Political Parenting

Yesterday, my daughter told me she wanted to celebrate Kwanzaa. I immediately felt bad; she certainly hadn’t gotten the idea about celebrating Kwanzaa from my husband or myself, and we live in an overwhelmingly white suburb of Northern California. When I asked her where she learned about Kwanzaa, she said, “school.” Which floored me because this school is no where near a bastion of intercultural understanding or learning.

In any case – I told her we would need to get a kinara, to which she informed me it was called a menorah. I laughed, and then told her she was confusing Hanukkah with Kwanzaa, with the former being a Jewish tradition and the latter a Black tradition. She didn’t really care too much, but just wanted to implement something she’d learned about in school.

So I said, yes, we can celebrate, but in my post-Christmas shopping yesterday, I forgot to pick up a kinara, and similarly today got away from me. My husband came up with the brilliant plan to find a Kwanzaa app for the iPad, and alas, I found one! So we’ll be lighting virtual candles and discussing the seven principles.


In the last week or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about my approach to parenting, especially given the response to last week’s post. In writing about what I am keeping away from my daughter (and my sons), I came to a better understanding of why I parent the way that I do. Why am I celebrating Kwanzaa when it something I’ve never celebrated in the past? Because I want to encourage curiosity and exploration. Because I don’t want my child to believe as I do simply because I’m her mother. So I want to engage in celebration of what is a new cultural tradition because my children are not robots or mini-mes. They have their own thoughts, and sometimes they need me to bring those thoughts to fruition. It’s not just about them; it’s about the kind of people I want them to be – loving, generous, thoughtful, engaged.

In a conversation on Facebook, a friend pointed out the obvious, but the rarely articulated: “All parenting is political.”

Adapted from the popular phrase “the personal is political,” the title of an 1969 feminist essay written by Carol Hanisch, “all parenting is political” expresses the feeling that “personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.” I don’t parent the way I do only thinking of MY child. I parent the way I do because I know that through my parenting, I am contributing to the next generation of people, leaders, workers, citizens. I see through my parenting how my children take what I give to them, the values I speak to them, and put them into action in their own relationships and how they think about the world. I see that what I allow into my children’s world – which every day, as they get older, gets farther away from me – influences the people they are and are becoming.

Politically, I value fairness and justice. I value compassion and generosity. I value service and I value equity. I value freedom, but only that which is in service of my other values. I value community above the individual. And sometimes those values come into conflict with each other.

So when I said I didn’t want my daughter listening to Beyonce, it was with the sense that idolatry (aka the BeyHive) of the pop star was not good for young, black girls for the reasons I outlined. It was about my daughter, but it also was not. It was about every black girl out there. It was about every black mom out there. It was about the world in which I want our kids – our black girls – to grow up. It was just about one aspect of how I think, and how I parent and one aspect of what I think is important.

That’s why I started this blog, and why I (try) to write. I’m writing my dissertation now (about parenting and education) and my time is short with three young children under the age of eight, but I think this space, this blog, is important. I’m trying to figure out where mothers fit into this idea of feminism, especially black women raising black daughters. And I think people want to hear what I have to say, if the last post is indicative of anything other than that when you write about Beyonce you get lots of hits.

So I’m going to try to write more often. Once a week. About things that are important to me as a black mother, and hopefully about things that are important to you. Gradmommy will still be more personal, although talking about mental health and race and life is political too. Just a little different. So there will likely be overlap. And maybe I’ll get a couple of the other moms (cough, cough, ahem, ahem) to come back too. We may not agree on things, but I think we all value the others’ voices. And I want a site that has disagreement. I am, after all, a lawyer-in-the-making.

See y’all in 2014.

3 thoughts on “Political Parenting

  1. I have to say, I vehemently disagreed with your views on Beyonce and the concept of feminism and what Beyonce represents within that concept. Maybe part of me is biased because I don’t understand how anyone can think a Frank Ocean song is boring, but that is veering the conversation towards the quality of the music itself instead of what the music represents 😉 However, the post on Beyonce and all the subsequent comments kept me busy for a good while and gave me something to do on a boring New Year’s Day. Anyway, just wanted to say I enjoyed reading and was sad that the comment section on the Beyonce article was closed by the time I got to it!


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