Can You Have Kids and Still Be An Effective Activist?

– by The Shitty Activist

occupy-childI don’t have kids, but many of my friends, family, and colleagues do. Over the years, I’ve tried to pay attention to how having children affects one’s activism.

Based on my observations, I’ve drawn a few conclusions…

It’s undeniable that being a parent is time consuming, which can mean less hours spent waving signs at rallies, pretending to listen at public hearings, and struggling to stay awake at organizing meetings. With some exceptions, the most involved activists I’ve known have either been college students who have yet to reproduce, or middle-aged folks whose offspring have long since left the house.

Then there’s the money issue. Kids are expensive, which means volunteering for an activist causes isn’t always in the cards for a parent. Sometimes, even paid activists have to seek other work to pay the bills, as nonprofit work doesn’t exactly bring in the big bucks.

Time and money aside, activist parents I’ve known have worried about their reputation. Once they had children, they began taking their perceived standing in the community more seriously, nervous that any strikes against them could negatively impact opportunities for their little one.

If an activist has a serious career, they might be afraid of losing their job after being accused of law breaking, or being associated with some sort of controversy. Of course, no one wants to lose their job, but with a kid, unemployment can be tragic, and I think that fear can force some activist parents to sit on the sidelines.

So, needless to say, there are plenty of things than can take an activist parent out of the game. On the flip side, however, reproducing can also encourage an activist to stand their ground, up the ante, or even turn a formerly disengaged citizen into a kick-ass activist, once they understand who they’re fighting for.

There’s another phenomenon associated with activist parents that’s interesting to note. I have watched staunch defenders of a cause take weaker stances on an issue after a baby, for reasons unrelated to social standing or job security.

Pretty much every activist parent becomes increasingly concerned about the world’s problems, knowing how it might affect their offspring. While some activists respond to this threat by getting more engaged, others respond through denial. When acknowledging the difficulties that might be facing their little’uns in the uncertain future becomes too painful, they begin telling themselves that things really aren’t as bad as they had once thought, as a psychological self defense mechanism.

Of course, while this mindset might avoid the short-term pain of accepting that the world we’re leaving the next generation is a bit of a mess, in the long run this refusal to fight the good fight for a better world will actually harm your children.

In summation, as long as you’re courageous, well-organized, and honest with yourself, there’s no reason parenthood should force you to retire from activism. In fact, as discussed, it might actually take your activism to the next level.

Now, if you happen to be an activist with kids, yourself, The Shitty Activist would love to hear how you’ve managed, what advice you have for other activist parents, and any suggestions for how the activist community can better support those who are breeding the next generation of activists.

Comments

  1. Laura says

    I am a parent and actually didn’t get really involved until after i became a parent. The only thing i would not do is a arrest-able action, though I would still do support. My daughter usually joins me at actions. My main focus, though is behind the scenes. Building, doing art. The are endless things that need to be done that don’t involve hitting the streets and usually volunteers are scarce. Money can be a issue, but That can happen with someone with no kids. I am also lucky to be a part of an organization that not only will help me get to where i need to be, but also includes my daughter. She loves them and it is helping her become a young woman who wants to make a difference.

  2. says

    This is how the west was won: parents with children called the family joining with other families. Our children can be a greater, collective strength in activism. Sadly, in these days families are not strong and united, neither is our nation.

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  3. AntiFrack Mum says

    I only came to activism after having my child made me think more carefully about what would be left of the world when I was gone. All of a sudden I had his inheritance to think about, & I’m much more concerned about his air & water quality than his trust fund! I think the main thing that holds parents back is energy. Having a small child in tow requires ten times more energy, no matter what it is you’re doing. I’ve taken him to anti fracking camps here in the UK where I live & after 3 days I’m fully exhausted. I’m pregnant with number two now & I don’t think I could manage it with both of them, not until they are a lot older… but then you have the problem of them being bored & wanting to be elsewhere.

    Lack of sleep & exhaustion kill much of your activism mojo. & you can’t go getting arrested if you have to pick them up from nursery in a couple of hours.

    Having said that you do become uber efficient and no one does research like a concerned parent! I have never come accross a parent who worried less about world issues after breeding, I’ve met a few who have quit for a bit because they have done a decent stretch & allowed themselves the space to just focus on kids, which is pretty sensible I think. I haven’t done enough yet to feel that myself.

    It’s really hard with kids, you have a small fraction of the time, energy & cash you once had but you have heaps more love, self knowledge and determination.

  4. C.Das says

    Yes, you can be an activist and a parent, or a parent and a full-time employee with a demanding job, or you *might* even be able to do all three if you have grandparents/extended family nearby to pitch in for child care.. but there is no way to do it all, especially if the kids have high needs. It was easier when I just had one kid, and that kid wasn’t yet in school — he was “portable”. Now, school activities, and having 2 kids that fight all the time, means I can’t even phone-bank at home. One way to help, would be if activism were promoted to young children in school. How nice would it be, if instead of a book report, a 7 year old had to make signs for and attend a protest? Choose their own cause?

    • says

      That’s an incredible idea for schools to encourage kids to take issues into their own hands with activism. However, my school experience was the opposite, in that they discouraged originality and impressed upon me the need to just go with the flow. I wonder how that could change?

  5. says

    Being an activist is not a job, it is a part of who we are. We are born into a heart of passion that feels the effects of the deception and the corruption profited by too many to count. So when I hear adults make excuses about how they cannot participate in their democracy, it is more of a message of apathy. Yet, as a parent and an activist, being fully present is hard. I have brought my son to protests, meetings and rally’s, but now with my one-year old daughter who is ten time more feisty than he was, I have to table my next attendance at that very important meeting. I am still able to attend gatherings, with her in a sling on my back, but my ability to be fully present is just compromised. And yes this is the hardest thing about being an activist and a parent: both are your babies and both need nurturance. Recently, I launched a website where I will devote a significant portion of my writing to human and ecological justice issues. I did this because my ability to participate in real time was compromised and there is no way I can be passive where the world is on fire. Truth is our children needs to be engaged in democracy, and they learn about active engagement through us. Sheltering our children and preventing them from seeing how groups organize, impact and instigate change is critical for the survival of our species.

    Maybe having local activist groups support parents by volunteering childcare, making meals, teaching local hands-on democracy workshops for youth would really have an impact. I created a couple youth programs that focused on teaching youth about participatory democracy through the arts and I am always humbled and honored to see how powerful youth are in creating change in their community.

    Thanks for posting this!

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