Parenting Beyond the Binary

It seems that whenever two people work together, they inevitably fall into the good-cop bad-cop roles. Though some people manage to have fairly fluid relationships, usually the distinction is clear. This is true with friends, family, and perhaps especially with parents. Did you grow up with two parents? Which one was the disciplinarian? Which one was the softie? Take your personal experience, and even the ones we see in pop culture. A show like Modern Family has three different sets of parents, and in every one, there is clearly one serious parent and another kooky one.

modern fam 2 modern fam 1

Can you guess who's who?

Can you guess which ones are which?

What does this mean for kids growing up? Can you fully encourage them to live outside of gender roles and embrace complicated identities if your parenting is rooted in binaries? Instead of searching for couples that have somehow overcome the good-cop bad-cop compulsion, let’s consider alternative parenting households. The single parent has both the burden and the liberty of being both the authority and the nurturer. In an ideal world, the single-parent household would have a Leviathan type outcome, in which everything works out beautifully under one Parent. However, the difficulties of raising a child seem too great for one individual. And the role of the single parent can devolve into a split personality, in which the one parent switches without continuity from good to bad cop. You get hints of that in the opening scene of Kill Bill Vol. 1, with Vernita and her daughter. (Notice Vernita’s split-personality between 2:30 and 3:50)

Maybe the ideal situation would be for a child to grow up in a collective home. I do not mean polygamy (I think the gender roles are pretty set in stone in that household structure). But maybe a polyamorous household is the only one in which children could benefit from having multiple male and female caregivers, performing multiple varying roles.

Not so bad, right? Just a happy Kibbutz.

Not so bad, right? Just a happy Kibbutz.

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