Activist Parenting: It Will Be Fine

I wish I could tell you how often I have shared my concerns about an issue with someone close to me and have received “it will be fine” in response.

As an oldest child that feels that the whole world is my responsibly and as someone who tends toward anxiety, I believe most of the people who have said this to me did so in love and with good intentions. They were trying to assure me that other people were working on the issues I was passionate about and that I didn’t have to do it all.
The truth of this statement is that there always seem to be people working on issues that matter and that, in general, a working mom realizing that she doesn’t have to do it all is freeing. The bad news is “it will be fine” can also be a way of assuring ourselves out of any personal responsibility for whatever is troubling us.
When I am in a position of privilege, I get to ignore things. The refugee mother with a four and six year old who have lost all semblance of a routine and who have been traumatized by war do not get to ignore their circumstances in the same way that this mother of a four and six year old can ignore them. My privilege gives me the ability to choose whether or not to be impacted. I can say, “it will be fine” because my life is fine even if another’s is not. That’s privilege.
I credit Dr. Carole Counihan’s Gender Race and Class course that I took as a senior at Millersville University with helping me to realize that not everyone else’s life was fine. Thanks to a panel of courageous people with many different life experiences telling their stories, I realized for the first time that not everyone is dealt the same cards. Contrary to what I believed, hard work and being nice wasn’t enough to overcome some of the barriers these people were facing.
Since then, I have become (an imperfect) social justice activist for a variety of causes. At first it felt uncomfortable because white women’s culture promotes passivity and niceness. This obviously does not bode well for women with strong opinions who act. (I like this source white women’s culture).
Parenting changed my activism in two ways: one, I encountered new injustices by living life with children, and two, I started to hesitate as I wondered whether activism was an appropriate family activity (or how much time I could spend doing activism while away from my family). I deliberated quite a bit about whether my kids should join me on the picket line when I was among the faculty of fourteen public universities who went on strike in October.
I didn’t think twice about involving my children this week, though, when President Trump issued an executive order that was executed in a way that left traumatized refugees and others stranded in airports with nowhere to call home. I didn’t think twice until someone from my own family commended me (after the fact) about how brave this action was given the pushback I might be facing from others close to me. Do my friends and family think I’m crazy?
I am almost certain I have friends and family that believe my activism unfairly indoctrinates my children. To those of you whom I love who may feel this way, you are correct. I unfairly indoctrinate my children with my worldview. As it turns out, every type of parenting results in a child with a worldview. Please don’t blame my activism for this; you likely just disagree with my beliefs. That’s okay to say.
My initial hesitancy to engage my children in social justice has changed to a strong belief that involving my children in activism is really important. Here are a few stories from the week that illustrate my belief.
  • Monday night, as we were making signs for a refugee vigil, my six year old asked, “Mom, what is a refugee?” This question and others came because we were engaged in action. I watched her internalize the idea that “refugee” is a status that is temporary. She said, “so if we had a war here and had to leave, we would be refugees?” Yes we would. She was learning and soaking it in. This likely wouldn’t have come up over dinner in the same way it came up over action.

  • Tuesday night, we took the girls with us to the vigil. They didn’t understand everything. That night she asked a friend, “so who are you voting for?” and later to me, “what are we supposed to do here?” However, at one point in the evening, my children linked arms with other children from our church and began to sway. Somehow they internalized that the purpose of going was being together and standing in solidarity.

  • This afternoon, I got home from work and showed E the front page of the local newspaper. She stood looking at a photograph of the vigil for a long time. “That’s us?” she asked. Yes, that’s us and the other 2,000 who think this matters.

I see my actions toward justice as living out my faith, which repeatedly calls believers to action on behalf of orphans, widows, foreigners, and the oppressed. Living this out with my children is a powerful witness. I am now okay with activist parenting. I see it as a radical departure from “it will be fine” to “let’s help make it fine.” I want to raise children who recognize and call out injustice, believe they can make a difference, and know how to do it. So I’ll model it, and we’ll practice together.