When my Facebook feed filled with photos of mamas and their kids making cool signs and pussy hats in preparation for the Women’s March in January, I had pangs of jealousy. This week people are gearing up for A Day Without a Woman. Part of me wants to join these advocacy efforts with my 11-year-old daughter Rory, but all of me knows I can’t.
I’m not afraid of violence or even that I’d lose her in the crowd. What I am afraid of is forcing my politics on her before she has the time and experience to form her own. I’m afraid of this because it happened to me.
In the early ‘80s my mom took me to Right to Life marches – you know, the anti-abortion movement – in Toronto. I was probably only six or seven at the time, but I still remember taking the bus from my hometown, walking with a crowd of people, some holding signs of fetuses and chanting about a child’s right to live. On the other side of the street were equally passionate people with their signs professing a woman’s right to choose. Each group tried to drown out the other. I recall a lot of shouting and anger and feeling more than a little scared of the whole thing.
Fast forward 30-odd years and I’ve only recently been able to admit to anyone that I went on those marches. I’ve arrived at a very different place with very different politics than my parents. Sure, my little-kid-self didn’t have a choice, but my feminist-adult-self is embarrassed and ashamed.
My parents’ politics influenced me pretty heavily until I went to university and travelled outside my conservative bubble. That was when my mind started opening to other perspectives and my empathy grew. Now those marches, a manifestation of my right-wing upbringing, are among the many things I regret from my past.
So when I knew I was going to be out of town the weekend of Toronto’s Women’s March, I was relieved. It gave me more time to wrestle with the possible consequences of bringing my still impressionable daughter. She hasn’t independently expressed a desire to march, but she isn’t a fan of Trump (undoubtedly because of the conversations she has heard at home and school.) And I think she’ll want to join me at something like “A Day Without A Woman” or one of the many other rallies and protests that will likely be held during his regime.
Do I take her? What if she completely disagrees with me in 20 years? What if a march for unity eventually causes division between us?
When I tried talking about my struggle on a feminist Facebook group and among like-minded friends, I mostly received comments about the importance of teaching kids about activism (which I totally get) and that anti-abortion is very different than anti-Trump (but it really isn’t).
My mom marched for exactly the same reasons I would: human rights and equality. She strongly believed that life starts at conception and that those babies have rights, too. While she and I have come to different conclusions, we’re both motivated by love.
Our opposing views have deeply affected our relationship at times. Thanks to my resentment and shame, I’ve raised my voice more than once with my mom when touchy subjects come up. After years of therapy, I’m still trying to untangle all the guilt and fear my conservative religious upbringing taught me. But I can’t imagine my life without her, so we just agree to disagree.
I don’t begrudge any parent who is passionate about teaching their kids peace and kindness and speaking out for what they believe in. I’m right there with you! But I’m trying to do that in ways other than taking my kids—I also have a 16-year old stepson who has no interest in participating in protests—to marches. For some reason, getting them to physically participate in my politics feels like I’m heading down the same path my parents took me on. Literally.
But I do let them know when I write MPs, sign petitions or publish stories about human rights issues. They come with me when I vote. I have a giant chalkboard in the kitchen the kids know not to touch. It’s solely for my often-political quotes and currently displays: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
We discuss feminism and politics and equality. I listen to what they’re hearing at school, watching on YouTube or reading on Reddit about events of the day. We may not always agree (trust me, we don’t, and it’s hard not to argue), but I encourage them to analyze their sources, give examples and think their argument through.
And, no matter what their viewpoint, I love them.
Obviously, my politics will influence both my kids, even just through these talks and their observations. Maybe they’ll rebel by becoming right-wing conservatives. Who knows? But at least that will be their choice.