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Jun 1, 2022

Sarah Jaffe: Urging Parents to Think Beyond Our Own Kids’ Success

Heidi Stevens

Sarah Jaffe’s first job out of law school was representing foster children in class-action lawsuits.

“Just trying to get kids the barest bones kind of services and a safe place to sleep and to not have them be further abused while in care,” Jaffe said. “Really basic parts of what children need to thrive.”

In 2017, she became a parent, and she was immediately and profoundly struck by the level of anxiety and fear her peer group felt about their kids’ needs being met—kids, Jaffe said, who had everything they could ever want and then some. 

The fundamental epiphany I would hope for is that we start to conceive of ourselves as interconnected.”

“I found myself of two minds about it,” she said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I’m not worried enough.’ But I also thought, ‘This is obscene to have this much, and still have this much worry.’ I felt uncomfortable in a way I couldn’t fully name or put my finger on with the parenting norms I was seeing and becoming a part of.”

Privileged parents, Jaffe points out, often say they want what’s best for their child. And they don’t consciously add “… and not for other children.” But when families with ample resources relentlessly pursue their own child’s interests, she maintains, other children are all too often left behind.

Jaffe’s new book, “Wanting What’s Best: Parenting, Privilege, and Building a Just World,” invites readers to imagine what it would look like to advocate and fight on behalf of other people’s children with the same ferocity we typically reserve for our own. She examines the choices individual parents make that perpetuate inequality and spells out collective actions society could take in order for resources and opportunities to be more evenly distributed and accessible to all children.

“We don’t have much sense as individual parents that your individual choices are about anything more than what’s best for your family and your kid,” Jaffe said. “The cultural narrative is that your only job as a parent is to maximize what’s best for your kid, not a collective investment in a functioning childcare system or equally-funded public school system, for example.”

For her book, Jaffe found examples of individuals, organizations and movements working with an eye toward the greater good.

“The fundamental epiphany I would hope for is that we start to conceive of ourselves as interconnected,” she said. “That when we think of people in the next neighborhood, who don’t go to our kids’ school or don’t shop at the same supermarket, that we stop seeing their futures as disconnected from ours.”

It brings to mind a sign I walked by over the weekend, outside a church on Chicago’s South Side: Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.


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