Let’s kick this first blog post off with some down and dirty honesty, why don’t we? I parent while living with depression and anxiety. I am constantly trying to balance acknowledging and then ignoring that voice called Anxiety that whispers in my ear – and if I do not succeed on the ignoring front, Anxiety rears her ugly head into Depression.
Thinking about doing something like attending a crowded and emotional public event like a march or protest makes me say “no, thanks” – then feel incredibly guilty because that is absolutely not the message I want to send my daughter.
What helps me overcome the seemingly innumerable what ifs and I cannots is preparing – mentally and physically – as much as possible before an event and going or meeting up with other people. Just to have someone standing by my side is often enough accountability and support for me to be brave enough to do something new and very much out of my comfort zone.
So if you are like me – or even if you are someone I often wish I could be, someone who thrives in crowds, has never met a stranger and is bold enough to say what you feel without worry of the consequences – and need a little boost of confidence to get you to, say, your local March for Our Lives event on Saturday 3/24, I might be able to help. I have reached out to my most trusted friends and parenting networks to find out what has worked for them in raising activist littles. I am hopeful that these tips will help you plan for, participate and learn from attending events like protests, rallies and marches alongside children.
As you read through the list and notice there is something that you have done that has worked – or hasn’t – or something you have seen others do, please share in the comments! I would love to grow this list with even more thoughts and tips.
I will be at the March for Our Lives: Nashville event on Saturday March 24th with my daughter in tow. Will you? Let’s meet up!
RAISING ACTIVISTS: HOW TO PLAN FOR, PARTICIPATE IN AND REFLECT ON ACTIVISM WITH CHILDREN
PLAN BEFORE THE EVENT
* Read age-appropriate books on the topic of the event with your children. Leave time for them to ask questions, discuss the content, how it relates to them. Need some book ideas? Check out KQED, Geek Mom and What We Do All Day to start. Have a favorite book that didn’t make those lists? Please share in the comments!
* Find some unrushed, quite and safe time to just be with your children and open up lines of communication about the upcoming event. Answer their questions, address their fears and concerns. Make sure they want to participate and assure them of their safety.
* Come to terms with things not shaking out as perfectly as you intend or hope. Know that you may have to bail before the event is over depending on how well the littles cope with the BIGness of the event. Accept that if you are going with children that you will be following their lead. Even if you cannot be there from start to finish, you are still setting an example of activism and it is better to have participated for any amount of time rather than no time at all.
* In events like rallies, protests and marches the old adage “the more the merrier” rings mostly true. More voices = louder message. More hands = lighter burden on caregivers. Reach out to family, neighbors, spiritual/education communities. Be that proverbial village it takes to raise a child.
* Do your location-specific research before the event. Find out, for example, if your city/town/municipality has certain rules for participating in public events – clear backpacks? no signs with sticks? Know before you go.
* Force bathroom breaks at the last possible moment before the event. Know the route if your event includes a march and mentally pinpoint some potential rest stops, shelters from inclement weather, places for respite. Often times in larger cities places like churches, schools and/or libraries will offer space for participants to regroup, reconvene, use the restrooms, etc.
* Make a separation/worst case scenario plan and rehearse, rehearse and rehearse it again with your children. Something to think about – do your children know your real name or would they tell the police person that they are looking for Mom/Dad/Auntie/Papaw?
* Snacks and drinks. Pack some and then pack some extra. You will get hungry and thirsty – and if not, you might just have something to share with a new friend you meet along the way.
* Noise canceling headphones/ear protection – especially for the very littles with you.
* Dress in comfortable layers and wear your walking shoes. This is not the time to choose form over function. Definitely consider waterproof layers so you don’t have to mess with holding, folding and navigating crowds with umbrellas. Look to your friends in the PNW for recommendations on best rain gear! I think the only people that carry umbrellas in Portland and Seattle are the tourists.
* Sneak in a couple new and small toys and/or books to squeeze out a bit more time participating in the event out of increasingly squirrelly children.
* Consider your traveling/carrying options for the really littles. Bring your stroller and a carrier in case your child needs to retreat in a snuggle with you or under the sunshade of the stroller. Lightweight muslin blankets are great barriers between kiddos and the grime and peering eyes of crowded events.
* Tag children with their own name and the name and phone number (landline if possible!) of an ICE (in case of emergency) contact who won’t be at the same event. Write in marker on a spot on their arm or leg, somewhere covered by clothing from strangers but accessible by child if they need to know it.
* Stash extras of anything you might need in different spots (in the stroller, on you in pockets or tucked in layers (Spanx for the win!), especially in the car). Snacks, water, diapers and wipes, hand sanitizer, change of clothes, blankets, pacifiers or loveys, etc.
* Great hands-free messaging tip: Cut a “cape” from an oversized shirt (leaving the collar + back in tact) and it can be worn over coats, backpacks, by littles (supervised) in carriers. Write your message in fabric or permanent markers on the back of the shirt for all to see.
* Give older children some ownership by letting them create their own signs – maybe spend some time brainstorming slogans and phrases together, do some research on the internet, watch some age-appropriate documentaries about historical marches and rallies.
* Allow younger children to dictate their message for adults to write for them. Is what they want to say a little weird/off-beat? Write it as a quote with their initials or name + age next to it and you’ll see folks nod and smile once they catch on as they read the message.
* Bring extra duct tape, safety pins and/or string to tie signs to arms or stroller handles.
DURING THE EVENT
* Consider sticking to the edges or back of the march/crowd, giving your children some more wiggle room and allowing you to keep a better eye on their whereabouts.
* Take photos of your child/ren in what they’re wearing so you have them for reference in case of an emergency.
* If you are traveling to the event by car, think about parking closest to the finishing point and walking to the start so you can make a quick exit when it is likely most crucial.
* Learn the route beforehand and position yourself to join up a few blocks in if you feel like your crew won’t be able to make the whole march from start to finish.
* Plan an activity, meal or simply some time at the end of the day to celebrate accomplishments, debrief, retreat into some quiet to think – however you think you and your community will best process the days experience and learning.
* Don’t leave the follow-up and learning just to the day of. On top of the “what did you see? what do you wonder? how do you feel?” questions, brainstorm what else you can do alongside raising your voices and attention to an issue. Are there established groups in your community you can join to continue your engagement in the issue at hand – if not, how can you start one? How can you spend some time on a regular basis continuing to contribute your presence and resources to the issue?
One final thing to consider. Do a gut check about the children’s (and your!) interest and anxiety levels along with the content of the event and maybe decide to not go. Sometimes the imagery in the signs and words in the messages may be too heavy or too inappropriate for the ages and/or coping mechanisms of the children you are with. If that’s the case, it doesn’t have to end there. Find other ways to engage outside of marches, protests and rallies. Read books, watch documentaries, participate in teach-ins, seminars or lunch-and-learns. Reach out to local nonprofits or government representatives to find out where assistance is needed and determine how you all, from the littlest to the eldest, can contribute. It doesn’t have to always be a protest, march or rally.