China Martens
china410(a)hotmail.com
P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211

The Future Generation #87

Don't Leave your Friends Behind
    Vikki Law and I gave a workshop at this years La Revolta! In Boston, called “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: anarcha-feminism & supporting mothers and children.” We were focusing on woman and children since it was International Woman’s Day but the issues could be applied to parenting regardless of gender and males attended the conference on anarcho-feminist issues as well.
    Our position was that pro-choice should include the right to birth control, abortion, AND prenatal care as well as resources to support mothers after birth - the choice to have a kid as well as to not have one. That you don't need to "like" kids in order to support them, and their rights, as you should all people. We mothers hear so often that having a child was our choice so we must live with the problems we face. Or that our problems don’t concern other people who didn’t choose to have children. However, anyone’s oppression and inequality is the concern of everyone else; that radical mothers challenged the institution of motherhood and want to CHANGE these problems that were oppressive and need non parent Allies.
    Vikki told some of her experiences with getting support (or not) in activist circles where she participates; and shared some results from her anarchist mothers survey. We talked about How to include mothers and children, instances of why we would have to leave or be pushed out - and how it could be different.  We also discussed age-ism and many other issues. A childcare provider who was overwhelmed with taking care of 40 kids; a big sister to a 4 year old little sibling; and the mothers who were the ones who most spoke up - and we discussed their questions and comments.
    The whole room (of about 40 people, four of whom that were parents) seemed to be alive with conversation.  The mothers with little toddlers were struggling, one in particular, her son was folding chairs and squirming around her and talking a little and she spoke up and said "This is what I’m talking about. When my son acts like this it makes me want to leave the room, normally I would leave a meeting right now. This is what you are talking about right here!" And I was like - "ahh, our social experiment - How can we - as a room - help you - right now?” I offered to run and get him blocks to play with but she said he was fine with folding the chairs. We discussed issues with her. (And added them onto the list below).
    We talked about possibly having a workshop for people to play with children, that its like we need to learn this and touch actual live - gasp - babies. Everyone was into that. That’s definitely the next workshop I would plan, which sounds silly but its basic and people need it. (The first workshop I ever participated in was about creating a radical parenting support network. Everyone who came was a burnt out parent in contrast to the childfree attendee’s who had lots of energy and were running around enjoying the anarchist book fair. Their was no childcare at that event, which some people don’t understand, eliminates or reduces the ability of some--most frequently poor and single parents-- participation. It was then that I decided that I must address the whole community and not just parents, if I was ever to do a workshop on this topic again. The next workshop I did at the Philly Skill Share did address the childfree as well as parents and was much more positive and successful.)
     I think, generally, our meeting gave everyone food for thought, and firmly established our right to Be Here, and to Be Everywhere, and to ask for support and allies. We then, as a group, worked on a list of things to support mothers and children.

Concrete things you can do to support mothers and children in your scene
    Give Children Attention. Say something to them: just be your true self, whatever you are thinking, they are open to that. Children act better when they get attention. In the beginning of a meeting if a group gives the children some attention, they are often happier and better behaved for the rest of the meeting.
     know a child before they are comfortable with doing stuff with you away from their parents.
    Offer a slot of time, to spend time with a child on a weekly basis
    Integrate children and adults: it’s more pleasant to watch children with other adults to talk to; it’s more pleasant for the children to see adults enjoying each other and not feel a burden to them.
    Include children in the planning of any activity, like a sewing workshop for instance.
    Doing something child-friendly? Ask a kid if they want to come along. (Lynx has been taking Siu Loong for critical mass rides for three years and she loves it.) Children can benefit from activities their parents don’t do and parents can benefit from the time to themselves.
    If a baby is crying because it needs to be held and the parent has their hands busy and can not hold it; offer to hold the baby.
    If a child is making a disturbance in an area, offer to go outside with the kid so the parent doesn’t have to leave the event.
    Meet parents at their level: come visit them at home or where ever their spaces are. Let parents talk about being parents: realize having a child is like having the most intense love affair you have ever known (says one parent. Another says - not.)
    Acknowledge children: don’t treat them like they are invisible
    To announce that we are OK with children making noise (at meetings we wish to make parent-w/small children-friendly), we can talk over them, and value mothers and children sticking around. The announcement can help put mothers at ease.
    Give us a smile!
ALSO - When providing child care at political events (and every event should have child care!)
    Visit the children and childcare providers in daycare - and say “Hi!” Childcare providers can feel isolated from others at the event. “Have a cup of tea with them!” (suggested by Siu Loong, age 5)
    Parents with different aged children have different needs. Parents with younger children or children who aren’t comfortable leaving their side yet would benefit from childcare that was off to a side of the same room or more central to the main events. Parents with older and more independent children benefit from having them in a different room or floor. Either way, childcare must be assessable.
    Parents need to give more input to the day-care providers, about their and their children’s needs during the planning of the event, in order for the childcare provider to better assist them. At least tell them you are coming and the age of your child/ren.
    It’s comforting for parents to know childcare is available, even if they don’t use it
AND - Contemplate
    How much work/consuming being a parent is: 24/7; in the beginning years it’s hard to even think straight: one is still adjusting to being a parent and young children’s needs are very intensive
    That radical parents don’t fit in at mainstream places, like their children’s schools - so when they go to an anarchist gathering and don’t feel supported by their own culture - how bad that feels.

The 22-page pamphlet we made for the workshop is now available online in PDF form (thanks Renee!) http://bengal.missouri.edu/%7Emaxwellr/DontLeaveYourFriendsBehind.pdf  - or if you would prefer you can send a dollar to my P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211 and I will send you one.  Also, Thank You Claire for organizing childcare (even though Siu Loong was the only one who came to it; and I know it was disappointing to only have one kid; to have a anarcha-feminist gathering without childcare would have been more depressing) and Sara for hosting us! Next up: a workshop on anarchist parenting and community at the Montreal Anarchist gathering this May! —China/ China410@hotmail.com