Honestly, I really don't think I've changed all that much since having children. I'm the same snarky yet earnestly enthusiastic bleeding heart I've been since as far back as I can remember. But having children did, understandably, give me a different perspective on some things. Indeed, having a toddler taught me the importance of advocating for others. Well, less "taught" and more "highlighted new ways" that advocacy is important.
To be a parent is to be your child's advocate, but let's be clear: being a parent and being an advocate for someone you're not actively raising are two very different things. Yet I have to admit that there's some degree of overlapping motivation, including compassion, love, a sense of fairness, and a sense of looking at someone and realizing we can and must do better.
And, again, it's not like I was some insular, selfish monster before I had toddlers and it was only through parenthood that I was able to give a crap about other people. But I think there's something about not just knowing humanity will extend beyond you but seeing exactly who will be part of that humanity that can kick your butt into gear. It's like, "Oh. Right. Everything I want to do for the world really needs to be done ASAP because the next generation is already here and there's a lot that needs solving."
So with that in mind, here are some of the ways my toddlers (and the arduous yet rewarding task of raising them) encouraged me to try to do more for others:
They Should Not Be Condescended
To be absolutely crystal clear here: I do not see groups and individuals who need advocacy or an ally as being analogous to children. Well-meaning paternalism is still insulting at best and soul-crushing at worst and I have no desire to contribute to that too-long narrative of saviors swooping in to rescue the poor masses who cannot save themselves. Rather I believe those groups are often infantilized and condescended to. I also believe, funny as it sounds, that toddlers are infantilized and condescended to. Now, it may seem difficult to infantilize someone who was, until recently, an infant, but too often children are viewed simply as unthinking accessories of their parents rather than individuals with individual thoughts, needs, personalities, and rights.
I'm not saying you should treat a child like an adult or expect them to want to have discussions on Kierkegaard, but respect their intelligence and, more importantly, the fact that they're a person.
I Have A Platform They Do Not
In the case of my children, that platform is adulthood. People don't listen to children — even when they should and even when a child depends on their needs being heard and fulfilled. In those cases, it's up to me to speak up on their behalf.
In certain ways, this has emphasized the importance of using whatever privilege I have to help other people who could use a signal boost — not to speak for them, but rather to speak up for them.
They Are Amazing & Should Be Seen
You've no doubt noticed that parents are super into their kids, especially since this is extremely evident on social media. And I'm sure that sometimes you think to yourself, "OMG, calm down. It's a kid."
And, OK, true. But believe me when I tell you that the parent in question isn't completely unreasonable, at least not from their own point of view. They see their child the way few people can truly see another human being. Parents know their children in a profound way that enables them to really grasp all their wonderful nuances that we don't usually get with most people we deal with. Someone just passing my kids on the street won't know how great they are and probably never will, but damnit they should kind of know because they're awesome. And that makes me think, "Who am I missing out on because I just don't really see them? And who is the world missing out on because we've just written off certain types of people as being less worthy of being seen and represented?" We should all have the opportunity to be seen.
They Have Unique & Crucial Needs & Challenges
One of the things that I noticed after having a baby was how much harder it was to move through the world with a baby in tow. This had less to do with the baby himself and more to do with the fact that New York City doesn't like wheels. This is a true general statement for vehicles (if you don't believe me, try driving in New York sometime) but I was realizing the depths of its trueness in seeing how hard it was to go anywhere with a stroller. So many little steps, uneven walkways, and lots of narrow aisles. A lot was inaccessible to me, which made me more aware of accessibility issues for, say, people who use wheelchairs.
As my kids got older I continued to see all the ways the world was not built with them in mind, which encouraged me to consider other populations who do not get due consideration in the most basic things like, say, the ability to enter a store (why is there a step there?) or reach a bathroom sink (just put it a couple inches lower) or fully enjoy a movie (even though subtitles are super easy to include).
My Kids May Be In Any Number Of Underserved Groups In The Future
It's not like I didn't care about others before I had kids or anything, but I don't think it's unreasonable to admit that I care about my kids more than I care about most people (as, I'm sure, other people care about their kids more than they care about mine). I want their future to be as bright as possible, whatever that future may hold. And maybe those rights and protections will extend to my kids one day and maybe they won't, but I'll admit that my desire to build a world that is inclusive and provides equal rights for everyone gained a little more urgency once my heart started walking around outside of me.
My Family Has So Many Privileges That Others Don't
It's not that I'm a particularly powerful influencer, but I'm a 35-year-old, college-educated white person from a middle class background. That in and of itself is pretty useful. The job that enables me to reach out to a lot of people is similarly helpful.)It's not that I've had life handed to me on a silver platter or have lived free from any sort of adversity, but my family and I are afforded a tremendous amount of privileges that others aren't, so I don't have to worry about a lot of things that are matters of survival for other families. I realize that my family life exists as it does, in many ways, at the expense of others. Literally the least I can do is acknowledge that and then try to make the playing field more level for everyone.
I Now See Everyone As A Former Toddler
It might sound sort of hokey, but when I think about how much I love my kids I think, "Oh my God... everyone is someone's baby. And they probably have a parent who loves them as much as I love my kids. And if they don't they deserve a parent who does. Holy crap, we all need to be kinder and more loving to one another."