I’m heading to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change conference in Houston, Texas, this week, which brings with it a host of questions: Will I feel any different in a city whose mayor, Annise Parker, is also a lesbian mom? What childcare arrangements will I make for my own son while I’m gone? Are there really cowgirls in Texas? What does it mean to create change?
As a parent, the disruption to my family’s schedule looms large in my mind. My spouse, who is perfectly capable of taking care of our son and making meals for the week, nevertheless works longer hours than I do. I’m hardly the only parent who will be dealing with this, though, so I say a prayer to the gods of work-life balance and figure out what time it will be in Texas when I have to phone my son to wish him a good night.
Even while making preparations to go the conference, though, I see reasons we need to create change in the world. I count myself lucky that my son’s school provides an affordable and convenient after-care program, where he can stay until my spouse gets home from her job. I wonder, though, how many parents must regularly risk leaving young children home alone because they cannot afford either having a parent stay home or paying for childcare. I remember that LGBT families are twice as likely to be living in poverty as married, opposite-sex parents with children—and more so for families of color, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute.
I’m also arranging for my son to go to a friend’s house one day after school while I’m gone. I do the same in return when his friend’s parents are unavailable. It seems an obvious neighborly swap—but I realize I am blessed with non-homophobic neighbors willing to entrust their children to me. I wonder how many parents cannot make neighborly childcare arrangements because of homophobia, or racism, or ableism, or any other form of prejudice. For families struggling economically, this multiplies an already harsh burden.
For LGBT families, creating change starts with our simple visibility and ripples outward as we gently or assertively challenge assumptions, demand inclusion, and find ways to build bridges. It continues as those ripples intersect with those of other people working for social justice, and builds as we try to be good allies to others and teach our children to do the same.
One of my favorite examples of how to create change comes from Mayor Parker. She invited Houston-based mega-church evangelist Joel Osteen, who has said homosexuality is not “God’s best,” to offer the opening prayer at her inauguration in 2010. “You don’t build bridges with people who disagree with you by ignoring them or pushing them away,” she told San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. That’s a lesson for all of us, whether operating in the political arena or simply talking with a neighbor. If we can find a common ground—in Parker’s case, a desire to do good for Houstonians—we can begin to make progress. For parents, that common ground may often be simply that we are parents who want to do the best for our children, even if we disagree about what that entails.
Not that change is easy. We parents, though, should be particularly good at dealing with it, for children are changing from the moment they come into the world. Some are changes we trigger—teaching them to ride a bike, say—others happen because of the inevitable process of growing up. We encounter sudden change, like a decision by one’s child to adopt a new hairstyle, and we learn patience when change is slow. (“How many times have I told you to clean your room?”)
What we don’t often have is time. We may feel guilty or frustrated that we cannot devote the time we’d like to social justice or political causes. I say we need to readjust our expectations and do what we can, whether at the personal level (having a conversation with a neighbor, relative, or teacher, say) or in the wider world. Make a manageable commitment with yourself to do one small thing, regularly, if that’s what you can manage. Write a one-paragraph review for your favorite online bookstore about an LGBT-inclusive children’s book you’ve read, for example. Leave a comment once a week or once a month on a parenting blog, offering your thoughts on an issue. Or donate a few cans of food to your local soup kitchen. Of course, if we have time and inclination, there are plenty of more extensive ways to volunteer (or be paid) to create change. But we shouldn’t hesitate simply because we think that our efforts aren’t enough.
As parents, too, a major part of our effectiveness as change agents is through our children. Not that we should live vicariously through them or push them into activism if that is not their thing. We can, however, try to raise children of caring and character, trusting that they will in turn work to make the world a better place in their own ways.
As for cowgirls in Houston, we’ll just have to see.
(My day-job employer, the National SEED Project at the Wellesley Centers for Women, is a sponsor of Creating Change this year. All opinions here are my own, however.)
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.
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