Colin Beavan
Writer Colin Beavan and family in NYC

In his new book, “How to be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World,” Colin Beavan (otherwise known as the No-Impact Man), defines what he calls “social parenting,” which means that taking on a position of mentorship over children is a form of parenting them—and it doesn’t require the tax on our planet that comes with bringing more people on the earth to populate it.

Beavan writes that “How we choose to parent may impact the world more than any other choice, because it determines so much of what we leave behind.” And I couldn’t agree with him more. There are millions of children who lack any form of parenting, whether from their parents our adults outside of their bloodline, and those children suffer because of it.

The idea of social parenting is about opening up the strict idea that only parents, or grandparents, or stepparents should be allowed to offer guidance and support to the children of this world. Volunteering to help at-risk youth, teaching swim lessons, coaching sports teams, or even stepping in to babysit the children who live next door when it seems their parents are busy is a way to be a social parent, and hopefully impact the lives of children in a positive way.

“When you open up to the fact that all the world’s children are each of our children, saying it is selfish not to have a child makes no sense, because you already have children,” Beavan says.

Some people can’t have children. Some people choose not to have children. But this doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from the reward of nurturing a child, and it doesn’t mean that the children we already have in this world who need support shouldn’t benefit from being nurtured.

Overall, I don’t see many gaps in Beavan’s thought process—but should we call this “parenting”?

Being a parent is a day-in, day-out, 24/7 job. They don’t have children for just a few hours, or just a few years of their lives. They don’t just get to do the job of coaching them and lifting them up—they also have the responsibility of providing for them, punishing them when they’re wrong, picking up after them, and loving them unconditionally. Being a parent is not something to be taken lightly, and I wonder if the concept of “social parenting” is dedicated enough to earn that title.

Certainly, it takes more than just a set of parents to raise a child. Even children with two loving, supportive parents can also benefit from adults stepping in to mentor them in different areas. A child can have both parents and Beavan’s idea of “social parents”—in fact, I think they should have both.

I can’t argue with any of what Beavan writes, about the benefit social parenting has on children and adults alike. But let us not take away from the enormous amount of work and responsibility that comes with raising a child full-time. The job of parenting deserves to not be taken lightly.

What are your thoughts on Beavan’s “social parenting”? Let me know in the comments!