Why I take my small child to marches and protests

On mothering and activism

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A funny thing about becoming a parent is that it affects you in ways you could have never anticipated, while other things end up being not so different from the life you had without children. Before my son was born, I imagined many things that are central to my life to be incompatible with motherhood: I am an activist and identity and equality are central both to my academic work and my writing in general, but I didn’t quite know how domesticity and family life would fit with these other important parts of who I am.

Once I became a mother, however, something shifted in me: I realised that mothering means taking care of others. Activism and mothering, whether in the literal sense or not, seemed a natural fit (in no way do I mean to suggest that you have to be a mother to be a good activist: In fact, some of the most ‘mothering’, caring people I know are not literal mothers at all).

Now that Teddy is three, he has already been to several pride marches, a Women’s March and a few disability rights protests. Some of my friends and family do not understand why I take Teddy with me to these gatherings, because they think I should shield him from certain issues until he is older. I grew up as a disabled person whose parents tried to shield her from the sometimes harsh reality of the world, so I know the limits of this approach. Even at his young age, my son is already exposed to ableism as strangers question me about my disability or make comments about how soon he will grow old enough to be ‘my free carer’.

Teddy

He might not fully understand yet what happens in these interactions, but soon enough he will. Try as I might, I cannot shield him from the intrusive actions and comments from strangers, and when we are dealing with access barriers in our daily routine he is already affected by them by proxy.

For me, taking him to protests and pride marches means I can expose him to spaces where prejudice is challenged. Once he’s old enough to understand that we live in a world where homophobia, racial prejudice, ableism and misogyny are unfortunately all too common, he also knows that there are people who take a stance against them. Introducing him to activist work means introducing him to hope.

Many families make the choice to introduce their children to activism early, just like ours: Especially LGBTQIA+ pride events which are often child-friendly, providing children’s areas with opportunities for play, face painting or even designated children’s entertainment, and they focus on celebrating the community, even though they also deal with important political issues. And of course I am aware that for some people, protesting might be a necessity because their livelihood is acutely threatened, and they do not have the option to leave their children with someone else.

I am especially painfully aware of this during moments when I choose to leave Teddy at home. One of these occasions was a protest after the fire of Grenfell tower; those of us who went marching felt devastated and angry over such a loss of lives, and it did not feel like a safe place to take my then 2 ½-year-old. At the same time, I was painfully aware that the residents of Grenfell had the possibility of keeping their children safe taken away from them, and it truly brought home what a privileged life my family and I lead.

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5 Comments

  • Bravo, Nina. Too often children are cited as a reason to act for narrowly selfish reasons – see how often ‘I have to think of my children’ is often said on QT or election specials by someone voting/arguing to … err … curb the rights of other people’s children. Too rarely are they described as people who deserve to learn from us about justice and concern for others. And we wonder why so many young people are not politically engaged!

    • Thanks Mairi. Personally I really understand it if people want to shelter their kids from political issues, I just do it differently with my kid, partly out of necessity.
      I also found that being a mum made me care more about others (especially women’s rights), not less.

  • Hi Nina,

    Great article! It’s really interesting to me as there has been a bit of discussion in my work about this due to the inclusion of children at events which could/should be described as far right and concerns about child welfare.

    • That’s really interesting, Alison! Do you work in child welfare?

      I think it’s a touchy area, as the line between events that support genuine political causes of the right and events that are far-right or xenophobic can be blurry. I find it difficult to comment because my political views are left-leaning, but your point is so thought-provoking

  • i Think your point about the feeling and intent behind the March should be taken into consideration. People are entitled to their political views but a hate filled march or one very likely to have counter protesters feels so inappropriate! I would feel child safety was a priority. Right wing marches always have a heavy police presence and often individuals drinking, if nothing else to me it makes it unsafe for children.
    Hope that makes sense.

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