How organizing made me a better parent

So I’ve thought a lot about how becoming a parent has influenced me as an advocate for social justice. The other day, though, I started thinking about the reverse: how who I was ‘before’ has shaped how I parent. I think it’s obvious that we are influenced in many, often nearly undetectable ways, by the sum of our life’s experiences. For me, because I spend so much time with my students and in this blog and in my work with nonprofit organizations thinking about my advocacy and organizing work and that part of myself, these linkages are maybe a little more apparent.

I’d love to hear from others about how your advocacy and organizing work, or your social work education/training in general, have shaped your personal interactions with others in your lives. Knowing that we can’t very well ‘turn the social worker’ off, as much as our partners, parents, kids might want us to, how are you cognizant of this professional influence in your personal life? How do you moderate it, if you attempt this?

  • I am not defined at all by what my kids say or do. You know those parents who get so embarrassed if their kids don’t do the right thing or act the right way in public? I’m not saying I get a kick out of it when my toddler throws a fit at the library, but when you have thousands of people marching under your organization’s banner and saying whatever they will, you learn early that you cannot control other people’s behavior, and this goes for your kids too. So you set the parameters and establish consequences and recognize the limits of your influence over other human beings!
  • I am very comfortable with chaos. Not only am I used to doing dozens of things at once, but I’m very, very, very familiar with being yelled at. This gives me a pretty high tolerance for havoc. People have asked me often, ‘isn’t it crazy having 3 kids under 3 in your house?’ (they’re 3 and under now, thank you very much!) The answer is, of course, yes, but not as crazy as being in the middle of a raging debate about the kind of America we want to build, and who should get to be a part of it (although there is a bit more food throwing, but only a bit).
  • I get the difference between strategy and tactics/long-term goals vs. short-term objectives. I’m not going to stress about a lot of the inputs that many middle-class parents find critically important (preschool location, music classes, etc…) because I see that those are just various tactics that parents can pursue to get the desired end result: good/bright/healthy kids. And there are lots of other tactics that are just as good, or better, and a whole lot simpler (there’s that equifinality, again!).
  • I try to never do anything for my kids that they can do for themselves. Yes, this means that it takes longer to get out of the house, and they spill, and they even sometimes get a little hurt, but they’re also confident and resilient and pretty happy. Every time my son goes out with his shorts on backwards, I think of how I refused to speak for people who could make themselves heard as long as they had an interpreter, and how that made so much more impact, coming from them.
  • I’m willing to fight alongside my kids. No, not over who gets the Duplo fire truck, but when they are being treated unfairly, or when they have a need, I know how to navigate resources and make myself a nuisance until they receive the respect and assistance they deserve. I don’t worry that it will make me look pushy (I am!); I want my kids to see that injustice anywhere is an affront to justice anywhere, and to know that Mommy will fight for them, and will also call them out when they’re perpetrating the injustice. I want them to know that that’s what mommies do.

    I’d never say that I’m a perfect mom. In fact, some of what makes me a good advocate gives me problems as a Mommy: I’m notoriously impatient and very opinionated and somewhat maniacally passionate. But I know that I’m a better mom for who I have been and who I’ve known and what I’ve learned. And my three kids give me three more reasons to be grateful to the leaders and community folk who labored beside me as I grew up and learned, in the process, how to be the best parent I can.

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