An owie to one is an owie to all: A six-step plan for helping your parent-friends remain activists

An owie to one is an owie to all: A six-step plan for helping your parent-friends remain activists

A member of Seattle Solidarity Network shares some steps she thinks organizations could take to encourage involvement from their members with children.

Eight days after my daughter was born, I sent this message to the organizing committee members of the Seattle Solidarity Network:

“I wanted to let you all know that I need to take a few week hiatus from coming to SeaSol meetings…. Baby is doing well, we just need to clear the decks while I recover and while we figure out this whole nursing thing. Thanks for understanding, and we’ll see you in a few weeks! (I’d estimate three.)”

Four months later, I had still not returned to SeaSol meetings more than a handful of times. I was an I.W.W. member and had been organizing with SeaSol since our first fight in 2008. I was the only female-identified person to consistently attend SeaSol meetings for our entire first year and for several more years for the IWW branch in Seattle. Both groups planned to pay for childcare, and I was committed to continuing my activism after giving birth, but somehow I was not managing to make it happen. What was the problem?

What follows are some reflections on becoming a mom while trying to continue work as a class warrior. Because my daughter is only six months old now, I can only base my reflections on these first months of parenthood. While I will mostly present ideas about how to make our organizing “baby friendly,” I’m sure there are many more topics to come about becoming “kid friendly” (e.g. I hope to reach “Teen humiliated by activist mom”). The following suggestions are also influenced by the fact that while my partner is on baby duty from 10am to 4pm, I am on duty from 4pm to 10pm every day. This system of “watches” is how we both manage to keep our sanity and our part-time jobs, but it also means that I am responsible for the bulk of childcare during prime meeting times.

This advice is for other individuals who would like to help support new parents in organizations such as SeaSol and the IWW, as well as newly expecting parents who might appreciate some suggestions to help smooth the transition from activist to parent + activist.

Step One: Childcare in meetings. Childcare is obviously an important part of helping any organization become parent- and baby-friendly. However, I’m not a believer in the “build it and they will come” style of organization building. If you start offering childcare in meetings, I wouldn’t expect moms, dads, babies and kids to just appear out of the woodwork. In SeaSol and the Seattle IWW branch we started providing childcare after four very active members of both organizations became parents within weeks of each other. That is, we based our actions on a current, felt need in the organizations rather than a hypothetical future need. (If anyone does the opposite and finds out that parent activists do come out of the woodwork, please let me know. That would be great!)

We also decided to do advance fundraising in order to pay for childcare. While several members (often women) volunteered to do the childcare for free, we didn’t want to lose out on the possibility of having those people participate in the meetings. We need everyone we can to do the organizing work of SeaSol and the IWW, so we decided it would be better to have the childcare done by someone who would not otherwise be involved with our organizations.

This is all well and good, but unfortunately, childcare isn’t really what I needed to come back to organizing. I’ve come to believe there’s a difference between being truly baby-friendly in meetings and simply providing childcare (however important that is). What I needed as a new mom was not just someone to hand the baby off to so that I could participate in meetings in a “normal” way. What I needed and still need is support for my new normal, which involves being in an extremely dependent and time-consuming nutritional and emotional relationship with a tiny human. Steps Two through Six are about supporting this new normal.

Step Two: Help with meals. It’s really hard finding time to cook any kind of meal, let alone a healthy one, while taking care of an infant. I mean, impossibly hard. Add to that the fact that our meetings are right at dinner time and you have me between a rock (hungry baby) and a hard place (hungry mama).

One of the best things helpers can do for new parents is to have food waiting for them at meetings. This would probably work best as a shift system where interested individuals could sign up to bring a dinner for one or two hungry mamas or papas per meeting. Shifts would not be as logistically challenging as providing food for everyone at the meeting, but I guarantee it would make it far more likely that your new mamas could attend meetings. (The breastfeeding ones are extra hungry, too!) We have not tried this in SeaSol, but we do have a monthly potluck meeting with food provided, and I am much more likely to attend those meetings.

Step Three: Help with rides or packing. I have a car but am still daunted by all the logistical challenges of getting out of the house with a baby. This includes everything from making sure she is fed and changed to visiting with her in the car seat so she doesn’t scream her head off on the way to the meeting. I also sometimes bring a giant exercise ball to meetings for bouncing her to sleep, a baby carrier, and so much other stuff that I feel like a pack mule trying to make my way into meetings. Helpers can offer rides and/or offer to show up early to help the parents gather things together. I’ve been lucky enough to have a fabulous SeaSol organizer helping me out with these sorts of pre-meeting preparations.

Step Four: Have supplies on hand at meetings. Parents and helpers can keep supplies on hand to help reduce the burden of packing before meetings. These care packages should contain extra diapers in several sizes, wipes, a couple of toys, and a few changes of clothing. There should also be snacks for emergency parent feeding as well. A very motivated helper could even show up at the parents’ house to help them pack such a bag.

Step Five: Volunteer to do childcare for events other than meetings. Meetings aren’t the only events that new parents want to attend. Often the help I most need is just an extra pair of hands, or someone to sit beside me and entertain the baby during an event. My baby never wants to be banished off to some “kid room” with just herself and a non-parental adult – she wants to be where the action is! A helper can simply offer to sit by a parent and entertain their kid for a little while, if needed.

