Or at least, that the things they do to their kids are morally wrong.
A lot of people don’t, as you might imagine, appreciate being told the way they parent their children is unethical. They insist “you raise your kids your way, let us raise ours as we see fit”. When it comes to a lot of parenting decisions, I think that’s valid as far as it goes. I might not think letting kids drink soda is the best parenting practise, but I’m not going to campaign to make it illegal.
There are however lines many parents cross that are simply beyond the pale. These are lines that are not (yet) recognised by the majority as abusive or neglectful parenting, but which I as an AP activist (and lactivist) believe are deserving of that kind of recognition. Once societal consensus is strong enough, we might reach the point where a bright red legal line is drawn. But on the way to that consensus, there are many milestones along the way, with their own lines (some things, for instance, are widely frowned upon even if not strictly illegal–but the social pressure is no less real for that technical legality). Progress along these milestones always starts with a vocal minority loudly challenging the status quo, and refusing to bow to reactionary pressure to stop challenging the conscience of the majority, refusing to stop making them uncomfortable.
Specifically (and tip of the hat to Rachel at Free Childhood for inspiring me to see these in their own category), I think circumcision, spanking, and “cry it out” (CIO) sleep training are particularly heinous; there is no excuse (other than perhaps ignorance) for inflicting any of them on a child, and I will never acknowledge them as a valid choice for a parent to make. For this post, I’ll focus mostly on CIO, but the point holds for the other two as well.
The process of social change, as pushed forward actively by activists (that’s after all why they are not called “passivists”, right?) can be best seen by using three examples that are at different stages of this process: child labour, corporal punishment, and CIO.
A century or a little more ago, it was commonplace for children in low income families in urban areas to work long hours in dirty, dangerous factories. A group of (mostly female) reformers started kicking up a lot of ruckus about this, and highlighting the plight of these poor kids, and social attitudes changed, followed by changes in the law.
Many people alive today can remember when it was generally understood that a parent had a right to beat their children with a belt or a stick–even if most people didn’t do it, they didn’t feel they had the right to tell other parents how to raise their children (sound familiar?). In those days, schools commonly used wooden paddles to punish errant pupils. Today, the process of reform is still ongoing, as spanking continues to be tolerated as more brutal beatings once were. However: a parent who uses a belt or stick is likely to get into legal trouble; schools don’t dare strike children; and the last bastion left (open hand spanking by parents) is under increasing pressure of negative social opinion.
CIO is clearly at an earlier stage than either of these other examples. But just a couple decades ago, parents could easily go about their lives without ever being confronted by those who consider CIO immoral. These days, if they want to avoid being confronted with this kind of disapproval, they had better stay off the Internet and stick to a narrowly proscribed social circle. This is a change for the better. To those who insist that we should back off, let parents make their own decisions about CIO without being pressured or criticised, I defiantly declare just the opposite: these complaints show we are having an effect, and if anything, we need to turn up the heat, tighten the screws!
I want parents to feel that if they CIO, it’s going to be something they have to feel nervous and at least a bit guilty about. If that gets a bunch of mainstream parents pissed off at me, I can deal with it. If you think I’m wrong, step up and say so. I don’t want an echo chamber here. I am confident enough of the rightness of my argument that I don’t shrink from debating it with any and all comers.