When you are compelled to speak out
I found it heartening to witness the women’s marches in the US and across the world at the weekend. They were an important demonstration of what it means to be able to come together to make our voices heard. Stepping up in defence of what you believe to be right when those in power don’t share those beliefs.
When the main reason for marching is as emotive a subject as women’s rights it is hard to write objectively about it. It’s hard not to get drawn into the political ranting.
Believe me, I could rant for pages.
But that isn’t my purpose for writing today.
As mothers, I believe it is our remit to do what we can to ensure that our children, both daughters and sons, have the confidence and the courage to stand up and be counted when it comes to defending principles that they hold dear. We all have a voice, we all have opinions, and we all deserve to have the opportunity to express those opinions peacefully regardless of gender, colour, religion, sexual orientation or any other category the world might care to impose.
But, while we might be absolutely convinced that we are right we must remember that our opponents are thinking that too; they are absolutely convinced that they are right. We must remember to be respectful of others’ opinions even if they are anathema to our own. We must remember to encourage dialogue and to give our opponents the chance to set out their stall and defend their beliefs. To listen in order to understand not just to listen in order to reply. To get to the bottom of our differences. To be well-informed around our argument and to be able to eloquently explain to our opponents our reasoning for the beliefs we hold.
Parenting by example is a powerful thing. There were many families present at those marches at the weekend. It is an experience that those children will remember for the rest of their lives – that their mothers (and many of their fathers too) felt strongly enough about an issue to join together with many others who felt the same way in order to raise a voice that was loud enough to be heard. In these circumstances, out in the wider world, parenting by example is easy.
But it occurred to me how difficult it can be to demonstrate those self-same qualities in your own home though, when your opponent just happens to be your own child. How easy it is to be hypocritical when faced with this scenario because of course you’re right! In order for your children to have the confidence to stand up and be counted for what they believe in, they have to believe that they will be listened to. Which means that we have to rein ourselves in… and listen to them. Which is hard enough when they’re little and their reasoning may be decidedly flaky but becomes mighty challenging when they get to the age where they can articulate their reasons and opinions in often quite vehement ways!
As the mother of a 12 year old I find this really difficult. Yes, I know I was the same at that age. Yes, I know that in many of our arguments my opinion has been formed from the belief that I know what’s best for him. Yes, I know that a lot of the time it’s maturity and experience that mean that I have a different opinion to that of my son. And no, I don’t expect him to follow me blindly without questioning and forming his own opinions and ideas.
I think of it in the same terms as exercise and healthy eating. I know exactly what I should be doing, and when I do actually do it I feel great both in and about myself. But sustaining it? Still working on that one.
The best I can do is to keep the dialogue open. To talk about how I’m feeling, to listen to his frustrations, to apologise when necessary and to admit when I don’t think I handled things as well as I could have done. And above all, to make sure that he understands that my opinions will always, always come from a place of love, from wanting the best for him.
All any of us can do is our best.