One of my friends is mother to an only child, actually several of my friends are. (These friends have completed their family-building, often having planned on one child from the beginning. Some of these only children were born into their families, others were adopted.) My friend and I were discussing my family’s recent dismaying discoveries about the local public elementary school and the kindergarten program in particular. I told her I was not surprised that the student body is almost all White, but I am surprised at the administration’s refusal to get diversity or multicultural training. I talked about the book we donated to the school library, and I expressed my frustration with a school system set in their (aversively racist) ways.
This friend of mine is an activist, mostly for environmental causes these days. She told me, situations like this school will be an ongoing issue for your diverse family; you have so many children that advocating for them all will be basically impossible. I thought I had heard her wrong or misunderstood what she was trying to say. She went on to say my life choices [having four children in four years] made it so there aren’t enough hours in my day for me to be an effective activist. Or maybe for me to be an activist at all–that part wasn’t clear.
What was clear is my friend’s perception that my life is so full (of dishes and laundry and diapers and ponytails and I don’t know what else) that I don’t have time for anything more–even the basic anti-racist activism my family (and the world) requires. It sounded like she was saying we would be taking the easy way out if we homeschool next year–even after I told her I would not give up my fight for positive multicultural cirriculum as well as training for all the elementary teaching staff (whether or not our kids attend this school).
What makes me angry is the implication that I am not able to (1) adequately care for my multiracial, conspicuous family, (2) be an effective activist, anti-racist or otherwise, or (3) do anything beyond provide for my children’s most basic needs–all because of the number and closeness of my children. I understand there are parents who did not intend to have as many children as they have, who become a multiracial family through default of some kind, or find themselves overwhelmed with parenting in general or their family size–but I am not one of those parents. (Don’t get me wrong–I certainly have my moments, the mornings when a kindergarten program of any kind or a fulltime nanny sounds lovely.)
My children are each other’s best friends and strongest allies. They are close enough in age to share interests, games, friends, and gymnastic classes. The most dreaded punishment around here is to be sent upstairs (to a playroom full of toys) to spend five or ten minutes alone. In school and in life, I hope they will continue to support and defend each other, and to simply keep each other company. I believe their relationships with each other are some of the most important bonds for me to nurture–they will likely have each other for years longer than they will have me.
I am the mother of four bright, strong-willed children each with their own individual temperament, desires, appearance, and identity. As the parent of multiracial children with a variety of heritage, I am inspired to take a small step back and evaluate where my activism is most needed and will be the most effective. I look at my children as individuals and my family as a whole. I look at the community, state, country, and world my family lives in, and I work to do the right thing. (I’ve found it usually isn’t the easiest thing.)
I have certainly been tempted to “take the easy way out”. To me that translates into moving my family into an off-grid house deep in the rural mountains and live a self-sufficient, fully homeschooling life. It’s good I partnered with the person I did. Many times he has called me back from the edge of jettisoning society and running away to my imaginary cabin in the hills–because what good would that really do anyone? (Except maybe me, and only for a while.)
As I’ve moved from imagining being a mother, to parenting babies, to having several small children, my big-picture goal for my children has divided into two parts: (1) I want my children not to be satisfied with things “because that’s just the way they are,” for them to believe they have the power to make a difference, and for them to be motivated to work for positive change. (2) I also want my children to be able to function and live in the real world–the way the world is, unjust though it may be.
Can I help my children develop hope and persistence, both a thick skin and a sharp tongue, courage and compassion, love for their families and a strong self-identity–while also working as a strong anti-racist activist for and beside them? Not in spite of my children but because of them, I believe I can.