How does our role as parents relate to our desire to foster systemic change? Why don't we value parenting in our current cultural context? How might we propagate new narratives that see parenting as essential for creating a better future?
In this episode, Jenny and Jordan Hall discuss their experiences and systemic perspectives as parents in modern society.
This episode covers:
“Jordan Hall (JF): As far as I'm concerned, this is not just a little bit important. It may in fact be the very central line, the axis mundi around which any plausible future for humanity actually can be found.”
[00:00:21] Jenny Stefanotti (JS): That's Jordan Hall. He's an entrepreneur who many of you know is a prominent voice in the Game B conversation. This is the Becoming Denizen podcast. I'm your host and curator, Jenny Stefanotti. Typically, you'll hear Jordan in philosophical conversations about the future of human civilization. Here we get personal and talk about parenting.
Jordan is a close colleague of Daniel Schmachtenberger as who many of you are probably familiar with. I remember the first time I met Daniel. I was months away from becoming pregnant with my third child lamenting the challenges of motherhood alongside career pressure. Daniel said something that really stuck with me, which is how insane it is that we don't value parenting in our society. It helped me reframe my decision to de-prioritize my career as part of my life's mission around social change. Almost an act of rebellion against the dominant norm.
Jordan made a very conscious decision to have a third child several years ago. He saw it in his essential part of his work in the world as well. In this conversation, Jordan and I discussed why parenting and how we parent is such an important piece of the puzzle when we talk about redesigning society to become more just, compassionate and regenerative.
It points the need to rewrite the narratives around parenting to make it something we value, just as much as women stepping into the workforce, and to break the stigmas around men prioritizing their time at home over their time in the office.
This conversation also ties to a recent episode with Riane Eisler on partnerism. You'll hear me reference her work several times. Shortly after Jordan I recorded this, he mentioned that it was one of the best things he has ever done, or rather one of the things that he is most proud of. No one had ever asked him about this particular topic before me.
With that, I hope you enjoy this very personal episode.
[00:02:06] JS: In our conversations, you've hinted at parenting and the importance of it, which is an extraordinarily personal topic for me because of some of the decisions that I made in my 30s to de-prioritize my career to spend more time with my children, which was a hard call to make when the world was telling me to lean in.
Jordan and I have not planned this conversation too much. We just thought it would be great to get together and just riff on the deep thinking that both of us has done around parenting and how it fits into our broader social objectives. And so, Jordan, I guess I would just start by asking what has come up for you? First and foremost, what comes to mind as you've become a parent again more recently as I think a very different person than you were when you became a parent the first time around?
[00:03:01] JF: We chose to in fact have a child. Not just inheriting children that were had in a place where maybe there's a little bit more inertia, a little bit less consciousness about the magnitudes of the challenges that we face. But literally, as part of our commitment, our journey, into how do we do this, to use parenting as our crucible and sort of our binding to the mast.
There's going to be some energy. Like if you feel any energy coming from me about why I find parenting to be so central and so meaningful, it's because there is. That's I think a very good place to start: context. As far as I'm concerned, this is not just a little bit important. It may in fact be the very central line, the axis mundi around which any plausible future for humanity actually can be found.
[00:03:56] JS: I would love for you to elaborate on that.
[00:04:00] JF: Happily. So, let's see. How do we do this? I find myself pulled up. Please actually pull me down because I'm sure that I might get a little theoretical on this.
[00:04:09] JS: Feel free to float to the elevation that feels appropriate. And I'll do my best to bring us down if that feels right.
[00:04:15] JF: Yeah. There's a couple of things that are bound up in the choice, like really the conscious intentional not – let's call it inertial or unthinking choice to become a parent. One is the affordance that parenting provides as a challenge for your own growth. Do you want to be committed to stewarding and nurturing the growth of another soul? First and foremost, you have to be in a state of unbelievable acceptance of the degree to which you yourself are going to be taken under.
[00:04:53] JS: And it's such an extraordinarily important point. Frankly, I think it's worth not to go out of scope. But it's worth noting that a partnership is also an extraordinarily important point of growth, which may bring us to the family unit as a slightly broader lens than parenting. It is very interesting how this fits with Riane's work. But I wholeheartedly agree. And this is something we've heard over and over and over and over again, which is parents commenting on how their children are their teachers.
[00:05:28] JF: Maybe as this kind of like a theme, this notion of as below so above. In the degree to which we choose to also enter into the journey to become humans capable of stewarding the human family through this portal, this transition, that same level of commitment. And we're not going to be able to navigate the challenges the 21st century being the kinds of humans that we have been.
The beautiful intensity of noticing that those are the same fundamental challenges and then leaning into the amount of agony that can actually happen when you really allow yourself to heal traumas that you have to heal and change the habits you have to change to truly live as a parent. And by parent, I mean a friend and steward of the future of the child, right? I'm holding space for your own connection with your future self. That kind of an idea, it turns out to be akin to and in many ways the same as the journey that I would propose everyone needs to undertake with regard to the larger world. The kinds of ideologies we have to leave to the wayside. The kinds of projections. And in particular, the kinds of defense mechanisms and traumas that we carry forward that are all too easy to ignore and avoid in the context of being just an adult.
[00:06:49] JS: Yeah.
[00:06:50] JF: In the context of being a parent. And then as you say, in the context of being a parent in relationship with your child and your children, and then in relationship with your partner. And notice that second tone. And there's going to be at least a third and probably a fourth tone. That second tone is, as everybody who's ever been a parent knows, it challenges the relationship.
[00:07:08] JS: Yeah.
[00:07:10] JF: To put it mildly.
[00:07:13] JS: Yeah. To put it mildly.
[00:07:15] JF: A relationship. Regardless of how it is found. Regardless of its particular content. The context of a relationship of an adult relationship and relationships, right? Plural. It takes a village. That's not nonsense. That's real. But a village is not just a collection of people who are thrown together out of convenience, out of Encinitas. And one of the characteristics of Encinitas is a high degree of flaky affability. Meaning lots of people who are very happy to get together and do acro yoga together every once in a while. But the ability to kind of really lean together into what it takes to co-parent, to like actually jointly commit to keeping, holding each other in that crucible so each one of you are growing so that you can actually continue to show up for the child that you're holding in trust. That's heavy work, or heavy medicine as they might say down here. And that's the third tone, right?
