Regardless of the risks of simplifying parenting, I want to consider the idea of being a friend-parent. (The Gilmore Girls make it so appealing.) But rather than thinking of it as a kind of person - someone who is flawed or not flawed depending on where you stand - I want to think of the friend-parent as cognitive framework, an approach parents adopt intentionally that aligns with other their ideologies. To do so, I want to use Paulo Freire's The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Why? First and foremost, I do so because it is a theory that pays pays attention to power dynamics and the "Friend parent" is critiqued for abdicating parental authority. However, I should also say that I turn to Freire because I think educational pedagogies are a potential fount of parental wisdom. After all, much of critical pedagogy is not a theory of education so much as theory of relationship.
Reading Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy is (to me) like eating popcorn at a movie theater. It's classic. It still moves me, even though plenty of my students and friends have pooh-poohed it as old hat. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire famously outlines his "banking theory." It is a story of education where students are void depositories (subjects) and teachers are active depositors (objects). I recognize that I'm a bit of a Freire-fan-girl. But indulge me for a brief minute.
While the "banking theory" - the students as piggy banks/teachers as dictators - is fairly well known, some of Freire's other thought is little covered. I want to touch on some of that here. Elsewhere, I've compared Freire's theory of banking education to what I call 'investment parenting' - the idea that parents are deposting things into children to properly develop them. Here, however, I want to talk about some of the more prickly parts, namely the way Freire discusses how banking education kills. He says this kind of education is a kind of necrophelia, a love of death. He writes
In other words, he suggests that the banking method is an issue of control - and that control kills. How does this relate to the friend-parent? I'm glad you asked. Before I can fully explain the connection, I need to add one more important thing about Freire's theory. What he advocates is avoidance of this "death" (hierarchy and oppression), is a education where there are student-teachers and teacher-students who solve problems together. In other words, he suggests a blurring of roles - somewhat like the blurring that we think of as happening in the friend-parent.
Perhaps the reason that the friend parent is such a hot topic is because our society offers us no consistent way to deal with authority. After all - hierarchy is bad, right? Unless you want to get rich...or...run a successful non-profit...or...well, there's a lot of hierarchy in our world. But for the most part SOCIAL and RELATIONAL hierarchy is frowned on. We shouldn't have authority over other people based on race, gender, sexual orientation. But...where does authority over children fit into this? The friend-parent is a result of a culture that is deeply confused about power, authority, and (consequently) parental authority.
I've already suggested that there is a fundamental flaw in critiquing other parents because the work we do in parenting is never ONE - because different situations and different children require different things. Here, I want to go a step further and suggest that part of the difficulty of critiquing other parents is that deeply confused. Frankly, I'm surprised parents are doing as well as they are. That is, we live in a society that bites the hand that feeds it. Capitalism demands ranks and power and independence - but equality demands the dissolution of ranks and cooperation. The work of loving and caring for a child is tricky in a world where this conflict occurs.
Because we are so often fixated on issues of authority, we often neglect discussing certain realms of parenting. Which brings me back to death and parenting. I often think about parenting and death - and not simply because giving birth was a flash of death - but because I think Freire's concerns in education are valid to think through where rearing children is concerned. Is there a risk of passing "dead" information on to children? And what would "live" information look like? If a child is reprimanded for something they don't understand - is that a "dead" idea? If a child is forced to repress their feelings, hopes, and ideas, is that a kind of death? Are acts of discipline death - or is a kind of pruning that allows for the fullness of life to be directed more productively?