Libertarian parenting, What it means to me

After reading an article about what libertarian parenting is from Steve Horowitz and being asked by many others what it means to me, I am going to lay it out best I can.

To me, libertarian parenting is not a hands-off approach to parenting. It is not letting the child decide what is best or what the child wants. To me, it is about living my principles in every aspect of my life. The non-aggression principle being a key tenant to most libertarian thought, I try to apply that in my parenting as well. I try not so physically discipline my child, I even try not to yell at my children. I am not saying that yelling is a violation of the NAP but yelling has not proved effective as a parenting tool. In Steve’s article, he mentions 4 styles of parenting Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive, and Neglectful. On this spectrum, my wife and I try to fall under the Authoritative style of parenting. We set limits, encourage independence and risk taking, set rules, discipline, and allow our children to make their own decisions within the limits that have been set.

Spanking is a big topic in the libertarian world when libertarianism is applied to parenting. Should you spank, should you not? I will not tell another how to raise their children but as for us, we try not to. As a philosophical anarchist, I cannot square my principles with the idea of spanking. Does that mean that libertarians cannot spank their children? Most would say yes, I would say no. Minarchism, which is clearly in the realm of libertarianism, allows for force to be used as a coercive measure on a limited basis. I can see minarchist being in-line with their principles and spanking. Same with libertarian Christians and others. This is not to say that I am a perfect parent and have not spanked my child, I have and I regret it. I finally understand why my parents said it was more painful for them than me. It is not something many people like doing. The important aspect, I believe, is living your principles throughout your entire life and not to compartmentalize them to one aspect.

One aspect of my parenting that some find odd, especially the nieces and nephews, is that I do not make my children share their toys. This is not to say that I do not encourage them or lead by example. When my nieces or nephews come to me and ask me to make my son share a particular toy, I politely tell them that it is Isaiah’s and that they will have to work it out with him. This does two things I believe. It helps solidify the idea of property rights to the kids, mainly mine, but it also helps all of them with interpersonal conflict resolution. This is something millennials seem to be missing is the ability to handle conflict without resorting to the use of governmental force to ban something they do not like. My son usually shares, as I often talk with him about the importance of sharing what we have with others. This rubs some parents the wrong way, but most of the ones who have an issue with it are the same ones who helicopter over their children.

This seems to be a big thing as well. Many that I have talked to seem to believe that children should be compensated for everything they do. I don’t agree with this at all. My son does things around the house without being paid. Does he get money? Yes. He wanted to have a job so he could get paid like me. I gave him the job of feeding the dog. When he does it he gets paid and when he doesn’t and I have to do it, he gets nothing. This leads to the question about what kids are allowed to do with their own money. I have set up a system that my son follows and enjoys. He has three tin cans for his money. One for saving, one for giving, and one for spending. I have him put the majority of what he earns into his savings and split the rest between his giving and spending cans. He enjoys it. I then take him and his saving and purchase silver coins as his savings. He spends his money on what he wants when he remembers to take it. As far as his giving can, we donate year round but we give money at two specific times of year as well. When these dates come around I donate money and usually other items as well to various organizations and I let my son choose what organization he would like to donate to. This is important to my wife and I to instill a sense of giving and charity into our children. Is it wrong of me to force him to give his money? Well, I would say no because he looks forward to it and I don’t make him do it. He follows the example of my wife and I.

Where I think libertarian parenting really stands out is in schooling our own children. Good parenting is the best thing we could do for our children followed closely by schooling them. I am not comfortable and it is not in-line with my principles to allow the government to have my children for a majority of their life. The way my wife and I view it is that while we are being taxed for schools and have a right to whatever the money is being spent on, it would not be beneficial to our family or our children if we sent them to public schools. We also do not trust others to teach our children what they need and should know so that takes private schools out as well. We couldn’t see giving up our parental prerogative to others for 8 hours a day. My personal view is that homeschooling is probably the most libertarian and important thing you could do.

One area that I think most libertarian parents can agree on is that we should allow our kids to play without constant supervision. Allow them to take risks, have fun, interact, and be children. Let them have a childhood and enjoy it. The interaction between various ages of children is good for all involved and child-led play is great for their development as well.

The parenting style of my wife and I is not perfect but it works for us. Libertarian parenting is not a one lane highway, it is a beautiful network of different parenting styles that intermingle to form whatever works for your family and your children. There will always be those parents out there that will tell you not to spank, yell, or you’re giving too much freedom or you’re to structured. Do what is best for your child’s development. If after looking at your situation and you find the criticism is right, adjust and keep going. Parenting is not static and it will evolve

What Is “Libertarian Parenting”?

One of the dangers of modern libertarianism is that some people want to apply the ethical rules and insights that make complete sense in the market to micro-orders such as the family and the firm. Because our day-to-day life is made up of these micro-orders, it would seem to many libertarians that any consistent philosophy should go all the way down.

But as Hayek argued in The Fatal Conceit, the macro order and its rules — which he called the “extended order” — are distinct from the norms and rules that make up these more localized levels of description. When we fail to make this distinction, we wrongly apply the ethics of the extended order to the intimate orders of families and firms, which risks crushing those micro-orders.