You've got that first tone is the relationship between let's go with mother and child or father and child. And notice there's already a triangle there. Second tone is going to be the relationship between mother and father, which regardless of the specifics of that is a relationship that's crucial. Third tone is the relationship of community.
And Vanessa and I talk about this a lot as our daughter is now moving past two. And we're moving into the space where the nest cannot possibly be enough. It is strictly necessary. We just can see it every day that our daughter needs to now have access to different people. She's already looking and finding, "Okay, where do I get the grandmother? Where do I get the big sister? Where do I get the other – the big girl? Like, the eight-year-old girl? Where do I get the uncle?" Where's that kind of thing that my body, my genes, know are part of the story of the way human beings have partitioned the way of meeting my needs and, by the way, Vanessa's own body? She's like, "I can't do this solo. That's crazy. No way."
And I noticed if I look at her and I feel a certain sense. I can see it in her eyes and maybe even her face, like, "Hey, what's going on?" If she spends time feeling she's like, "Oh, yeah, I don't feel safe. I don't feel like I am supported by a community that I really feel can hold me in and my daughter in what we're going to be going through." And that's of course super, super real now, right? It's been real for, frankly, over the whole of civilization. I distinguished that from the indigenous times. But it's super real now.
[00:09:54] JS: Yeah.
[00:09:55] JF: And that same thing, like the ability to make the kinds of commitments where you really truly – if you hold the level of commitment of stewarding the soul of a child that you've chosen to spring into the world and then you hold that same thing in relationship to your – what I'll call just friends. Capital F maybe even in the Quaker sense. Who, on the one hand, they are also making that same kind of commitment to your child and maybe also you to theirs, but maybe not. And then you have to hold that commitment with them. And you can't just sort of turn a blind eye when they're showing up in the wrong way. Or frankly turn a blind eye when there's a signal from the child indicating where their ability to grow is happening. Like, how do you actually continue to learn how to hold each other accountable? As above, so below.
[00:10:43] JS: You've said a couple of things that are really deep. And I just want to make sure that we punctuate them in this conversation. One of them, if we just look at, first, the family unit, right? We talked about the profundity of, as you mentioned – I love the word steward. Stewarding the soul of another human being. And that doing that, really doing that, requires you to grow in far more profound ways as an individual than would be required to. As you'd say, it's too easy to just be an adult in the world, right?
And so, it's the depth of personal growth that is provoked through that relationship when you really understand how profound and crucial that is. And also, what that means for the relationship with the parents. I want to stay in the family unit before we start to zoom out to the community. I'd love to hear your perspective on why that relationship, that role, that stewarding of that soul is so important for humanity. I would just love to hear your take on why that is. And then I'll fold in some of the stuff that's come from Riane's work that's really relevant at this point, too.
[00:11:55] JF: Let's talk about things like colonialism. Let's talk about things like tyranny. Let's talk about things like right relationship with nature, right? And maybe a little bit – and I'm not quite sure if this is – the right relationship with technology, which is kind of feels like it's cutting a different direction. But of course, has to be somewhere on the table.
If you look at these and you really feel them and then reverse back and notice how that shows up in the context of this stewarding. Let's just take – it's funny. Let's just take parenting. It's like we use the word parent. And then notice the feeling, the content that seems to be implicated by that. Particularly if you just sort of say it out loud in the contemporary world. Because there's a distinct flavor of it, which tends to implicitly import a lot of these notions of tyranny, domination, control, right? Right?
And I'm going to call that bad parenting. I mean, it's sort of simple to say that. It's bad parenting. I get it. I understand where it comes from. I did it, right? I can hold myself deeply, deeply accountable to having done that and embodied that in spite of my best interests.
[00:13:03] JS: Jordan has two older children as well.
[00:13:06] JF: Yeah. And it's funny, I would say that most people, my own children included, would say that I was a good parent in the context of that previous self. And I can say because I had not faced – leaned deeply into the things I needed to change in myself, nonetheless replicated what? 35,000 years of what I call Game A in my children's bodies? And in their minds, and in particular in their hearts and souls, right? And it's complicated stuff.
One of the themes I mentioned is this notion of context. And they just kind of drop that now. And maybe we can come back to it. But it's, I think commonplace. It's well-understood in circles of people who really look closely at parenting that content is always the background. And context is always actually the foreground in your relationship with your child, right?
If you read Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta, he talks about how that's actually a very indigenous sensibility. The WEIRD westerners tend to do the exact inverse. And that tells a whole lot of the story.
We were listening to an audio recording of Vanessa and her mom when Vanessa was two. And when we're listening to it, first of all, it hurts the heart. You're like, "Oh, my gosh." I can just feel the harm. I can see the glass shattering and getting into the skin.
But the key Iinsight was there was a point where little two-year-old Vanessa was being told over and over again to count to ten. And she'd count to three and then kind of go somewhere else. And then count to four and go somewhere else. And mom kept coming back, like, "No. No. Count to ten." And she started getting frustrated. And context is foreground.
Well, what's the context here? The context is you don't matter. That's it. That's what the two-year-old is really deeply learning all the way down, right? And of course, you don't remember being two. But you remember that. That's coded deep. There's something about the fundamentals of the relationship that has a feeling of, "What the hell is going on here? Why is my sense of what is the right way to move in this space?" I'm feeling an orientation in my own – like the way that I go about discerning what are the right things to do? What are my attractions and curiosities? Those deep subtle feelings that how we got ourselves in the naturalness of life. And those keep being frustrated and short-circuited and told, "Ignore that. Deny that. Refuse that. And instead, attend to this other thing." Which everything in me is telling me clearly isn't it. There's something about that that clearly isn't connected with where I am now. And so, that's what I mean by context and content.
