This may surprise some of you, given that I have joked about my book, Parenting Forward, being a “social justice parenting manual.”
It is true that I am committed to social justice, and as my friend Dolly says, Equality and Empathy are Family Values. I teach my children what I know about social justice because I believe in being a truth-telling parent, so I make sure they understand as fully and deeply the realities of how systems of power operate in the world and especially in ways that impact them. For example, it is critical to help my daughter understand how she absorbs patriarchal messaging in media, in casual comments made by relatives, in textbooks and books so she can be conscious and pursue her own health and thriving.
In my facebook group, Raising Children Unfundamentalist, parents often post pictures of their adorable kids wearing resistance T-shirts, or marching in Pride decked out in rainbow attire. As a community we click ‘like’ and ‘love’ and celebrate these images because they are symbolic of hope. They tell us change is coming—that kids know queer people exist, that they see a true-er representation of the world as it is.
But there’s a big difference between celebrating that some of our children are or are becoming activists with similar values as us, and imposing values and goals on them. Because as parents, our passion for justice must extend to our children.
Before children can go out and build meaningful relationships, they have to be securely attached to their caregiver. Likewise, before children develop a passion for social change, they have to have ample time to play safely to discover their own particular contribution to the world.
In our truth telling conversations about injustice with our children, I think it’s important we are conscious of this sequence of events. Yes, we tell them the truth, but we should refrain from rushing them into resistance because as much as we want to empower them to make change in the world, justice for children also means we give them time and space to play. They can’t know what change needs to happen if they don’t first develop a vibrant imagination to dream of a better future.
We are not responsible for scripting their dreams.
Doing justice to our children, safeguarding their need for time, for space, for rest, for boredom, for play, will ultimately result in better social good for the world because we are cultivating people who are securely attached and emotionally nourished to find their own particular path to contribute what is life-giving to them.
And what is life-giving to our children will be what the world needs.
We may know our children best but there is one person who knows them even better, and that’s themselves. We don’t want to point them in the direction of our social justice values, we want to guide them towards their own sense of morality, intuition, & bodies to orient their paths.
I am not raising social justice warriors, I hope to raise children wholly in tune with their inner selves. Somehow I have a suspicion that people who are secure, healthy, and whole-hearted will take up social justice causes.
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