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’.
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.