And the context would be drunk in. You know, flash forward to a frustrated third-grader sitting in a classroom. Let's have it be a frustrated third-grader sitting in front of a computer, in front of a Zoom classroom, where every aspect of their entire being is telling them that this is not good. And yet being told, "Ignore that, and do this." And of course, now, boy, talk about a journey.
The learning there, which is encoded so deeply and also encoded very unconsciously. Because if you're told to pay attention to the content, your attention is on that, even though the other lesson is actually going in. And so, it's actually even a harder challenge to be aware of what's up. What's actually being learned so you can unwind it. Because now that's going to be part of your work as an adult is to figure out, "What the hell is going on? Why do I have difficulty even being able to listen to my own instincts? Why do I have difficulty making effective choices in life? Oh, it's because I'm trying to navigate a complex reality using a brain that has been abused into trying to think through a sort of rote, repetitious, memory-driven, external-authority-driven, complicated mechanic structure." And that's actually the wrong kind of tool.
[00:17:01] JS: Yep. This points us back to that question of, why is this so essential for the future?
[00:17:07] JF: Right on. Let me put this in low tone and mid-tone. Low tone is base fundamental. And I think it's actually kind of simple. Okay. We got a big – there's a big thing coming. This is not small. You have to actually kind of take old-fashioned biblical or mythopoetic words and then blow the dust off and polish them up. You have to be able to resuscitate things like awesome and terrible. Full of terror. Full of horror. That magnitude.
And I can tell you that no amount of gritting your teeth and trying to put your shoulder against it and pushing really hard is going to work. I don't know if you've ever done something like surfing. And one of the things that surfing tells you is the ocean's a lot bigger than you. And you better learn how to flow with her energy. Otherwise, you're just going to get tired, you might even get a chance to drown. But the opposite is also true all, right? If you learn how to flow with her energy, sometimes you can find yourself doing things that are effortless or at least with very gentle elegant effort that have an enormous amount of power, right? Can we stop swimming upstream of the nature of complex reality and start turning around and learning how to actually swim downstream with it? Because we're going to need that to be able to navigate the wicked problems.
I will propose that at a very fundamental level, the cultivation as individuals and in the relationship of different kinds of communities, the cultivation of the capacity to flow with is as deep in the code of what is necessary as anything else. Okay? That's like the deep one, like the "Boom! Boom!" at the bottom.
And then let's go at the middle. Middle, now I can kind of like almost like – I feel like a little bit of a Jamie Wheal energy here. If I can start citing a whole bunch of cool people, like Jonathan Haidt, and (Daniel) Kahneman and like folks like that, and say, "Okay. As much as we like the prefrontal cortex, and as much as we admire the inventions of the Enlightenment, and frankly even agricultural civilization, it's a very, very paper-thin layer. I think as Monica Anderson says, it's a paper-thin layer on top of a much more vast machinery from navigating complex reality.
And if we get things out of order, if we put ourselves, literally ourselves, out of integrity with ourselves, and if we put our prefrontal cortex at war with the rest of our body, then we're going to have a hard time, right? We're kind of just stuck in our own loops, and hesitancies and internal control structures.
But if we're like, "Okay. I get it. How do I learn how to use everything that billions of years of biological evolution have tuned this instrument?" This instrument of being a mammal, primate, homo sapiens person, right? Get all that stacked into alignment as an instrument that's all – like a tuned radio tuner that goes from static to song? That's how you do it, right?
And we have lots and lots and lots of background of that. The notion of a flow state comes from that. And then you step into it. That's the other piece. That's the middle tone.
Our civilization, and I think Tyson would say all civilization, but certainly our civilization, does everything in its power to have things be topsy-turvy. And there's lots of reasons for that, by the way. And we can go into that ad nauseam. And we have reciprocating cycles, right? You have the beginning of just that story of the context, the child beginning to learn all kinds of weird things where the self, like the naturalness, is inhibited by the domestication, right? The wildness is domesticated by the message of even simple things like, "Yeah, I get it. Wearing a diaper seems bizarre. Why the hell do you want to wear a diaper?" But you're going to wear a diaper. Like, that kind of a thing. And that breaking the connection. And how do we layer on something where we don't break stuff, at least we break stuff as little as possible, while still being able to live in the world that we're in today?
But then it keeps circulating. And eventually, as a parent, I assure you, I certainly have lived this myself, you will notice that there are traumas that have settled into your child, and to your teenager and to your young adult. And these traumas are themselves a second order challenge, right? As we all know, in the complexity of how that works, they become something that congeals around it a whole complicated edifice of defense mechanisms and response strategies that now triple down on the challenges of being able to simply respond to what's happening, right? You're running a whole bunch of different kinds of things. And as above, so below, right?
We replicate these things back out into our world. We create the world. The world creates us back. And if we want to find a way to co-create with the world into something that can actually last, that process of learning how to co-creating ourselves or heal ourselves is part and parcel of being able to really be able to heal in the exterior.
[00:22:23] JS: I want to underscore your first response when I asked this question. Why is this so essential? And you mentioned colonialism, and tyranny and right relationship to nature. And I'm going to speak a little bit more about Riane's work, which is really fascinating. She's this incredible theologist. And she has decades of – she's a Holocaust survivor. Decades of research trying to understand how humans can be so cruel towards one another.
And she widened the lens to realize that the dichotomies that we tend to turn to to examine this question, socialism versus capitalism, East versus West, the lens is too small. And this comes up all the time when we talk about governance. These fundamental questions of how do we scope the problem to make sense of it to then know what to do? She widened the scope.
And her big insight aha was this is coming from the earliest years of life in the family unit, where children are getting imprinted through these modes of parenting. Most parents have probably read at least some basic parenting books and talk about the distinction between authoritative and authoritarian styles of parenting.
Authoritarian styles of parenting is really the dominant type of parenting where you learn how to parent, right? You learn from your parents and you repeat those patterns. And the dominant pattern that a lot of people have learned, particularly men, is to be the authoritarian in the household. And not just vis-a-vis the child, but vis-a-vis the female.
And so, Riane's core thesis is that in observing and inhabiting these family units where the child is dominated by the parent and the female is dominated by the male, this encodes these modes of oppression that then spill over into defining one group of people versus the other. And you could extend that to nature as well. I think her work is pretty profound.
