A Guide To Balancing Activism And Parenthood

by Elly Lonon
A mother in a white shirt with the print 'The future is female' holding and kissing her daughter in ...
David McNew / Getty Images

When you hear the word “tyrant,” the first image that springs to mind is a 3-year-old wielding a plastic recorder. You haven’t seen the bottom of your laundry pile in so long you’re worried the socks fermenting there might have become sentient. Every mention of the ACA is a reminder that you still haven’t returned your kid’s back-to-school medical forms. On the rare occasion you have a moment to yourself, you wonder how you can possibly maintain this pace and keep all the roles you’re juggling airborne. You wonder if you’re giving enough to any of the responsibilities that await on a given day.

In short, you’re a parent.

There’s not much time to be anything else. Yet we live in a uniquely charged time that requires all citizens to participate in our government and make our voices heard. But where to start? And how can one possibly mesh an already full schedule and the constraints of parental responsibilities with the time and effort necessary to effect social change?

Maximize your downtime.

Yes, downtime is a rarity, but you found a moment to read this article. If you look for them, there are a handful of stolen moments in a day. “If you’re on hold, or have a free five minutes, you can sign a petition or donate money to an organization close to your heart,” advises Anna Galland, executive director of Civic Action and mother to three kids all under the age of 6. When asked how she would recommend using a larger window of time, she responded, “Read up on an issue that you care about in a state or national newspaper…and consider subscribing!”

No, really, make those calls.

Jennifer Rosen Heinz, mother to an 8- and 12-year-old, is a local group leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “The cost to me of picking up the phone and calling my representatives is very low. The likelihood that it will make an impact or sway my politician is questionable. Yet the cost of me not calling is substantial.” She likens making her daily calls to having her kids vaccinated. “It’s part of the social contract to keep all of us healthy. Sometimes you do it because you know there are other people who won’t.”

Revamp your social circle.

Do your friends and family encourage your desire to make a difference? Jocelyn Jane Cox struggles to balance raising her 4-year-old while also serving as a founding member of Rockland United, an Indivisible Group in Rockland County, New York. “I log untold hours on my computer,” she responded when I asked how much time she dedicated to activism in an average day. “I have had to let go of a lot of social events and purely fun extracurricular events in order to do this. The good news is that my friendships and social life have dovetailed with my activism. Through this work, I have found a whole new crew of likeminded friends, and I have gotten to know them really well, really fast.”

Involve your children.

Call your representative while your child is in the room. This isn’t a conference call with your employer — those representatives work for you. Hearing children in the background drives home that you are speaking on behalf of a family unit. When appropriate, bring your children to protest with you. Invite them to contribute their own slogan to the placards you make. Involve them in the process. “We sometimes hire shared babysitting so the kids can have a big crazy playdate while the parents try to make decisions and figure out what we’re going to try to do next,” says Jocelyn. And when they see you working for change, explain why you are raising your voice for this specific cause. Of course, the best way to do so will vary greatly depending on the age of your child, but try to find a relatable metaphor in her own circle of influence — a friend who would be affected by a specific piece of legislature is an excellent place to start.

Make it personal.

As Anna suggests, “Write down a personal story about why and how something like access to affordable health care has affected your family.” Then share that story on social media with your friends and family. Or submit that story to your local newspaper. “Sharing personal stories is incredibly important — and when you share them (and tag your elected officials!), that’s incredibly effective. There’s always enough time to make your voice heard and create positive change.”

Know your strengths.

“No one says activism has to be hard,” comments Jennifer. “If you’re someone who doesn’t mind talking on the phone, do some phone banking for a candidate or an organization. If you’re really connected on social media, try and do some fundraising. Whatever it is that comes easiest to you and your nature and talents is a great place to start, and is likely something that will help fill up your cup rather than drain it.”

Remember why you resist.

Jocelyn maintains her focus by thinking about family. “I’m doing this for my son, and my concern for all our kids. Our democracy, our free speech, our safety is at stake, and I have to do everything within my power to help.” Jennifer simplifies her motivation even further. “I do it for the simple reason that I hope that seeing my activism will inspire someone else to do something, too.”

Citizens, parents in particular, are finding their voices — more every day. In the amount of time it takes to watch James Corden sing with a celebrity in a car, you can make a difference. Be an example for the future leaders that sit across from you at the dinner table — not just by eating your vegetables. Participate in democracy, too.