MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
From time to time we like to talk about issues that parents are talking about. An article in a new book recently caught our attention, so we decided to bring the two authors together. Heather Shumaker is a writer who's been leading the charge to rethink some of the conventional wisdom about parenting. She's an advocate for what she calls renegade rules for raising competent and compassionate kids. Her first book was called "It's OK Not To Share." Her latest is "It's OK To Go Up The Slide." She's with us from member station Interlochen Public Radio in Michigan. Heather, thanks so much for joining us.
HEATHER SHUMAKER: Thanks for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: Stephanie Land is a blogger who also writes about social and economic justice for the Center for Community Change. She asks readers to think critically about how society's rules are different depending on who you are. Her article in The Washington Post, titled "Saying Your House Is Messy Because You Play With Your Kids Is A Privilege," caught our attention. She joins us from Montana Public Radio in Missoula. Stephanie, it's good to have you with us as well. Thanks for joining us.
STEPHANIE LAND: Thank you for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: So I wanted to start by saying that you're both are moms of two children, as am I, but you come at this from different vantage points. So we thought it would be great to get you two together. And Heather, I'm going to start with you. And I was just hoping you could lay out some - sort of the general principles that you have come to believe in and that - want to share.
SHUMAKER: The fundamental rule - or renegade rule if you want to say it - is it's OK if it's not hurting people or property. So to allow children to play and follow their own play ideas - but set limits, too. It's not a free-for-all.
MARTIN: Well, talk a little bit about how you came to that idea.
SHUMAKER: Well, a lot of these ideas are based on a preschool that I went to as a child - of where my mother taught for 40 years in Ohio. And they do things differently. For example, they give kids boxing gloves and allow them to punch each other during the school day. And this is, you know, not typically done in a lot of places. So I was intrigued because I felt highly respected when I was a child there.
So when I grew up and I was looking for a place for my own kids, I went back and observed and said, what are they doing? What are they getting right? And why is it working? Why are these kids able to solve conflicts and able to be diplomatic when they have a problem that comes up in their play?
MARTIN: And Stephanie, I - and I don't want to be, you know, hurtful here - but you actually told us that you actually cringe at the term renegade parenting. Why is that?
LAND: I do because I don't think it's a term that applies to all populations of parents in America, especially ones who are in poverty or single parents or parents of color. It's a privileged way of looking at parenting to allow your children to go against the grain, as it were.
MARTIN: Well, just talk a little bit about your piece for The Post and what you wanted to say and why.
LAND: There was a meme that I keep seeing on Facebook that says a messy house means that the mother who lives there is more concerned about playing with her kids than she is about keeping a clean house. And at first I thought like, well, no, it's just because you don't want to clean (laughter). But then it really hit me that, like, I keep appearances so that I don't appear low-income because I am raising my daughters - in the past it was well under the poverty level, and now we're just about at poverty level.
MARTIN: Do you feel that, you know, if you are a renegade, as it were, then you will be seen as negligent in a way that perhaps a middle-class or upper-middle-class person would not be?
LAND: Yeah. I mean, imagine me sitting on a bench at a playground and my daughter's running up the slide and all the other kids are wanting to go down it. I think people would look at me as being negligent, especially if they know a bit about my background. I have several tattoos. Or - there are just certain ways that people might look down on me because of my status.
And I think that would bleed over into my kid's behavior, and she would be seen as unruly. And I would be neglectful. And it's not an eccentric type of parenting. It would be my neglect as a parent.
MARTIN: Well, one of the things you say in your piece is raising a family on government assistance places you in a narrow margin of acceptable levels of appearance. If my kids are unkempt, dirty, snot-faced and otherwise disheveled, I fall into the realm of neglect, extremely impoverished and white trash. I think you were pretty clear about what you were saying is that...
MARTIN: ...It's like - that, you know, all this freeness is for other people. And I don't know. Heather, what do you think about that?
SHUMAKER: Parenting is filled with judging eyes. And when families who have certain boundaries and certain concerns come together in a public space, all those types of things clash together. If you see a child going up a slide or doing something else that seems unruly, most adults will try to stop it because they're worried about politeness and they're worried about safety. And then they're also worried about what the other adults are judging them, as adults, on.
One of the things that we need to remember is that playgrounds are for play, and that that social interaction between that up-going child and that down-going child - that kind of conflict is an important part of play and learning for the kids to figure out how they can negotiate that and problem-solve it. And generally - maybe with some adult guidance, maybe the kids can do it on their own. When we step in and try to stop it that can hurt. But ultimately, it's very individual because people have to decide how much they want the judging eyes of others on them. And there's a lot of factors that go into that.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, Heather, give us a final word of wisdom from "It's OK To Go Up The Slide."
SHUMAKER: Well, I think you need to trust your gut. So that if your child is exhausted after a long day of school and they're crying over homework and you know they need to go to bed or let off some steam, you know, trust yourself. Or if they're having no recess at school but gym class is being substituted for it and you think that's wrong - you're probably right. So if something's bothering you, it's time to make a change.
MARTIN: Stephanie, what about you? What's your word of wisdom that you'd like to leave us with from your vantage point?
LAND: That parents - especially of the working class and the lower classes - we work very hard and we are just as good as parents as the higher classes. And, you know, we're not lazy or neglectful. I would just hope that some of those stigmas can be changed.
MARTIN: That's Stephanie Land. She's a writer and a blogger. She joined us from Montana Public Radio in Missoula. Also with us, Heather Shumaker. She joined us from Interlochen Public Radio in Michigan. And as I mentioned, her latest book is called "It's OK To Go Up The Slide." Ladies, thank you so much for joining us.
LAND: Thank you so much.
SHUMAKER: Thanks for having me, Michel.
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