[00:24:33] JF: Yeah, well let's take that lens and keep the aperture wide open and then flip it to historical and sociological one. One of the things that I've actually said to people on occasion is, "Hey, guys. Yeah, we have to be in a space of forgiving ourselves over and over again because we are at the tail end of a 10,000-year catastrophe."
[00:24:59] JS: Yes.
[00:24:59] JF: And we're road wreckage smeared across the asphalt of history. And it is what it is, right? That's where we are. But it's important to kind of honor that and recognize that.
I just the other day realized like the story of Cain and Abel has this encoded in it, but in this really cool inverse. It's basically the story of Cain and Abel, at least within one interpretation, that story of the relationship between the indigenous and the agricultural.
And then there's – I don't know if you've actually looked at the history of what life was like in early agricultural civilizations. But the long and short of it was terrible. We look at the skeletons of early agriculturalists. And you see they're smaller. They have clear signs of malnutrition. They clearly lived a much shorter lifespan. That's where disease, like literally almost all of disease, originates in that context. Some of the folks who come from the Slate Star Codex world will recognize Moloch. There's a thing that happened in this move where there's a discovery of the utility of using our capacity to analyze and break apart nature and then to use that to achieve local effectiveness.
So, there's this discovery of the utility of this analytic capacity to see particular pieces of complex nature and then extract them, abstract them and then build particular interventions, like, say irrigation, to up regulate them. There's a, "Hey, that kind of works. That makes yield – like, food is easier." Like a simple yes.
And there's a moment where this starts to put you into a new mode of relationship where – think about that notion of like we create our world and our world creates us. You start having to bias towards using the competencies and capacities of the analytic brain. Not the more sort of natural instinct. And you enter now into a civilized mode.
And in a civilized mode, one begins to have to become domesticated. And when you're talking about this notion of authoritarianism and domestication, you think about domesticating an animal. To extract it from its natural context and put it into a context that you can control for the purpose of increased capital, right? To more heads of cattle is authoritarian, right? You don't get the consent of the cow. You don't get the consent of the plant, right? You're imposing your preferred form of what is going to happen on top of it for the purposes of increasing specific aspects of it that you prefer to see, right?
And now we enter into a real serious challenge. We enter into a challenge where it starts to be a really powerful dynamic, where those people who make those choices begin to have, on the one hand, these bizarre cycles of surplus and collapse. Every agricultural civilization is characterized by cycles of having a lot more than their sort of maybe indigenous neighbors. But then, there are also cycles of having not enough. So, feast and famine, which means lots of extra people get born during times of feast. And then a desire, willingness, need, desperation to take other people's stuff happens during times of famine.
And then you begin – this is what I call sort of the ignition of what I call Game A, and the spread of Moloch begins to happen. And you start getting the history. Now, when that happens, you get this very powerful game theoretic requirement, which is if you can't be the one who's able to protect your stuff, then you're the one who has your stuff taken away.
[00:29:06] JS: Yeah.
[00:29:08] JF: So, you have to turn your men, or at least some of them, a pretty large number depending on where you're on the game theory, into this new kind of being that's a trained killer.
[00:29:19] JS: Right. And then this game won out. This variant.
[00:29:22] JF: And this game now is the story that we are still living in. And that game – in many ways, what that game does is it turns wild humans into the thing that it consumes. And it consumes them. And it consumes them. And then it runs into itself. And now you have the story of history of different variations on how to go about being civilized, being domesticated. Using increasingly sophisticated authoritarian techniques and complicated design methodologies to increase your capacity to create more, and to protect that more and to extract from your neighbors, whoever those neighbors happen to be, until you run into where we are, right? Which is the end of that story.
[00:30:04] JS: Right. Well, it's either self-terminating or we have to figure out what the alternative is. But an incredibly important point, which ties to what you just described, is that the new system has to have a competitive advantage over the old system. In just so much as you just described how this variant won out over indigenous, right? Because this is one thing that's come out a lot in our conversations as well.
Hunter Lovins. I don't know if you're familiar with her work. We've been having conversations about what are the new narratives? And what are the new paradigms? What are the stories that we tell ourselves about human nature that aren't quite right that justify this extractive system?
And she talks a lot about just how if you look at archaeological records, you see that the people who were disabled and old were not discarded on the path. They took them with them, or fundamentally a caring society. And this word caring comes up a lot in Riane's work as well. She dubs it as the caring economy, or partnerism is the primary title that she uses to describe this other socioeconomic system.
And Joon Yun, who we've also had on. His whole orientation around inclusive stakeholding is that there is kin dynamics in the smaller family or community unit. And we touched briefly on community unit earlier. How do we create those dynamics at scale in a new system?
This comes up a lot in our conversations, but we haven't yet taken it back to where we're really focused today, which is actually the role of parenting and why that is so extraordinarily important. And how crazy it is that we don't really value it in society today?
[00:31:46] JF: There's a concept that I think Bret Weinstein probably – I don't know if he's ever actually said it publicly. So, I apologize if I’m outing you Brett. But the notion of an emergent conspiracy, right? It's not where a whole bunch of people sit around in a room and make a choice. But rather, there's some way in which there's an alignment of frames and interests that cause people to act as if a conspiracy happened.
And I would say something like there's in fact an emergent conspiracy to extinguish parenting. It's almost like I said, Game A takes the indigenous mode as its fuel, as its prey fundamentally. It's a carnivore. And this relationship, this fundamental relationship of parenting is like the seed corn. It's like the sapling of that mode.
And so, as you think about the strip mining of all meaning, that's at the essence of how Game A and its current form, global capitalism, how it operates. It converts what I'll call deep value into surface monetizable value. It monetizes, which is the same thing as profanes. It's doing a great job. It stripped mine. Nearly everything. And we're sort of peak soul rape. And the relationship between mother and child is since the last – or the last bastion. Like, that last little reservoir of oil as we're – or the tar sands, right? Those things where we're just digging and digging and digging to kind of get this last little bit, the last whale swimming in the deep ocean that we're trying to squeeze into whale oil. It's an emerging conspiracy, because at the end of the day it's kind of a weird addiction.
