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An Interview with Jessica Mills

"Nuclear family isolation breeds dysfunction."

By

An Interview with Jessica Mills

Jessica Mills

I first read My Mother Wears Combat Boots upon its release back in 2007, and at the time I was reading it simply as a fan of Jessica Mills. As a long-time fan of Mills columns in MRR, I was looking for more of her style, and the fact that I was getting it out of a parenting guide didn't seem that odd. Amidst the straightforward parenting advice were more "punk-oriented" topics, ranging from introducing your children to social action and introducing ideal, avoiding exposure to mass marketed pressures, and even anecdotes about taking a child on tour.

Years later, as we prepared for the birth of our first child, I pulled the book out again, this time to actually glean it for insight and advice on my new parenting adventure, taken from a source whose opinions I respected and ideals were in line with mine. It's one of the few books that made the physical move to Amsterdam when we packed up and relocated here.

I connected with Mills recently, a few years following the release of My Mother Wears Combat Boots, to discuss how the past few tears of parenting have been, and to hear a bit more about her stance on parenting.

RC: First off, for those who haven't read My Mother Wears Combat Boots, tell us a little bit about your "parenting background." How old are your kids and how old were you when they were born?

JM: I've got two daughters, now aged 12 and 6. I was 29 when my oldest was born and I'm now 42.

RC: And when it comes to parenting and punk rock, where do they meet?

JM: They usually meet in person in the living room where the drums are set up. But more often, they meet in the form of values and ideals that I learned from being active in the punk scene. On occasion, they meet when my kids come to a show I'm playing or when I take them to a show to see a band I like. In the past, they've both been on tour with me, but they're not interested in doing that anymore. They say it's too stinky, too many long drives, and not enough people their own ages to have fun with.

RC: What lesson do you think that parents who were never into punk could learn from it?

JM: I don't think that punk inherently has lessons for parents to learn. However, creative self-expression is just one of the many valuable lessons that punk taught me and is one that I'm sharing with my kids through more time spent doing art and music and less time with what I call commercialized kid culture.

RC: An interesting thing that comes up when I speak to punk parents (like with Tomas Moniz of Rad Dad) is that so many view parenting as a political/social action. Do you feel that's true as well?

JM: Yes - for me, it is. Punk politicized me. My parenting and politics are intertwined. In fact, the working title for the next book I hope to finish is Social Justice Begins at Home. And I recently contributed a piece to the forthcoming Don't Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities (PM Press, September 2012). But I know there are many parental punk rockers whose parenting has not a shred of political or social action.

RC: How important is it to expose your children to social issues, and when is the right age for it?

JM: It's of paramount importance. Like I just mentioned, I think social justice is something that can and should begin at home. My kids have been “exposed” to social issues since they were babies. Activism has been part of my partner's and my life since before we became a family; there's no separating it from who we are as parents. Besides, it's the privileged minority who aren't “exposed” to social issues; the majority of kids are growing up with social issues in their faces – poverty, different types of abuse, racism, anti-immigration sentiments, war, access to health care, LGBTQ hate – the list is pretty long.

RC: Have you ever found a time where your political ideals and your parenting ideology have clashed?

JM: No, not that I can remember, but I can think of plenty of times when my parenting ideology and parenting practice have have been at odds. Hungry, sleep deprived, isolated and/or hormonal times can wreck havoc on any well-intentioned parent's commitment to gentle, patient, respectful, free-child, unconditional parenting.

RC: I have to say that the book is a classic, both as a parenting "how to" guide and as a sort of philosophical guide to parenting. I read it when it came out, long before I had a child, then again last year before my baby was born. Now that it's been a few years since its release, what have you been up to?

JM: Wow, thank you - that's a true honor! Since its release, I've been living the daily grind like most working parents are. The daily grind for us includes school, homework, kid activities and both parents working. The non-grind stuff includes engaging in community building efforts (and fun!) through a local non-profit community garden and learning center, cooperative child-care, touring about once a year, writing, and most recently, starting a new band. Like most parents, I need more hours in the day.

RC: If I were to pin one question on you, and say "What is the most important thing to you about parenting?", how would you answer?

JM: The most important thing to me is building life-long relationships with my kids that are built on mutual respect, trust, and love.

RC: When it comes to music, what do you expose your kids to? Do you find a lot of the "kids' music" abhorrent?

JM: We expose our kids to all genres and time periods of music, not just punk. It's a pretty eclectic mix around here. They're both music lovers. This past year, however, I've been tortured by their discovery and loving embrace of the commercial pop radio stations. They never did think much of the "kid's music", but I do love one particular CD in that vein - Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants. My 12 year old screams, "Oh no, mom, turn it off! You are so embarrassing!!!" Oh, and I liked the three compilation CDs of Greasy Kid Stuff favorites more than my kids did (Compare Prices).

RC: Do you have any advice for other punk parents?

JM: Pay attention to what your gut is telling you, even when the world is telling you the opposite. More often than not, your intuition is right on the mark. You are the one who knows what is a right decision for your kid, yourself, and your family. Also, don't strive for nonexistent perfection. Strive for the best you can do with the circumstances you've got. It's hard to meet the needs of someone else when you need help meeting your own. Last, build community. Nuclear family isolation breeds dysfunction.

My Mother Wears Combat Boots is out now on AK Press (Compare Prices).

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