Step Six: Don’t push it. It’s an understatement to say that new parents are “adjusting” to their new role. For me, especially for the first several months, it felt like my new life was a Picasso painting of my old life – there were many recognizable elements, but they were all mashed up and weird looking. I’m now figuring out how to weave activities I value back into my life, but there’s no going “back to normal.” I’m not going to be able to participate in exactly the same way I did before I became a mom. For example, I used to facilitate meetings regularly. Now, I will absolutely abandon that duty for a crying baby with no qualms whatsoever. But I can contribute in other ways that are meaningful and useful for the organization, such as writing, graphic design, and other activities that I can do during nap times or off duty. This is all to say – don’t feel too disappointed if your new parents can’t contribute to your organizing in their old way – hopefully they can find new ways that suit their new schedules and responsibilities.

In the first months of motherhood, I was too discombobulated to think of any of these suggestions. As a potential helper, you may find that new parents are too overwhelmed to think of these things or ask you for them. But if you offer, they will sometimes take you up on it. I can guarantee you it’s worth the effort. I might be biased, but I think during a tense moment in a meeting, there’s hardly anything better than having a baby go, “Fffppppttt!”

Originally posted: May 22, 2012 at Recomposition

Posted By

Recomposition
May 22 2012 21:36

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  • I’m now figuring out how to weave activities I value back into my life, but there’s no going “back to normal.” I’m not going to be able to participate in exactly the same way I did before I became a mom.

    Lily Schapira

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Comments

Ramona
May 24 2012 10:38

This is really great, thank you! I will be sending this round Edinburgh AFed, we've a couple of new parents...

Marigold
May 26 2012 09:39

Concrete things you can do to support parents and carers in your "scene"

http://dontleaveyourfriendsbehind.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/concrete-things-you-can-do-to-support.html

1- Give Children Attention. Say something to them: just be your true self, whatever you are thinking, they are open to that. Children act better when they get attention. In the beginning of a meeting if a group gives the children some attention, they are often happier and better behaved for the rest of the meeting.

2- Develop childcare as an ongoing relationship with a child – it takes some time to get to know a child before they are comfortable with doing stuff with you away from their parents.

3- Offer a slot of time, to spend time with a child on a weekly basis

4- Integrate children and adults: it’s more pleasant to watch children with other adults to talk to; it’s more pleasant for the children to see adults enjoying each other and not feel a burden to them.

5- Include children in the planning of any activity, like a sewing workshop for instance.

6- Doing something child-friendly? Ask a kid if they want to come along. (Lizxnn has been taking Siu Loong for critical mass rides for three years and she loves it.) Children can benefit from activities their parents don’t do and parents can benefit from the time to themselves.

7- If a baby is crying because it needs to be held and the parent has their hands busy and can not hold it; offer to hold the baby.

8- If a child is making a disturbance in an area, offer to go outside with the kid so the parent doesn’t have to leave the event.

9- Meet parents at their level: come visit them at home or where ever their spaces are. Let parents talk about being parents: realize having a child is like having the most intense love affair you have ever known (says one parent. Another says – not.)

10- Acknowledge children: don’t treat them like they are invisible

11- To announce that we are OK with children making noise (at meetings we wish to make parent-w/small children-friendly), we can talk over them, and value mothers and children sticking around. The announcement can help put mothers at ease.

12- Give us a smile!

ALSO - When providing child care at political events (and every event should have child care!)

13- Visit the children and childcare providers in daycare – and say “Hi!” Childcare providers can feel isolated from others at the event. Have a cup of tea with them! (suggested by Siu Loong, age 5)

14- Parents with different aged children have different needs. Parents with younger children or children who aren’t comfortable leaving their side yet would benefit from childcare that was off to a side of the same room or more central to the main events. Parents with older and more independent children benefit from having them in a different room or floor. Either way, childcare must be assessable.

15- Parents need to give more input to the day-care providers, about their and their children’s needs during the planning of the event, in order for the childcare provider to better assist them. At least tell them you are coming and the age of your child/ren.

16- It’s comforting for parents to know childcare is available, even if they don’t use it

AND - Contemplate

17- How much work/consuming being a parent is: 24/7; in the beginning years it’s hard to even think straight: one is still adjusting to being a parent and young children’s needs are very intensive

18- That radical parents don’t fit in at mainstream places, like their children’s schools - so when they go to an anarchist gathering and don’t feel supported by their own culture – how bad that feels.

- - -
These suggestions are from the “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Anarcha-feminism & Supporting Mothers and Children” workshop at La Revolta! To get a copy of the 22 page workshop handout: you can download it from: http://bengal.missouri.edu/~maxwellr/DontLeaveYourFriendsBehind.pdf or send a dollar to Vikki Law P.O. Box 20388 NY NY 10009 or China Martens P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211 USA

bounce
Feb 20 2013 08:07

I think my only disagreement is where they say you shouldn't provide childcare etc for hypothetical parents who might come to meetings but should provide it as a response to the needs of the group. Without support options in place the group is likely to mostly attract active members who don't require those supports. I also find that a lot of discussion around being accessible to parents focuses on people who were already involved in social activist groups, unions etc before they became parents, which is important but I think it is also important to address the needs of being accessible to people who did it the other way around and had children before becoming politically active and forming support networks among those communities. Which is why I think it is important to make sure groups are accessible to parents or anyone else who might have specific needs to be able to attend meetings etc, even if there is no present need within the group at that time. I agree that I don't think providing childcare etc will automatically result in an influx of parents attending meetings but a large part of that is that it is so uncommon to have things accessible to parents with young kids that it just isn't expected, hopefully if making things child friendly increases, so will the amount of people who take up offers of child friendly meetings.