I think the model of AA is actually super useful. We can all say, "Hey, I'm an addict. I've been addicted to Game A for something like a thousand generations. And I'm in recovery. And I relapse all the time." But the substance that I hit is meaningfulness. The substance that I hit is – in a different story, I was talking with people about how we recover the concept. The felt sense of what the sacred maybe best means. Not the supernatural. But an orientation towards higher values and an ability to live more and more in a direction where those values are both actualized in life and support and increase in discernment in higher values. An increase in capacity to do so. And that's the junk, right? Game A turns that into the junk.
Yeah. I would say. And we could be very practical. One of what I think is intense, powerful, terrifying and liberating moments in the contemporary moment as a parent, particularly a parent of either four or five-year-old kids and on, is the inability to turn away from the recognition that I think everybody has. That the machine that we call the educational system has been, for a very long time and perhaps since the very beginning, but certainly for generations, terrible. Really broken in a deep, deep way. And now, unconscionably so.
[00:35:05] JS: Yeah. Yeah. I don't know if you know this, but my husband started a ed tech startup that sought to rethink education for the 21st century. We have gone very, very deep in thinking about that. And one of the really big things that was embedded in the curriculum was social emotional learning.
Because parents, to the point that I made earlier, we learn it from our parents that didn't really know what we know. Schools are a much better position to understand what the current research is and what the current best practice is and help them. And we went to an incredible preschool, the parents were in the classrooms. And we watched how the teachers engaged with the kids. And it taught us how to engage with our kids.
[00:35:53] JF: Yeah.
[00:35:54] JS: Right? It's too late once you get to kindergarten. It's arguably kind of later than ideal once you're in two, right? But there is this, I think, extraordinarily important opportunity to think about a partnership between education and the family unit in teaching parents how to do this.
And I think to tie us to some of the earlier points, what was fascinating is that when I started to learn more about how their brains were developing and more about how to engage with them and teach them largely how to deal with the emotions that they were feeling and interacting with other humans, those lessons were extraordinarily valuable for my relationship with my husband and out in the world. And it taught me a different level of social and emotional sophistication than I would have had otherwise.
To your point, we can talk about some idealized state where we just know how to do this because we were born into a family unit that knows how to do this. But how do we transition to that?
[00:37:01] JF: Yeah. Our journey, this journey of Game A, leaves us in a place that is extremely different from the place where we started. If I look at mode indigenous, it's so amazing to just imagine what it's like to be born in a context where every human being who you meet was born in that same context as far back as anybody in that group can remember. And more or less every human being you'll ever know grew up in the same relationships and the same context. That's just incredible to imagine what that implies in terms of shared sensibility and really being with people for a long, long periods of time.
And then, of course, care. The ability to build a felt sense of care for each other. That's not coming back. We live in a cosmopolitan context where effectively nobody you know shares even the least bit of deep culture with you. And is probably three to five standard deviations of genetic drift from your own lineage, which itself is already a pleiotropic recombination of generations of all kinds of interesting games. Some of which were consensual and many of which were not.
In our bodies, and in our lives, and in our relationships, we're holding the necessity of learning how to re-weave a fabric of real relationality that is strong enough to cross and hold all of that. And of course, again, as above, so below. The same things that we have to learn to be able to hold relationships with our partner who is a bullet shot out of the gun of this grand catastrophe as are you. And we need to find some way of staying in a beautiful orbit without the least bit of mutual domination, whether it's authoritarian or passive-aggressive. To hold the context that embodies the story, embodies the narrative of what is the right way for human beings to be in relationship with each other so that your child is learning that, drinking that in through their skin and through their breaths. And not merely through their ear holes and, later, eye holes as you try to articulate, "Do as I say, and not as I do."
[00:39:15] JS: Well, this is so important. The word embody is so important. The distinction between conceptualizing and actually having an embodied experience of that thing. And what we're essentially talking about is the family unit becoming the prototype or the first experience of society wherein it's not about me. It's about us. The interdependence.
When I think about how I make decisions for my – it's a family unit decision. It's not a decision for Jenny. With constraints associated with Max, and Sabine, and Leo and Everest, right? And this is actually where, to go back to the personal part of my story, this is why, for me, when I was contemplating what to do during those years. And this was when my husband was doing the startup that was really intense. And I thought about what would it mean for my family right now if I was leaning into my career? It would just be a mess. Two stressed-out parents outsourcing to other people.
I made what I felt was the right decision for my family unit because I saw it as a family unit. And I think that having children grow up in a space that is embodied not about me, but about us, is actually also incredibly important.
[00:40:38] JF: Yeah. How do we find that tone where there's a way where we really do actually meet everybody's needs well? Yeah? Right? Mom can't be in a sacrificial mode. That's a form of tyranny clearly. Mom's body and mind and soul are going to be at war with her and it's going to show up in all kinds of crazy bad ways for herself, for her partner, and for her child. Mom has to be supported, nurtured and thriving, because that's the only way that she can actually embody the story for a baby who's going to be growing up looking and becoming whatever mom actually is. There's a, "How do we find that tone? How do we collaborate on that space?" Now, again, as above, so below. How do we do that as a human family?
Now, if you're listening to this, that sounds really hard. You're right. It's really, really hard because we're living at the tail end of a thousand generations of catastrophe. And everything, literally everything, every sociological institution from top to bottom, including the language that we speak, is an instrument of alienation and an instrument of authoritarian control. And we just have to be able to notice that we at least sit on top of – like, our basic fundamental nature isn't that. And we can relearn. And like that notion of regenerative economy, regenerative agriculture. This is regenerative humaning.
I'll just tell a little story about the context where our daughter was born, if you wouldn't mind?
[00:42:16] JS: No. No. Of course not.
[00:42:19] JF: And you'll get a good sense of exactly how committed to being crazy I am.
[00:42:25] JS: I love that. Okay. Go ahead.
