As a parent, there are very few things I can say I know for certain. Every day is, for lack of a better word, a mystery. Sure, I can plan, but life doesn't seem to care all that much about how thought-out my schedule may or may not be. I just don't know, for sure, what each day will bring. What I do know, however, is that my kids will always vote, in every single election. My kids will make their voices heard. And because there are numerous ways to get your kids involved in activism before they even turn 10, your kids' voices will also be loud and clear. According to the U.S. Elections Project, approximately 43 percent of eligible voters didn't bother leaving their homes during the 2016 presidential election and actively chose to not exercise their right to vote. That is almost half of eligible voters. Would things have been different if those people actually made it to the polls? We'll never know.
Activism was never really something that was taught to me. My mother had always been an avid consumer of politics, but she never really discussed anything with me. It wasn't "polite" for women to speak openly about such things. I've always had my own agenda, though. I've always had a burning desire to do something, to help someone, to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves. I was also a teenager and — more often than not — my attention was elsewhere and my activism gene was significantly underdeveloped.
I began dabbling in activism in college (could I be any more of a cliché?). I went to anti-Iraq war rallies. I protested the re-election of George W. Bush. And I started learning more about local government. But even with all of that, I was still a white girl from the suburbs who, you know, had her own "struggles." The actual, real struggles of others were secondary. Also, since I am being perfectly honest, I never thought one person with virtually no resources (financial or status) could accomplish any real change, so I figured why even try, right?
Barack Obama was elected President when I was pregnant with my daughter. I cried from joy and, in some ways, I did not understand why I had such a significant emotional response. President Obama's election, for the first time, gave me hope for progress. His leadership, his poise, his message, and his presence made me believe in a better future in our country; a future where all men and women can finally be equal. Or at least, where all men and women would work together towards equality.
Then last year happened and all of my dreams and hopes came to a halt. And while I wanted to retreat into a hole of despair (and temporarily did) I did not succumb to complacency. I signed up for the Women's March. I wrote and I spoke out. I'm watching the people of our country fight for our freedoms and for our equality, now more than ever before. And I am seeing a trend among young people who are getting involved in politics and social issues and activism. Forty-nine percent of Millennials voted in the 2016 election vs 46 percent in the 2012 election, according to The New York Times. Young people today are getting more involved in their communities and in issues facing them, their friends, their family members, and strangers they will never meet. That gives me hope. Young people are woke and this is why it's important for us, as parents, to teach our children about activism from the time they are old enough to understand.
Ask your kids how they want to help in their community. You may be surprised at how aware they are of their surroundings and the social issues that affect people in our communities. My daughter, completely unprompted, once told me she'd like to give some of her toys to kids who don't have toys, and I was taken aback because I didn't think anything I ever said to her actually stuck. But it did. So we packed up her toys and dropped them off at a shelter. She was so excited to help, she started finding other items to donate.
Volunteering is a good way to promote activism, because it exposes your children to the way other people live and the problems other people face. It also fosters empathy and compassion.
Teach Intersectionality & Talk To Your Kids
Intersectionality recognizes that our different identities affect the way we all experience the world. If we teach our kids that gender, race, ethnicity, social class, etc. actually contribute to our identity, and that everyone experiences our world differently, we should be able to spark an understanding of others in our children. That understanding will lead to open conversations and the desire to be active in our communities and in our country.
Talk to you kids about everything. They understand a lot more than we give them credit for.
Write Letters & Call Your Representatives Together
Don't like something that is going on in your school? Compose a letter to the School Board. Feeling particularly upset over the new health care bill? Call your state representatives together. Show your kid that little things can lead to bigger things. Show your kids what real activism accomplishes by reading current events and explaining how people's phone calls and letters are changing our politics.
Read To Them & With Them
Children's books about activism are no longer hard to come by. Books for toddlers, like Innosanto Nagara's A Is for Activist and Leo Lionni's Swimmy, and books for slightly older kids, like Kate Schatz Miriam Klein Stah's Rad Women Worldwide and Chelsea Clinton's She Persisted, are exploring race relations, feminism, and the journeys of immigrants (among other things). You can now fill an entire library with children's books specifically about activism and social issues. Read them with your kids, talks about them with your kids, and get active with your kids.
Take Them To Rallies
That's right. Take your kids to rallies and to marches. Show them how people get together to fight for a common good and for others. Explain to them the purpose for unity and for standing behind your fellow man. Show them they are not alone in their desire to be good and to do good.
And, listen, I get it. A rally or a march has the potential to become violent, and that is obviously scary for parents. So, if you do want to expose your child to this kind of activism, but are cautious, maybe come for a very short time in the beginning to show them how people gather together. Then you can leave if you start feeling uncomfortable.
Teach Them History
World history is riddled with injustice and inhumanity. So, I'm not saying you need to expose your children to all the horrors of our past, but if you want empathetic, aware, and woke children, you should teach them some of what has happened in our world. Start small, with concepts they would understand that you can explain in age-appropriate ways, and move on to more complex ideas as your children grow.
Share your emotions with your children and give them opportunities to share theirs. Don't dismiss their feelings. Instead, engage them in a conversation about their feelings. Seize teachable moments.
I used my kids' interactions with each other to teach them empathy. "How do you think your brother feels when you take away his toys?" I ask my daughter. "Your sister is crying because she is sad her friend said something mean to her," I'll explain to my son. Teaching and fostering empathy is essential, because without a strong sense of empathy, children will not be at all interested in activism.
My daughter listens to my discussions with my friends and with my husband about women's rights and justice. She hears the phone calls I make to Senators. After my latest calls regarding the latest health care proposal, she asked me questions about why I was calling and we got into a discussion about health care. I explained to her, on her terms, what the new proposal meant and how it would affect others if it is approved. Be the activist you want your kid to be.
Watch Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Check out the entire Romper's Doula Diaries series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.