I Took My Daughter to the Women’s March — and I Shouldn’t Have to Defend That to You

girl with sign
Image Source: Monica Bielanko

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not represent the views of Babble.

“What’s she doing taking her daughter to a protest? That’s silly. She should take her to the math and science museum instead.”

My friend showed me a text exchange he had with a mutual acquaintance after he told her I was staying at his Upper West Side apartment with my 9-year-old daughter over the weekend so we could attend the Women’s March in New York City on January 20th.

“Children don’t belong at protests.”

It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this sentiment. I received some flak last year when she and I drove down to Washington, D.C. to attend the first Women’s March. I’m not sure what the specific concern is, but I’ve gleaned it falls somewhere along the lines of politicizing my child, using her as a prop, brainwashing her to believe what I believe, and/or taking her to an environment that is potentially unsafe.

I was raised Mormon. I have an intimate understanding of brainwashing and the lifelong negative impacts. I know what it’s like to be told something is infallibly true over and over again with no room for questioning. I’ve experienced how damaging it is to your ability to seek truths for yourself, how it jacks with your perception, and how difficult it ultimately is to overcome what is virtually ingrained in your DNA — if you ever even make it that far. Many people don’t.

… I’m okay if my children witness anger channeled into action on behalf of oppressed human beings.
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But this isn’t that. It isn’t politics as usual. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian – whatever. The political is very personal now. The livelihoods of millions of marginalized people literally hang in the balance and it is my duty as a white woman to do everything within my power to stand up to injustice and, more importantly, listen to and help amplify those marginalized voices in any way that I can.

Many of us have felt powerless over the past year but there is much work to be done! One of the most important things we can do, especially as parents, is inform our children and use what’s happening in America to not only teach them about compassion, empathy, and kindness, but help them take control of and shape their future.

Arguments for not explaining what’s happening, especially to a 9-year-old, seem insubstantial and evasive, at this point. It feels irresponsible not to inform my daughter and invite her to attend marches with me. As a mom, I try to model positive behavior for my children and that includes attending marches and allying myself with people who have a history of being denigrated.

Nurturing children into adulthood is a process. And part of that process is slowly but surely teaching them and exposing them to the realities of the world in which we live, which includes seeing mom at a march engaging in a peaceful, hopefully powerful, response to the injustices that are glaringly apparent in our society.

making signs
Image Source: Monica Bielanko

Ignorance breeds fear and hatred. As Horace Mann once said, “Ignorance breeds monsters to fill up the vacancies of the soul that are unoccupied by the verities of knowledge.” I want to raise a fully informed child who will speak her mind when marginalized people are being targeted by the bully leading the government all the way down to the bully on the playground at school.

The benefits of exposing my children to marches and protests far outweigh any possible negative influences they may experience. I don’t want my children to grow up leading sheltered lives, unaware of the world in which they live. Knowledge is power and it’s important to be informed and to stand up for kindness, compassion and human decency, even when it involves discomfort and expressions of anger. People should be angry about what’s happening to our country and I’m okay if my children witness anger channeled into action on behalf of oppressed human beings.

I explain it all to my daughter in ways that make sense to her. We don’t tolerate name-calling or bullying. We don’t mock people or their physical characteristics. We don’t lie. We treat everyone with respect. She watches Donald Trump. I explain the things he says and does. His feelings and statements to and about black and brown people, about Native Americans, about women, about transgender people, about the environment. We talk about how bullies use fear to make us feel small and then we discuss how Trump talks about immigrants and how he doesn’t seem to want to welcome people who need our help.

women's march
Image Source: Monica Bielanko

Funny, isn’t it, how Trump’s behavior can be broken down into lessons for a 3rd-grader on how not to treat people. These are all concepts she understands, because these are things I teach my three young children on a daily basis. Every day before school, I tell them to look for the people who feel left out and need a friend. Look for someone who needs help. Invite strangers to play. If you see someone being bullied, always step up to help. Do not turn your back on someone in need.

They get it. They understand.

Frankly, if you have to ask why I’m bringing my daughter to a protest, you aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in our country. I’m not going to shield my kids from reality, because that’s exactly what got us here in the first place: ignorance, not paying attention, and complacency.

The future of this country is in their hands and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to do everything I can to create socially aware, responsible citizens of Earth who feel an obligation to participate in democracy by protesting, speaking up for marginalized voices, and standing strong in the face of corrupt power.

Teaching my daughter to be a good citizen, one who is invested in her future, is one of the greatest gifts I can give her. Also, as someone so eloquently pointed out on my Instagram, “Anyone who doesn’t think that little girls haven’t already intuited cultural messages about males and females that are potentially damaging is simply denying the truth of our present circumstances.” If there’s a march that will expose my daughter (and sons) to strong women from all ages and walks of life speaking truth to power and allying themselves with black women, brown women, gay women, trans women, then I’ll be there every time.

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