[00:42:27] JF: Yeah. Because I'm intrinsically pretty disagreeable. And the amount of regret that I have around the implications of my older children is high. And the amount of white-hot rage I have at the civilization structure for pillaging all that I love is very high. And so, it's in some sense somewhat easy for me to say no to things. The hard part is to say no in a way that's still wrapped in a deep love.
As you might imagine, I'll fast forward through the choice to have a child and then the incredible work that Vanessa put into feeling like she was becoming a vehicle for that which was honorable. But we'll fast forward to what you might imagine is the obvious fact that we try to do the whole thing at home. Do – what's the lady called?
[00:43:14] JS: Midwife?
[00:43:15] JF: Midwife. Thank you. That actually sits around and does nothing, which is cool. It's actually really neat to see like the midwife watches and kind of sits and knits. And every once in a while, it kind of looks in. And then every once in a while, like kind of plucks a tone. Like, "Okay, maybe this little shift here." But it's really actually about precisely not doing anything ideally.
And unfortunately, we had a situation where we both got food poisoning and we're up for about six hours with non-stop vomiting and diarrhea. And that kicked Vanessa into labor. 40 hours of very, very intense labor. The midwife says, "Ah, I think we're going to have to go to the hospital because I'm getting concerned. This might not end well." And we're like, "Okay. That's what we're going to do."
So, now I'm in this mode where I am basically manning the fire in the context of this institution, which I know well. My first two children were born in the hospital. And by the way, prayers to the folks in the Encinitas Hospital that they weren't too hard to deal with. But I said no to everything.
[00:44:17] JS: Yeah.
[00:44:17] JF: "No, you can't wear. No, you can't put that thing on her head. No, you can't cut the cord. Or I don't want to cut the cord." Like, this is, "No. No. No. No. No. No. No. Don't prick her heel. Don't put vitamin K." And it was so funny. Like, they were just – they were like, "Oh." They're taking it back, right? But I was like, "I hear you." And we've thought about this a lot. And we're choosing not to go in that direction with a level of commitment that they didn't want to push past because they didn't want to have to call the cops. We got through everything. We didn't even name her, right? We walked out of that place. And by the way, for the next year, without any name on any form of paper. Because I wanted to hold that level of integrity and say, "Hey, we're not going to do anything until we have really felt deeply that it is quite right." And that's in some sense even an experiment. But to be very careful not to get railroaded to anything unconscious because I don't trust the institutional structures to make effective choices.
And so, it was possible. I mean, the reality was that I could in fact say no to actually everything. As long as I did so carefully and with commitment. Except for one thing. We actually had to bring – there's no way that I could get her out of there without strapping it into a car seat, which is – whatever. I don't feel like that was something that I haven't – I have no regrets for that at all.
But the point being that, even at that very first moment, like the moment of birth, the story of creating a boundary. Like, the extended womb to protect this developing body. And then, of course, this developing self from a context that in many cases every person – this is the point. This is that Moloch sensibility. Every person more or less in that space has good intentions. And many of them in fact have good intentions honed by years of committed practice. And yet, ten thousand years of catastrophe leaves its mark.
And so, it's doable. You can do it. You can walk out of there with your integrity intact if, by the way, I'm very mindful of the fact that I show up into this context with what would be in contemporary parlance called privilege. Meaning that the sort of things that I had to navigate both in my own interior and the context. I was in a hospital where the people there couldn't help but treat me as a person frankly who held a sense of authority. Like, there's a reality there. But the point is it's hard.
The thing we face in the context of stewarding your child and our collective children into the 21st century is significantly harder. You might as well lean into it as well as you can and then forgive yourself over and over again for the catastrophic failures that are sure to follow.
[00:47:04] JS: Well, I think we've done a great job getting into what happens in the unit of the family and how critical it is to imprint a different way of relating to the world in those years. And I think really critically how restorative that is for the parent as well who has this lineage.
And it makes me think of something really beautiful that I read in Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She talks about how when we talk about restoring the land, that's actually the wrong frame because we're still thinking about us controlling it to restore it to a state. And she talks about that in the act of restoring the land, we restore ourselves. We restore something about our humanity. And it's about the restoration of relationships. Not a restoration of land.
And I think that that holds in this story as well, that really understanding the importance of the role between the parent and the child and the individuals that are raising the child, right? Restores that relationship at the root of the person-to-person interconnection as well.
But we touched on this a little bit before. And I wanted to dig in on that family unit piece first. Let's go back to widening the lens, because you got into community. And I think that this is really important. You made a comment just a moment ago. You just touched on the isolation and the tyranny of what is expected. We've drifted into a nuclear family orientation coupled with a propensity to go where the job is.
Often, the family that would naturally be there to support is not there. It's a flight away, right? And so, you have this combination of isolation with still high expectations, right? I mean, you see some of the stats now that people spend more time with their kids now than they did before. There's been a ratcheting of expectations kind of in the wrong ways about parenting while also ratcheting about in the expectation about what's supposed to happen outside of the household.
And so, I think this conversation about community and having a broader set of individuals and parents. I mean, you mentioned earlier. I see my two-year-old now. Their world needs to get bigger for her own development. Needs to see more adults. I want to just dig in a little bit more on that question of the next layer out beyond the family unit of community and hear your thoughts more about that.
[00:49:35] JF: Maybe just the first piece is that notion of spending time with. And the thing that came to my mind when you're saying that is nutrition. I could say – I don't know. Let's go with water. Water's a pretty good one. You need water, right? You need to drink a lot of water. And if all you have is water, you're going to die. And if you have too much water, you're going to die.
And this is the same as true in the level of any kind of relationship. If all your child has is – and this is like kind of this weird best case, worst case scenarios. If all your child has is 24 hours with a deeply committed loving, caring parent, it's not going to be enough. And it's just impossible. Human beings are obligate tribal, obligate band. And we are tuned to listen for things that come from different forms of humans.
And I noticed this so powerfully on my trip. We took a two-month trip in an RV with an 18-month-old, 20-month-old, which by the way was a terrible idea. Except that we survived. And so, we became stronger as a family unit on the other side. But, boy, that was a terrible idea.
