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“Wanting What’s Best: Parenting, Privilege, and Building a Just World”

Shot of the book "Wanting What's Best: Parenting, Privilege, and Building a Just World" by Sarah W. Jaff sitting face-up on a white table, with a plastic yellow toy truck in the upper lefthand corner and a sparkly pink New Year's party hat in the upper righthand corner.

A practical and inspiring book about parenting decisions both large and small.

As we begin making and breaking our New Year’s resolutions, a new book by Sarah Jaffe, Wanting What’s Best: Parenting, Privilege, and Building a Just World, offers up another kind of intervention: insights and practical tools for parents or caretakers who want to better live their values. In this practical and inspiring book, Jaffe breaks down a range of small and large parenting-related decisions, and how these decisions can either further advantage children with privilege or stop widening inequities and advance justice.

When examining childcare, Jaffe pushes parents to consider the implications of different options for those who are providing the care, whether it’s center-based care, in-home nannies, or family and friend care. For center care, this means asking questions about worker compensation and conditions; for in-home care, this means looking at how you’re showing up as an employer. Jaffe writes about Hand in Hand, a network of domestic employers who are organizing people to “demand dignity and fairness for domestic workers,” and who provide guidance in the form of a “Fair Care Pledge.”

But Jaffe isn’t just sweating over how to move through the system already given us, she also recognizes that childcare in the US is thoroughly broken and acknowledges the lack of good (and affordable) choices. Readers who are ready and eager to begin making something different will appreciate her spotlight on the inspiring work of a coalition of parents in Portland who passed a ballot measure to guarantee universal preschool for all three- and four-year-olds in their county, a measure that, if done carefully and well, could help advance equity. (What could we learn from this effort in Madison? What could we do here? If you’re interested in exploring this, please contact us!)

In fact, Jaffe provides a string of real-life examples from parents around the country to provide us with something we’re so often lacking, other models for not only considering these questions but doing and acting differently. In a chapter on “Money, Wealth, and Legacy,” it felt reassuring to read about other parents who are engaging their children in conversations about race-based wealth gaps (rooted in stolen land, stolen labor, and economic policies advantaging white people), their families’ connections to that history, and their subsequent decisions around money today.

In privileged circles, it can feel like you’re the only one not stockpiling money for six-figure college educations and reading these examples makes me feel more grounded (and sane) in making redistribution a part of our family’s learning. Jaffe refers to a resource called Reparations4Slavery,which offers useful guidance on how to create a family plan for repair, which was really helpful when my family sat down to make end-of-year contributions to various local and national Black- and Indigenous-led social justice organizations.

I was also happy to see a chapter devoted to activism, mutual aid, and organizing included in a book about “good parenting.” For FFJ, we certainly see these as essential, and the ideas shared here felt affirming for much of what we’re trying to do, including involving your children in your activism, pushing your thinking and actions to benefit broader notions of “our children” and “our community,” and recognizing the importance of behind-the-scenes, less glamorous support (especially when your privilege and socialization nudges you to take the lead and the spotlight).

On that same note, Jaffe also graciously offers some cautions on the “darker side of activism,” citing the common phenomenon of privileged parents - who tend to have connections and resources and who are accustomed to being the most vocal and the most listened to - derailing the activism of BIPOC leaders. In short, when you’re not aware of how your privileges are showing up in your activism, you may be doing more harm than good. For those of us with multiple privileges in FFJ, this is a great reminder to keep talking about this.

Bottom line, Jaffe reminds us that we do more to benefit our children when we work together, for all children, than we do when we focus solely on our own. This is especially true when this work is done in solidarity with those marginalized by race, class, and other identities.

I would welcome more from Jaffe on parenting and privilege, as there are many more parenting decisions where I feel the tensions of my values and my choices. In particular, I would love to reflect more on the consequences of our everyday purchases, in terms of worker conditions and life-affirming wages (especially for BIPOC workers locally), and environmental sustainability. And how, in a sea of consumer goods, can I help cultivate an understanding of “enough” in my family?

When do your parenting decisions align with your values and when don’t they? What topics do you want to explore further?

Families for Justice is a network of people working to dismantle white supremacy in Dane County and beyond through multi-generational community organizing and direct action. Learn more here.

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