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It Runs in the Family
(www.orbooks.com, £11)

Frida Berrigan grew up in a commune dedicated to nonviolent resistance. Her parents were known for antiwar activism and civil disobedience, which often resulted in lengthy prison terms. Part memoir, part parenting guide, It Runs in the Family is about being raised by radicals and growing into rebellious motherhood.

Your book sets itself up as an antidote to parenting fads. How is it different?
I am exploring how I was parented and how that relates to how I am trying to parent. For example, my parents exposed us to “the bad news”. We were not shielded from discussions about nuclear weapons, war, violence, inequality. We were expected to know the connections between them and our activism. I knew way more about the world at six or seven than my own stepdaughter. That’s a decision we made to protect her. A parenting guidebook would seek to tell the readers what they should do, while I’m just pondering what we are doing.  

How can we educate our children about violence without scarring them?
We were scared – but not scarred – by all that we were exposed to growing up but we were educated in the ills of the world by people we saw struggling on a daily basis to right them. Their actions wouldn’t have made any sense if we were shielded from the “why”.

Is it important to be flexible with ideals?
We didn’t grow up with a lot of flexibility. Expectations were clear and high, reflecting my parents’ ideals. My family lives in a much more flexible household. That’s not so much a corrosion of ideals than a better understanding of what is developmentally appropriate for children.

Can parents continue to be political and radical?
Remember that you are not the only one in the world who is political and radical at any moment and it is OK to step back and commit time and energy to your family and yourself. The work is not ours alone. We can step forward again when it is sustainable to do so. What is the point of working for universal healthcare and dental coverage if you don’t take time to floss your teeth?

Why is community important to parenting?
The people who came through the Jonah House Community taught us a lot. We saw our parents in collaboration and friendship, dialogue and disagreement with people they loved and respected. My parents could not have gone to prison without a community of people to support us. My husband and I are not raising our children in a live-in community but our church and friendship communities are so helpful, grounding and inspiring around parenting.


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Frida Berrigan

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