But one of the things that we noticed with so much intensity was every time we stopped and dropped into some context where there were other people and where there was a relationship. And not like in an RV park where there's just another person across the way. But like we stopped at a monastery, for example. And there's mostly young people in the monastery. And one of them was a young woman named Rebecca. And our daughter, Eloise, basically in about a second and a half ran away from us and ran up to this Rebecca and just was like wide-eyed looking at her. And she started like literally mimicking her movements.
And fortunately, Rebecca, very nice, attuned individual, stepped into that role very naturally. And the next morning the little one wakes up and the first words out of her mouth, "Where's Rebecca?" And every hour, "Where's Rebecca? Where's Rebecca?" And then we moved on. And she's in the car, "Where's Rebecca? Where's Rebecca?" And we land in the next place. And now it's Megan. She wakes up, "Where's Megan? I want to be Megan." And we leave and we go to the next place.
And by the third place, it dawned on me. Like, from the point of view if I imagine that we're actually an indigenous group, from the point of view of that evolutionary perspective, what is the context where this little, tiny, micro family unit of a single child, a mother and a father are by themselves alone traveling and always leaving every single tribe they enter with. That notion of like being kicked out of the tribe is more harrowing than being – it's actually more frightful than actually death. It's so catastrophic. And her little body was telling us. I don't know what's going on. About the third or fourth time, her body was like, "Look. I don't know what disaster befell our tribe and why it is we keep getting kicked out. But you guys clearly are failing at humaning. I'm going to have to figure this out."
And I noticed the context of Covid. Every time we found a place where we were able to kind of find a way to be right with people's own bubbles and protocols, their own hunger for human relationality was like a sponge. And so, the grandmother energy would show up. And I would just see this woman who maybe was Vanessa's mother's best friend just shows up with an incredible willingness and desire to enter into a grandmother style relationship. I don't mean consciously. Not intentionally. But it's just there. And give what she had to give. And Eloise was just drinking it in.
And so, it's an ecosystem. And ecosystems have lots of different aspects and characteristics. And that's just how it is. It's just a human being needs the content and the context of this real lived diversity of kinds of humans. And by the way, what I have found is that you can learn most by actually allowing them to direct. Go into a space. Don't expect – in this case, for example, if Eloise is like – it's funny. She actually would introduce herself using different names. And sometimes she would say like, "Hey, sweetheart, this is blah-bidli-blah. This is this person. And how would you like to be called?" And she said, "Big girl baby." And there was like a shield. It was like, "Um, I'm not so sure about this." It's okay. Let's honor the integrity of her not feeling yet ready. It's not authoritarian force her into this disequilibrium of what the hell's going on and why does my body and context not matching.
Sometimes she would say Eloise, or Ella, which is what her sisters call her. And it's like okay that's a – she already knows. She already knows this is something she wants to have a little bit more of. She wants to taste it more.
It's funny, it's the same way as like at dinner time. You put the food in there and she like – maybe she's not at all hungry. Maybe she just wants to play with the mashed potatoes. Okay. That's cool. And maybe she wants to taste it and put it away. And maybe she wants to eat it. Like, that kind of thing. So, that's that. That's from the inside. From the inside.
But then you have the challenge of how do you find that? And how do you hold it? And we don't have good habits. We're unbelievably distracted and addicted. And like any good addict, it's easy for us to avoid things that are simultaneously deeply meaningful and a little bit uncomfortable.
[00:55:14] JS: When you say addicted, are you saying addicted to Game A or addicted to something?
[00:55:18] JF: Yeah, addicted to Game A, which has all these different – in our case, most of the time is things like TV, or career, or social media. Etc. Etc. Right?
And so, even things like we're lucky enough that Vanessa's brother – they were born in Cleveland. But both their parents passed when they were young, or young adults. He chose to move out here. And then he got married. And Covid prevented him and his wife from being able to go to Canada. So, we've actually had them here for the entirety of our daughter's life. And even in that context, it has been a real journey of finding a way to create a – I call it a presence deeper than time. Does that make sense what I'm saying there?
[00:56:00] JS: Yeah, I think so. It's just so interesting when I think about – to go back to the question at the top about just prioritizing parenting. It's just so crazy that when I took these years when my kids were young off, mostly off, I felt like I had to explain myself or apologize for myself. When you meet someone at the cocktail party, the way it's so – our careers and our work is so our identity, right?
I've written about how becoming a mom was like an identity crisis. Because your identity for your whole life has been about the school and getting into the next school and getting the job to the point that the default when we get to know somebody is to say, "What do you do?" Not, "What are you thinking about right now? What lights you up?" It's like, "What do you do?" That's how we define ourselves.
I remember when you say I'm home with my kids, it's like people like, "Oh, that's not interesting. Let me talk to the person next to you who's more interesting." Right? And it's just so crazy to me that we don't value it.
And I remember when lean in came out, there was a really great critique of it, which said you know this is not a triumph of feminism. This is a triumph of capitalism. Or a triumph of Game A, right? To tell us that you got to lean into your career, which is a system that's built around extraction and accumulation of wealth and power. And don't you dare slow down when the kids start to become on the horizon, right? Keep doing it. And you can fight for the ability to make it home by dinner and then go back to work until you go to bed. And it's such a crazy indoctrination of what our value is and what success looks like.
And I wrote a piece when I went back to work telling my story. And it was called I Didn't Lean In. I pushed back. And I think that this narrative of success that – and the thing that always struck me was so crazy is that I'm talking about, depending on how many kids I have, five to ten years, right? And if we – this is what gets to, I think, a really interesting opportunity for this moment, is a lot of this is just the rigidity of how we think about work.
[00:58:37] JF: Yeah.
[00:58:37] JS: Right? And the pandemic with this move to remote work and the emergence of the gig economy, which needs to be designed in a way that is not more extractive for labor. What I always went back to when this internal angst would rise up, which was constant, was how many years I had to do work in the world? And how fleeting this time was with my kids? And I could do work later. But I couldn't do this later. And it's such a small window in the arc of a career as well. And it's so nuts that, God forbid, you have a gap in your resume that you have to explain somehow.
