Before my daughter was born, I was an activist. I’ve marched on Washington multiple times, protested in streets around New England, spoken at press conferences, organized groups, written letters, made calls, all of that. Activism is who I am, a huge part of my identity.
I didn’t think becoming a mom would change that. I saw kids with their parents at protests all the time and I couldn’t wait to bring mine and raise my own little activists. Speaking up for what you believe in is one of the values I will (try to) pass on to my child(ren).
But it’s harder than I thought. Of course the logistics of going anywhere (or doing anything) are more complicated with a child in tow. I worry about my baby’s safety first and that means not always bringing her to every protest I would have gone to. Sometimes that means I don’t go at all.
I started a group for activist moms recently and we needed a Facebook cover photo, so I used one of my daughter. I soon received a message from my aunt:
I just wanted to mention (being the overbearing person that I am) that maybe you would like to re-think your use of L for any political cause. It’s one thing to bring her up with your own values but to my mind (ok old-fashioned mind) it is an unfair use of her image that will remain forever and that she has no say in. You’re the mama not L. Just sayin’.
Don’t you just love unsolicited parenting advice?
But I can see her point. I thought about how I would feel if there was a photo of me as baby on the internet in a Yankees onesie when I grew up to be a Red Sox fan. I’d be fine with it. I was obviously just a baby not making the choice to wear it and my mom is a Yankees fan, so there you go. I could see the same happening with a GOP elephant or Democrat donkey. I wouldn’t be livid to have a picture of me in one or the other as an infant because I know my parents were raising me with their values. I hope L will feel the same.
And here’s the other thing: it isn’t politics for me and my wife to be pro-LGBTQ rights. That’s our life. If I put L in a onesie on Facebook with a pride flag on it, that isn’t “using her for a political cause.” That is no different than putting her in a onesie with the outline of the state of Connecticut on it. That’s just a normal part of our lives and cannot be separated out. I won’t go into how my aunt who sent the message is Israeli and probably doesn’t see her raising her children as pro-Israel as political, it’s just their life, just who they are. If she had been raising her children in the age of social media, I believe she wouldn’t have thought twice about putting up a picture of them with the Israeli flag, which others could interpret as political.
You cannot escape putting yourself onto your child at this age (L is four months old). When you dress your baby in pink when you don’t know what gender identity they’ll grow up to have, you’re making a choice to force something on them through that picture of them in it. It’s unavoidable. As she grows I’ll be encouraging her to make up her own mind, but for now, yeah, she might wear some cute outfits sometimes and there will be pictures of it on Facebook.