Country Mama, I don’t think we could have made it through 4 years at American without a penchant for politics. So, it’s only natural that when a question regarding how to engage your child in activism was posted to a private Facebook parent group we participate in we were both quick to respond.

Growing up, we watched the news as a family every morning and every night. This lead to early exposure to a lot of complex issues that I never would have encountered in my very rural hometown. I remember starting a petition in the 3rd grade to get recycling bins at our elementary school and encouraging my family to conserve water and energy around that same time.

We also spent a lot of time in DC, taking frequent day trips during the summers. I remember that we happened to be in town when the AIDS quilt was displayed on the National Mall.  I was maybe 7 at the time, so the full implications of what I was seeing were lost on me, but I remember the protestors taking sides and the undeniable passion, compassion, and beauty that was displayed within the quilt. When the Holocaust museum open and we saw the piles of shoes left by the victims, I knew it was a site I would never forget. 

There’s no question that living in DC during the 2001 terrorist attacks forced us into the center of the war on terror and war in Iraq at a time in our lives where your own personal politics and values are being shaped. It’s safe to say that my political roots run deep.

As a parent, I’ve wanted to keep Lucas simultaneously informed and innocent. Knowing that far too soon we’ll be facing realities more complex than I want him to encounter, we have intentionally tried pick and choose what we watch, listen to and talk about while he’s still at this young age. That said, I’m attune to wanting him to have a grounded sense of reality and not keeping him so sheltered that he doesn’t understand the world around him.

This fall, the wildfires here in California were so rampant that there was no avoiding the significance and devastation that was going on just miles from our home. We could see the smoke plums and smell the fires as well as seeing ash on our cars and our yard. We spent a lot of time talking about firefighters and helpers, how they are working to keep us safe. We worked with him to figure out what we could do to help them and help the people who were impacted. We talked a lot about how you are never too little to help and to make a difference and that there’s always something we can do when something bad is happening.

I’ve never been so prescriptive as to list out my top parenting values but if I did, I know that activism, service and political engagement would rank highly on the list. Eric, coming from a military family, is no different, having personally felt the impact of decisions made by a commander in chief. His natural inclination to serve and to step up for those around him is high up on the list of reasons I chose to spend my life with him.

Still, I think it’s a careful balance of how much, when and with what objective we push our kids into the political arena. I had deep frustration after last year’s election that with my newborn, I couldn’t participate in the marches in the way I really wanted to. We found our own way to participate, but I still wish I would have been shoulder-to-shoulder in DC or Downtown LA with like-minded citizens.

I remember Eric asking me, “Who are you doing this for?” It’s one of his go-to parenting gut checks that have saved the boys from being forced onto Santa’s lap or being pushed front and center in some school performance or another. My visceral reaction to the election made me feel like there was no question I needed to participate, to let the people in my life know that I was hurting as deeply as they were, that I wasn’t going to sit down and let the next 4 years go by without putting up a fight. I have a desire to show my boys strong feminism early on and ensure they see females as true equals, not merely treating the a certain way out of a need to be politically correct. Ultimately, with an infant who had been in the hospital just days before, taking the kids into a crowd like that just wasn’t feasible. But it hasn’t stopped me from showing Lucas, and ultimately Sean, that there are ways to participate in the years until their ready for larger civil discourse.

After some reflection, here are the steps I think we’ll take in our house to get these guys well on their way to being citizens I can be proud of:

          Read together and get informed on both sides of an issue. This will start with us watching the news as a family and having dinner table discussions. We are pretty restrictive on the amount of screen time the boys have gotten their first two years. Sean is still within this window so we’ll probably be taking this up in another year or so.

          Vote. Luke’s already been to the polls with us and understands the importance of our political process.

          Make a local impact where the return on your investment and time can go a bit further to change your day to day. We’ve done a few volunteer projects as a family but this is something I’m eager to do more of.

          Find a career path or get involved in organizations that are focused on the issues that matter to you

          Write, call and visit local elected officials

          Take to the street for marches and protests.

The truth is, particularly these days, that my natural inclination is to start in the street. I’m so passionate about these core issues that my default setting is yelling. Maybe it’s because I’ve been politically engaged for decades and I’m frustrated that things haven’t moved faster. I haven’t missed an election. I spent 6 years working to deploy the affordable care act here in California. I’ve participated in town halls, writing campaigns and backing candidates with platforms I admire. Picking up a picket sign seems a natural next step.

I guess my long winded answer here is that there are dozens of doors into activism. And that while I think rallies and marches are among the most effective, I think at least for now, my starting point with these guys will be getting them informed on the issues of the day. Finding the areas that matter to them and allowing them to take the lead in finding their own activism, helping them shape it and supporting it along the way in the forms in which it matters to them. When it’s clear to me that they’re informed enough on an issue to have their own informed conversation on a matter, that’s when I’ll okay them taking to the streets.

How about you Country Mama? What’s been your flavor of activism these days?