And so, what I was able to do is work in a consulting capacity and part-time. I work 10 hours a week for the bulk of five, six, seven years. But what that allowed me to do is put the bullet points on my resume to kind of hide the fact that I was really prioritizing being with my kids.
And I think that part of the – if we talk about the path forward, is allowing more opportunities for work that are flexible and allowing just an acceptance. And there are other places where, by default, people take a year off when they have a kid. There are places where there are policies that the woman can't take the year off unless the man does too, right? It's also about the role, prioritizing parenting for parents, not moms, is an important piece of the puzzle.
And an obvious, I think, response to what I'm talking about is I was able to do that. My family financially didn't require me to work, right? And there are tons of kids that are being raised by single parents. And I think this is where it gets – okay, if we think about zooming out about what society would look like to prioritize parenting, you would just get a stipend from the state like a guaranteed income for the first five years of your kid's life and support in what that would look like.
It's one of the many reasons why guaranteed income and UBI is compelling to me, because people are able to reallocate time to things that are extraordinarily valuable to society that just don't get quantified into GDP, which is this fucked up measure that we use to determine human progress, right?
And so, I think that there are really important opportunities to craft more flexible work arrangements, as well as just a different story about the importance of parenting, as well as just a different social acceptance for how people allocate their time. I mean, I just thought about this a lot. And for me, the next wave of feminism is really just expanding the lens. Like, Anne-Marie Slaughter expanded the lens to look at care, right? And look at both parents. But for me, it's like spans it and looks at just work, and identity, and society and how much the confinement of society to what can be quantified in an economy is just extraordinarily fucked up. And if we broaden that lens, to get back to where we were starting about, broadening the lens in Riane's work, I think that there's just a really interesting opportunity right now with finally a shift to remote work and people being able to get work done on their own terms. And a very significant rethink in how organizations are structured can enable career and narrative in conjunction with a more progressive view of supporting parents at the state level, so that it's something that all parents can do. That's just the way that I've been thinking about this in the context of my story.
[01:02:33] JF: What I would say is, at the deep level, and at the deeper level and at the deep level, super very much yes. And even I even share a little bit of the – I had this conversation with my mom and my sister about the unfortunate turn of second-wave feminism, where there was an acknowledgment that the context that it had been given to women in the post-war environment clearly wasn't satisfying.
And this bizarre notion that to be able to step into the context that had been given to men in that same time frame would be a good idea. In spite of the fact that if you in fact asked any man at the time, they would tell you, "No. No. This sucks really bad."
[01:03:19] JS: Yeah.
[01:03:21] JF: Why exactly are you aspiring to be a VP of marketing at a New York advertising firm? That's like soul-destroying beyond comprehension. But maybe it was the step we had to take. We had to go through that process. But I certainly pray that the next-wave feminism restores the nobility of mother, and of family and of the core component of – let me just think about how absurd it is. Like, Tyson, who I just was talking to last night, says that in the context of the indigenous, the first code is the circle inside the circle. The dot inside the circle. And that's the family unit. That's, in particular, the mother-child family unit.
It's like, "Look. Obviously, your tribe cannot replicate itself unless that is taken care of." Everything else, everything else, is only meaningful to the degree to which it supports that being fully nurturing. Are you out of your mind? Of course, there's not a single indigenous group on the planet that doesn't get that so deeply that it is absurd and disorienting to suggest it could even plausibly be considered otherwise. All of that, like, yes.
Here's the challenge that would just sort of like say like FUBAR, beyond all recognition. Fucked up beyond all recovery. We may need – it may just be needful that we try to utilize some mechanism like the state for some period of time. But the state can't do that job. Unfortunately, the state is part of the same machinery that will inevitably and inevitably eats meaningfulness.
In just the same way that, to get my child out of the hospital, there is a – okay – car seat is part of the story. There may be a way for us to support humans to be able to actually have the space and resources to commit themselves to nurturing and parenting. It may be something like UBI. And maybe it comes from things like states. And also, for those of us who are called to look at the bigger picture and the big system dynamics, that can only be a stepping stone. Only one step. How do we shift the way that we provide people with what they need in a fashion that is simultaneously more fully in alignment with their actual needs and is more completely available to everyone, right? That's the question. And now it's a design question. Let's put that as the design constraints.
Now, what's the best that we can do now? Okay, cool. By the way, if we've done a little bit, if we've sort of implemented that design a little bit, then things have probably gotten a little bit better. In fact, actually maybe get a little bit more capacity, a little bit more clarity, a little bit more wholesomeness in our larger context.
Okay, cool. We're on the next iteration. Now, how to do it even better? Okay. Cool. How do we do it even better? There's like this virtuous cycle, the race to the top, of beginning with that as an intent. A fundamental intent. The fundamental intent of any viable future, culture, metaculture starts there. And then you work from that design constraint and just improve the quality of the design, improve the subtlety, the nuance and of course the ubiquity, right? More and more and more people are included in that embrace of humanity. But it's possible.
[01:06:39] JS: I think this is a beautiful place to close the conversation. I just love the way that we've managed to cover something so fundamental to the inquiry that we've been having and tie it so beautifully to so many of the conversations that we've had.
And when I think about a theory of change towards this new system, when we had these conversations and we start to see how we want to be versus how we are, we can ask ourselves the questions of, "What does it look like for me to live in alignment in all of the roles that I play with that new society that we're talking about? Not the one that we inhabit. What does that mean for my role as a parent? What does that mean for my role as a consumer? What does that mean is my role as an employee who I choose to work for? What am I endorsing when I make those decisions."
I think that once we can start to be aware of those misalignments and direct our time, attention, energy, dollars towards that, I think that is a really important vector for the way that change happens. And I love that we've just really beautifully highlighted how important parenting is for the whole thing.
Thank you so much for this conversation. It's been incredible. I just love your perspectives. And it's so great, because this one's so personal, too. And it just ties our personal lives, and behaviors, and insights and learnings to this deep conversation that we're so often having together.
[01:08:11] JF: Yeah. You know what? I was just noticing that I think this may be the very first time that I've been afforded the opportunity to speak about the thing that I care about the most. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to do that.
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