When I became a parent, I had been working as an organizer for nearly ten years. At the time the Bee was born, I had a job that involved organizing other working women–many of whom were in transition from welfare to work. I didn’t have a lot of role models of successful women organizers who were also moms–most of my female friends who had kids dropped out of work to be stay at home moms, or left the crazy, workaholic world of organizing to do 9-to-5 gigs, that let them be home at predictable hours.
The direct work circumstances that I had at the time the Bee was born made me think often about the parallels between parenting and work as an organizer–because most of the women I was organizing, at the time, had been parents for longer than I, but had much more sporadic work histories–and much less experience as activists. In many ways, parenting has made me a better organizer–not least because it gave me something to talk about with almost any other adult human.
Now that I’ve got nearly 15 years of parenting-while-organizing experience under my belt, I’ve had a number of conversations with younger organizers–mostly women, some men–about what it’s like to be a parent while trying to change the world. Over the years, I’ve developed some rules of thumb that, I think, pertain to both experiences. Here they are, in no particular order:
- Nobody except you is going to have your kid as their first priority. It’s your job to stand up for the time that you need to spend with him or her. You wouldn’t expect someone else to prioritize your work tasks–you’re the person who is best-equipped to know what you need to do to get your job done. This is the same.
- If you’re trying to change jobs: be clear about your boundaries, but don’t let them limit you. I’ve had interviews where I’ve told potential employers–“I can only travel X amount–if that’s a problem, then I’m not the right fit for this job.” It’s never stopped anyone from hiring me. People appreciate knowing your limits.
- That thing they say on airplanes, about putting the oxygen on you first? is real. No kid deserves a parent who doesn’t take time for self-care–just like “constant campaign” mode kills activists.
- Teaching always goes in two directions–whether you realize it at the time or not.
- Sometimes, the best way to build a relationship is to do the thing the other person thinks is fun or useful. Say yes, more than you say no.
- Use all the technology available to you. I have had a shared google calendar with landisdad since before we were divorced–two parents with crazy work lives have to be able to sync. And lately, I’ve been parenting by text message–which drives me crazy–but with kids who are digital natives, that’s not weird.
- Life has goals & benchmarks, but it’s more like a movement, than a campaign. It does have an end-point, but none of us is hoping for the day after.
- There is beauty in people learning to do things for themselves, even if it’s different than the way you would do it.
Last year, I wrote about how the Potato was getting woken up every morning by the birds in our yard. I’m happy to say that I never resorted to violence to get through that experience. The birds are waking him up again this spring, but this year is different. This year, I’m hacking my son.
Not that kind of hacking.
Every night before bed, I put a cup of dry cereal into a little bowl, and put it on the bookcase next to my bed. Now, when the Potato wakes up at dark o’clock, he just comes in, gets his snack, and goes back into his room, where he happily looks at books and crunches his Toasted Oatmeal Squares. It gives me at least a half an hour of extra sleep every day.
You and I may all make it out of this parenting thing alive after all.
Your friend, landismom