Personal is Political Week: Parenting Politically

This is the last post in The Personal is Political Week, here at Classroom to Capitol, but it obviously does not mark the end of my thinking about the larger contexts of even my most private decisions. And, since I spend the vast majority of my physical and mental energy most days parenting my three kids, the part of my life where I reflect most on the political nature of the choices I make is in my parenting.

I’ve written about that some here before, about choosing schools for my kids and deciding how to include them in my activism activities.

And I’ve thought about how, in many ways, the decision to become a parent in the first place is laden with social implications, at least for me: it was a choice to divert some of the personal resources I had previously invested entirely in the public sphere to my own private family, and it was also a sort of announcement that, despite my preoccupation with its wrongs, I find enough good in this world to bring a child into it.

Yeah, for me, it wasn’t really about the layettes at all.

Despite the days that I feel pulled in too many directions to accomplish anything well, I am acutely aware that I am so very fortunate to have the “work/family balance” that I do, when, for the vast majority of American families, our economy is just not structured to make parenting very possible. Our leave, childcare, and wage policies try to cast parenting as though it is an entirely private responsibility. In the midst of that reality, trying to parent well is in itself a sort of political act, a kind of thumbing one’s nose at hostile work environments and indifferent public officials, to refuse to yield one’s right to try to raise a future generation.

Most days, though, politics creep into my parenting in much more mundane ways. I encounter building entries and sidewalks that won’t accommodate our triple stroller, so I complain to codes officials. I hear my son’s friend call something a “girl toy”, and get him talking about why girls and boys are expected to play with different things. I challenge the teacher who uses the word “independent” to describe my daughter, as though it were a bad thing. I point out to my husband the value of my unpaid labor to our household. I remind my consulting client that I can’t make a phone call that day because it’s a day home with my kids. I sit with my oldest son to watch videos of President Obama signing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I alienate the parents of my children’s friends by incessantly calling for a fair statewide school funding formula.

But, in reflection this week, I think the most political part of my parenting is in the way that I actually do it. The book Red Families v. Blue Families, which I read recently, made me see that choices that I make about how I listen to my kids, the choices that I give them, the ways in which I let them fall (and stand) on their own, the kinds of emotions they’re allowed to express, the rights and expectations they are encouraged to demand, and the access they have to me, as their parent…all of that mirrors, in many ways, the kind of political system I hope that I’m playing a small part in building in the world beyond our doors.

So, I hope what my three children are learning about politics and the way the world should work is not who Mommy votes for (although they’re encouraged to ask questions and given honest answers), but that those who have power over you should be accountable to you, that you have an inviolable right to security, and that you have tools at your disposable to change what you can’t tolerate. That doesn’t mean our family is a democracy, exactly, but it means that I don’t say “because I said so”, that Sam can say that I’m mean, if that’s how he feels, and that I trust that my kids can handle a lot of truth.

I didn’t really think about setting out on a “parenting as citizenship preparation” course, but I guess that’s where we are. And, as I evaluate every night how well I did at being Mom, and being me, it’s both political and very, very personal.

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