August 2, 2017

Why my Daughter’s Activist Heart Terrifies Me.

For summer, my daughter, Kelsey, aged 15, received the gift of an official curfew.

This means that we have transitioned out of simpler days of her hanging out at a friend’s house for a few hours or, at most, sleeping over.

Now, she’s going out on the town with groups of friends. She’s outdoors, in the world, often at night. She’s walking from one friend’s house to another’s, gathering with friends at the local ice cream shop, or going “mocking.”

“Mocking” is the latest sensation for teenagers throughout Minnesota. They string portable, light-weight hammocks between trees at local parks. Made for one or two people, the kids slip inside and disappear. What do they do inside their cocoon of privacy? Your guess is as good as mine, but when I take walks through the parks I hear music, quiet conversation, and laughter coming from inside them.

Kelsey also has friends who drive. She has money that she’s saved up from allowances since spring. From her perspective, she’s having a helluva summer.

From mine?

Well, my older daughter didn’t need a curfew until she was 16. I guess I was expecting that I had another year until we reached this point. But every kid is different, as they continue to teach us hapless parents.

A few nights ago, at curfew time, I drove to pick her up from the friend’s house where her evening activities had ended. As we drove home together, she told me about her night’s adventures. It was mostly normal things. Until this:

“And then, there was this guy who was promoting a flat Earth! I couldn’t believe it! So my friends and I, we confronted him,” she said.

“You did what?” I attempted an even voice, as I listened more intently.

“We asked him tons of questions. We were like, ‘But what about the proof from science?’ It was so fun. And he was live-streaming the whole thing on Facebook!”

I’d like to say that my thoughts were:

Wow, I’m so proud of her, speaking out like that!
She’s a truth warrior!
I would never have done that at her age.
Dang, I admire this kid so much.

Instead, my thoughts were:

Were there other adults around?
Did you give your name to this guy?
I would never have done that at her age.
Dang, I admire this kid so much.

As she continued to talk about her experience, I turned left instead of right.

“Where are we going?” my daughter interrupted her storytelling.

“We’re taking the long way, around the lake.” Driving, as all parents know, is the best way to keep a kid talking.

“Oh, okay. Well, anyway,” she continued unfazed, “at the end of the conversation, we all shook his hand. We didn’t want him to think we were judging him personally, just questioning his beliefs.”

“Well, that’s good,” I answered. And my thoughts matched my words. I hope that I’ve taught my girls to treat people with respect, regardless of whether they agree with them or not.

But that night awoke some questions within me, questions like these:

How do we keep our children safe, while allowing and encouraging them to express themselves and their opinions?

How do we know when to step in and block their path, and when to help sweep the walkway?

How do we, as mindful parents, balance our children’s innate callings with our fear of the attention these callings may bring?

Specifically, how can I, a woman who had to learn how to take up space, empower my daughter as she naturally does just that?

I admit partial responsibility for my daughter standing up for what she believes in (and for science, of course). Empowerment is the theme behind all my years of teaching yoga and alternative medicine. Empowerment is what I’ve wanted for my girls since they were born. Speaking up for what’s right in our world is what I ask of my whole family.

But I can’t take all the responsibility for my daughter’s activist heart. She is who she is.

She enthusiastically attended her first Black Lives Matter march in middle school. She attends Gay Pride parades. She regularly speaks out against misogyny, racism, cultural appropriation, and any other kind of injustice that she comes across.

A couple years ago, Kelsey received a “Student of the Month” award for reporting a bullying incident to school authorities. The bully wasn’t bothering her, but was picking on someone less able to stand up for themselves. All she told us ahead of receiving this award was, “You’re going to be proud.” Proud? I had tears streaming down my cheeks, 10 times the number of tears had her award been for math or English proficiency.

When announcing the award at the ceremony, the teacher said, “Kelsey did not give up until she made sure that proper attention was given to this issue.” The teacher sounded almost exhausted by her persistence. I had to laugh—it reminded me of her early years when I, too, would sometimes give in to her demands out of sheer exhaustion.

She was a colicky baby, born with a head of strawberry-blonde hair. She grew into a tantrum-wielding toddler who turned heads wherever we went. As way of explanation, I used to say, “Well, you see, she’s here to change the world, and the lack of physical mobility is frustrating for her. Just wait until she’s older, she’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with!” I’d say this with an introvert’s blush and chuckle, without an ounce of the fear I feel sparking as this truth unfolds in present day.

From a young age, through marketing, society tells girls they can be and do anything they set their minds to. Through movies and books, society tells girls to stand up for what they believe in, to use their voices, and to let themselves be seen in the world.

On the skin of it, it looks like society advocates for uniqueness and independent thought. But this only holds true until the status quo is threatened. When girls and women begin challenging norms and convention, especially those set by men, society’s permission is quickly revoked.

I don’t know if she crossed any lines by questioning the flat Earth-promoting man. I do know she will be crossing lines though, and soon. The very definition of being an activist means challenging norms and disrupting the status quo and my daughter, with or without my encouragement, is an outspoken, courageous, and persistent activist. She’s answering the call others twice her age don’t even hear.

So, I’ve made up my mind to do my best to equip her with knowledge about how to keep herself safe. I will remind her to trust her instincts. I will teach her everything I’ve learned about when to challenge and when to walk away. Then, I will sweep the path as she walks forward.

I can’t allow fear—even a logical, natural, mother’s fear—to get in her way.

After she finished telling me about her evening out with friends, I parked the car alongside the lake. There was a storm a few miles south of us. Together, we watched lightning flash across the sky over the lake. It was a sight to behold.

She asked, “Is it all right if I get out of the car to take a video?”

“Go ahead,” I answered. “Just watch for cars when you cross the street.”


Relephant read:

7 Ways to Raise a Confident, Caring Daughter in the Modern World.


Author: Keri Mangis
Image: Nicole Adams/Unsplash
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron


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