Ask Alex: My kids are embarrassed by my activism

Discouraged in New Jersey asks:

My kids say they are embarrassed by my activism. What’s a repressed revolutionary to do? I think this falls under the ‘anything mom does is embarrassing’ because I’ve been taking them to protests since FOREVER. They used to love this stuff, it was all street theatre, but now I have… preteens.

While I can imagine how painful this is for you right now (I fear the arrival of this day myself), your kids, I think, are going to get through this phase. From what you have described, it is likely that they are simply going through their preteens and so they want to establish their own identities. Some of that process might look like a rebellious rejection of your practices, and while it can be heart-breaking for now, but I can envision them getting through their desire to distance themselves from your activism. It is likely that they will eventually embrace and appreciate your passion and lessons regarding how best to channel it.

I went through this as a young adult, and I experimented with a good deal of identities, strains of which I still carry with me today. And while I was put off by some of my parent’s approaches at the time, it is doubtless that I came out of my teenage with an appreciation for them and all of the ideas and tools they handed off to me when I was young.

Further—and this is something I only realize in retrospect of my own childhood—it is helpful to remember that while your children might not fancy association with your methods right now, it is possible that their personal explorations will be tempered by much of what you have taught them to this point. Looking back at my own teenage, and at the circles and expressions I gravitated towards, my parents’ influence is overwhelmingly evident. I was drawn to punk and queer communities and zine culture, both extremely emblematic of my father’s anti-authoritarian, eff-you attitude. I was drawn to the community organizing elements within those circles, undoubtedly due to the influence of my mother as she was involved in every sort of organization and committee when I was a kid. None of this was evident to me at the time.

And when life stopped going a million miles per hour, as it does when you are a teenager, I was able to see the significant imprint of my parents impact on my life, and to share with them my appreciation for that.

Note: My friend Amy Bradstreet, a mom and prolific activist, read this piece and added:

Our kids have been counter-culture since the get-go and still are (they are 14 and 16 and have never attended school, for instance), but they each have gone through a stage where they were good with being left alone with their own thoughts and wills regarding any personal activism, probably starting at about age 10. As with unschooling, our approach with our kids has been to go about doing our thing and invite their interest and participation, and this has also been the case regarding activism. Yes, there was a time when my two were very little and were along for the Kucinich campaign, but they never seemed to mind. Otherwise, we have just lived our activism and we’ve always discussed it and have welcomed dissent at our table. Today, I have two teens who are passionate about social justice and who really, really know their stuff.

Thanks for your contribution, Amy!

SUBMIT A QUANDARY/QUERY by emailing me at alexsteed [at] gmail [dot] com. In case you are cautiously interested, I will be keeping the identities of those in search of answers quiet in the column.

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Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.