How do you get your kid to care about social justice? Well, you can bring her to marches and protests on important issues before she’s old enough to walk; croon her to sleep with freedom songs; or fill her Christmas stocking with fair-trade goodies.
My parents did all that when I was little. Some of my earliest memories involve talking to homeless people in my neighborhood, attending demonstrations with my church, door-to-door lobbying with my mom, even dressing up as Winnie the Pooh on a couple occasions to raise awareness about corporate child labor practices. But these events were just the side effects of having activist Christian parents; they say little about our family life and my own formation as a young person.
Perhaps one of the keys to social justice parenting is to ignore the question above. You can’t get your kid to care about social justice issues. Much like you can’t force your child to be a Christian, to dress a certain way, or to listen to certain music, you can’t set out with a goal to shape your child’s passions and interests. Parents who do this either get lucky or, more likely, meet strong resistance from their young ones. My father tells me that the question parents should continuously ask themselves is this: How can I reflect a vision for a more just and compassionate society within my family?
The goal of social justice parenting is not to produce the “right” kind of child—it is to create an environment in which love flourishes and the structures of family life are consistent with a vision for a better world. In my family, this meant that we functioned democratically (or, to my 4-year-old mind, with everyone “on board”). For the most part, we made decisions at weekly family meetings in which everyone had an equal opportunity to participate. My parents tried not to use age, education level, and income as trump cards for important family matters. That is, we rarely heard the phrases: “Because I said so,” or, “Because I know more than you do,” or “Because it’s my money.”