This problematic tendency is most pronounced in the ways some libertarians discuss parenting.

They often begin by asking what “libertarian parenting” would look like. Naturally, they then imagine parents being analogous to government and children being analogous to citizens. Unsurprisingly, they conclude that, on libertarian grounds, parents should interfere as little as possible in the lives of their children. Some even propose organizing the household on market principles.

For example, advocates of libertarian parenting might argue that children should always get paid for chores and that parents should never say, “Because I said so!” to their kids. With the best of intentions, they believe that what we might call “laissez-faire” parenting will create children who will be more likely to support a laissez-faire society.

Obedience to legitimate authority, which includes following rules, is not anti-libertarian.

I think they are deeply mistaken for several reasons.

First, there is the empirical evidence from psychology. Psychologists distinguish among a number of parenting styles, but the major ones fall on a spectrum from most involved to least:

  • authoritarian
  • authoritative
  • permissive
  • neglectful

The advocates of libertarian parenting clearly reject the “authoritarian” style and presumably would reject “neglectful.” What they seem to want is perhaps something like permissive parenting:

Permissive parents … allow children to make their own decisions, giving them advice as a friend would. This type of parenting is very lax, with few punishments or rules. Permissive parents also tend to give their children whatever they want and hope that they are appreciated for their accommodating style. Other permissive parents compensate for what they missed as children, and as a result give their children both the freedom and materials that they lacked in their childhood.

As it turns out, permissive parenting doesn’t work very well. The psychological research indicates that children of permissive parents suffer from a variety of problems as they mature.

By contrast, authoritative parenting provides the best results:

Authoritative parents encourage children to be independent but still place limits on their actions. Extensive verbal give-and-take is not refused, and parents try to be warm and nurturing toward the child. Authoritative parents are not usually as controlling as authoritarian parents, allowing the child to explore more freely, thus having them make their own decisions based upon their own reasoning. Often, authoritative parents produce children who are more independent and self-reliant. An authoritative parenting style mainly results when there is high parental responsiveness and high parental demands. Authoritative parents will set clear standards for their children, monitor the limits that they set, and also allow children to develop autonomy.

In other words, it’s perfectly appropriate to place limits on your children’s actions and to insist on only such freedom as is age appropriate. Authoritative parents have high expectations and are not hesitant to say no to their kids. The evidence is clear that this style produces the best psychological outcomes for children.

This style of parenting is not just the best for individual outcomes, but also for promoting a liberal social order.

Many things that might seem to be “anti-liberty” that happen within healthy families are, in fact, preparing children for life in a free society. What children need to become responsible adults is not freedom but structure. For example, they need to learn the importance of following rules, as a free society is a rule-governed society. Political and economic freedom are enhanced by rule-following, and parenting can model that.

It’s perfectly fine as a libertarian parent occasionally to say, “Because I said so.” Obedience to legitimate authority, which includes following rules, is not anti-libertarian. It’s a necessary skill in a world where some people and institutions actually do have authority. And small children in particular do not need everything explained to them. That’s how you end up putting them in the center of your familial universe, which is the mistake that permissive parents make. Parents should be leaders, and they should lead by example.

Encouraging and even forcing your kids to share their possessions is not socialism and it’s not bad parenting. It is not a bad thing to demonstrate to kids that sharing with other individuals they know, even when they might not wish to share, is often an effective way to prevent conflict and establish trust. You can also help them to understand the difference between the expectation to share with known others versus anonymous others. Sharing is what families do, after all. Would children rather their parents didn’t share the income they earn and the food they prepare?

And requiring chores without compensation is an excellent idea and it’s not anti-liberty. The institutions of civil society, such as families and religious organizations, are not bound together by the cash nexus. (There’s a reason that cash gifts among close friends are often considered tacky.) The world does not divide into either state or market. Outside state and market, we often do things out of obligation to others, whether it’s some form of expected sharing or providing help without monetary compensation. Learning that this is often the appropriate way to behave helps to ensure that the institutions of civil society survive and thrive. They are just as important to liberty as are the institutions of the market.

One area where the “libertarian parenting” advocates are correct is in the importance of allowing children to play on their own, without constant parental supervision. The psychological literature is clear about the benefits of unsupervised play for helping children develop the capacity to create, follow, and enforce rules; think about issues of fairness; and learn empathy. Most important, from a libertarian perspective, such play requires the continuing consent of the players. Behaving in ways that upset other children will bring play to an end. Unsupervised play teaches children how to negotiate and compromise to ensure that playing relationships are consensual. Consent is at the core of both markets and civil society, and parents who let their children play without parental supervision are helping those children to develop skills and abilities central to a free society.

When libertarians think about parenting, we should not be asking, “What sort of parenting appears to be implied by our ethical and political views?” Instead, we should be studying what psychologists know about child development and seeing how that aligns with the aptitudes and attitudes we know are necessary for a free society. We shouldn’t want parenting to be libertarian; we should want to parent in ways that produce children who have the skills they need to value and sustain liberty.


Originally posted on Written By Steve Horowitz