Parenting Is Political

Having a baby changes your life, and that’s true for activists, too. In my microsphere of feminist and progressive activism, I’ve long been uncomfortable with the way children and specifically having children is viewed.

Having kids can be seen as a burden, an impediment to career advancement, a selfish move that hurts the environment, or a means by which women without children are forced to do more work for the people who get to go home early. I’ve heard feminists who don’t have children say all of these things, and I died a little each time. (To be clear, I’ve also encountered feminists who accommodate caregiving and inspire the best of me as a mom and an activist.)

A feminism that directs women to outsmart the reality of caregiving is probably superficial, market-oriented feminism at its worst. By all means, women and all people should be free to live their lives without being accused of having a maternal instinct to tend. Women who don’t have kids are doing right by themselves and don’t need scrutiny or second-guessing or third-party guilt trips. But to conflate the choice of some women not to have kids as an imperative for all women not to have kids or dependents of any kind, if they want to get ahead in the adult world — why, that’s crap.

Children are part of the universe. They are people with needs. Until we accept the presence of people with needs as part of the public and not just private sphere — be they children, adults with disabilities, or seniors in need of help — equality for women is going nowhere. Whether a woman will have children or not, others will use her presumed reproductive capacity and their opinion of her fitness for it to make decisions on her behalf.

It was tough for me to have a baby, and to adjust. I have always been what my husband calls a “gunner.” Prior to having a child I have, at times, run myself ragged chasing my dream of equality. Once I hit a limit to the point that a friend allowed me to sit on the phone stupefied, unable to speak, only able to cry, because I was working so hard (and without pay), completely disconnected from “life.”

More often it was healthy and fun, where instead of watching TV I liked to go to activist meetings and throw protests (I mean, it is more interesting)! In my last incarnation before getting married and having a baby all domestic-like, I was doing work-related things most weeknights and weekends. It was my community and my passion, and mostly, I was having a good time.

Once I had a baby, the activist labor of planning actions/meeting with activists, going to panel discussions and meet ups, and the endless cycle of board and committee meetings most every evening screeched to a halt. And, in the quiet of a burbling baby who needed to be rocked to sleep and would wake up again 10 minutes later, I began to internalize how removed some feminist quarters I occupied were from the reality of so many women’s lives.

It took more time still for me to realize that some of the most profound activist work I can do is not “activism.” It is not shouting the right thing into the bullhorn, or rounding up the permit and building the engagement ladder, or deepening my understanding of privilege and pushing my own boundaries of what it means to accept and love your neighbor. I do not denigrate these things — I do them.

The most profound activist legacy I leave behind may well be my parenting, and if that winds up being true, I see it as no lesser than the accomplishments of starting an organization, speaking truth to power, and forcing change in the public sphere. Giving my daughter a sense of love and justice, and encouraging her questioning and willingness to participate in collective activism, matters.

Parenting can be activism. Parenting can be a more profound contribution of activism than the things people associate with activism. It’s not anti-feminist to believe that. Frankly, the anti-feminist problem may sit in the slice of feminist spaces that don’t explicitly accommodate people with children, that don’t encourage their participation by explicitly welcoming families in actions and meeting spaces, and that don’t explicitly lift up the importance of the caregiving work that so many women do as a site for collective liberation in the the struggle toward equality.

On Parenting And Being Wrong

My three-year-old daughter made her first gingerbread house, and I thought I caught her breaking candy off and eating it. “Stop it,” I said from the top of the stairs.

Her face crumpled in transparent hurt and indignation. But Mommy, I didn’t do it. She sobbed.

She didn’t. I was wrong. She has been sneaking candy recently. I was convinced she was doing it again.

I’m sorry, I said. I was wrong. Sometimes Mommy is wrong.

But my feelings are hurting, she cried.

I know, I said. I hugged her. The next time I’m wrong, tell me and I’ll believe you.

She nodded.

At the grocery store a few hours later, it appeared she was pulling open a small carton of Goldfish crackers we hadn’t bought yet. I said her name in a warning tone.

“Mommy, you’re wrong.” She said it without getting upset, and I believed her right away.

So many important lessons tucked in at once. I hope she’ll always retain a sense of fairness and a willingness to tell authority when it is wrong. I’m glad she is grappling with the fallibility of the people she loves most. Perhaps when she is older she’ll have the courage to wear her weaknesses openly when she’s in the company of people she can trust — an essential trait of leadership.

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I should take the gingerbread house off that table, however. The yellow lab is eyeing it.

 

 

Donald Trump Voters And My Daughter

Tonight, as I pushed a jogging stroller and my daughter held her butterfly wings and stuffed giraffe with the bell, we came across the neighborhood nightmare I hadn’t known existed:

Five Donald Trump signs on one lawn.

“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” they screamed.

I can hold her and rock her and sing to her, but I can’t shield my daughter from Donald Trump supporters.

They exist. They’re everywhere. The polls and votes are not an aberration, and getting snooty about it or exercising our right to denial won’t do anything: Bald hatred is apparently sort-of in.

More distressing was the house itself. This was the house with the woman who had caught me pushing this stroller a year ago. She wanted to chat. She clearly wanted a friend. She has two twin sons about the same age as my daughter.

And now her house is supporting a man who has called for building a national registry of Muslims, posing religious tests for who can enter the country, and building a wall along our southern border at Mexico’s expense. He profoundly disrespects women. He encourages violence.

So what am I supposed to do if we see each other at the playground? Should my daughter be allowed to play with her sons? How do I talk to my child about racism and sexism and violence, and the awful views that express themselves in society all the time?

I will admit to feeling a level of discomfort with a trend among some in the left of shutting down all opposing speech. While I’m all about taking care of oneself and what one needs to feel safe, it seems like there’s a qualitative difference between a justified non-tolerance for racism, sexism, and calls to violence, and creating bubbles where the only people we speak to are people who love everyone perfectly. That world is very small, and as an activist my goal has always been to create a bigger world.

I think about that tension as I consider what to do with my daughter and this family. There is a good chance the issue will never come up — after all, it’s probably been a year since we last bumped into each other. But these are real questions. There are, no question, other Trump supporters in our midst.

My non-negotiable is definitely labeling the problem. If someone says something racist in front of my daughter, I have already pledged to my husband, no matter how socially awkward it is, to say loudly, immediately: “That’s wrong, [he or she] is wrong, and what they’re saying hurts people.” It may lose us friends, but it’s important to me that we confront it in the moment, and that we do not allow anyone who wants to diffuse the tension to redefine that moment as different people seeing things different ways. Some things are just wrong and they hurt people.

But beyond a direct explication of views I just don’t know. More than anything, I want to help and support people — including my daughter, if this is the life she chooses — to change minds and demand accountability so that we treat our fellow humans and ourselves better, with dignity, equality, and justice. Will closing off the neighbor who now gives me the shivers do that? And what would it mean to label some people off limits — does Trump win if his way of thinking (even for different outcomes) wins? Maybe the best thing we can do to defeat bigotry is to invest in our kids openly, in ways that make us feel uncomfortable.