differently.Sarah:
Thank you so much for having me.Jen Lumanlan:
So listeners can find links to Sarah's book wanting what's best parenting privilege and building a just world at YourParentingMojo.com/wantingwhatsbest, and there's no punctuation and all that. Thanks so much, and I'll see you again soon.Jenny:
Hi, this is Jenny from Los Angeles. We know that you have a lot of choices about where you get information about parenting, and we're honored that you've chosen us as we move toward a world in which everyone's lives and contributions are valued. If you'd like to help keep the show ad free, please consider making a donation on the episode page that Jen just mentioned. Thanks again for listening to this episode of the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Don't forget to head YourParentingMojo.com/recordtheintro to record your own messages for the show.
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