Learning How to Be a Mother in the Age of Trump

Politics Features Donald Trump
Learning How to Be a Mother in the Age of Trump

First, we cried. Now, we teach our children what’s wrong with being silent.

Like many Americans, on the morning of November 9th, I awoke after an hour of sleep with puffy eyes and a broken heart. In one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do as a mother, I dragged myself out of bed to report the news to my daughter that no, we will not have the first woman president come January. Instead, barring the possibility of his impeachment, the White House will be occupied by a racist demagogue who bragged about sexual assault and threatened the livelihood of minority populations for the next four long years. As a white, heterosexual woman, I knew my worries were small compared to what my LBGT and minority friends awoke with. My tears felt selfish, but still I cried. I cried for humanity and I couldn’t stop.

As the realization that a hate-monger was granted such a role hit me over and over again, like a sucker-punch to the gut, I could barely remember to breathe. I could barely remember how to be a mother. How could I care if my son ate his oatmeal or threw it on the ground instead when I knew so many minority children, some friends of ours, were going to school in tears today and shaking with fear? How could I care about letting them watch cartoons when my LGBT friends may have their right to marry stripped away, and high school students were running down the hall chanting “WHITE POWER!!” and drawing swastikas, and Muslim women were being screamed at and having their hijabs torn off their heads in the name of “making America great”?

Later in the day, I piled everyone in the car just to get out. We drove to a nearby mall where I had heard the trains had already been set up for Christmas. But instead of feeling uplifted, I found myself wandering around, holding my children’s hands, with tears streaming down my face, unable to answer simple questions. I was in a fog, so we drove home in the pouring Baltimore rain that made it feel like the whole world was crying. Perhaps I just needed the whole day to grieve, I told myself, so I did, all the while apologizing to my daughter and my 2-year-old son for “not being a very good mommy today.”

I promised I would be better tomorrow. So they stroked my hair and we made peanut-butter cookies and watched a movie and I cried a little more. The next day, even though I still felt like the world was crumbling, I woke up rested and rejuvenated. I felt like I had slept off a terrible hangover. My head wasn’t pounding anymore. I was able to keep my tears at bay. When the baby came in bright and early and snuggled his warm body next to mine, I lay with my eyes closed, dreaming up a new vision.

I wouldn’t waste another day on my own anguish, I decided. I would stay outraged, yes. But I would dry my eyes and get to work and teach my kids how to gather and peacefully demonstrate. We needed to mobilize. We needed to come together. And I refused to be quietly miserable anymore.

With visions of connection, of being vocal, of supporting our minority friends and neighbors and peacefully raising our voices, I mentioned a protest I saw online over breakfast. “Do you think there be food there?” my daughter innocently asked. I looked at my husband across the table, whose eyes told me “now you really have to take them.” “No, hunny,” I told her. “People are just going to express themselves. They are every bit as angry as we are. We are not going there to eat. We are going to join together so that we can feel stronger again.”

As the day went on, we talked more about why we were going- how it was our duty to stand by our friends who were hurting more deeply than we were because they will be harder hit by the change in policies, by the harmful rhetoric Trump has egged on, by violence and hate being spewed at their populations. I told her not to be afraid if she sees people crying, or chanting, that people are just trying to make their voices heard. I put on my shirt that reads “the future is female” and my daughter colored a sign that read “Love Trumps Hate” which she proudly carried.

That night, we marched and held our signs. We listened thoughtfully to people of color speak about how a racist campaign has hurt them deeply in their personal lives, how hard they felt it. We listened to gay and lesbian men and women share their stories. One quote that kept humming in my brain that night as I went to sleep came from a trans woman. She spoke about the hate she felt, more than ever since Trump’s campaign began. She said “we need to hear more about trans people and not just about when they die.” My daughter listened, and I saw her eyes widen. And she knew why we had come. She was able to understand that even when we feel powerless, just by showing up and coming together, we are useful and more powerful.

This week has been incredibly confusing and painful for so many people across the nation, and it’s not just about how we feel about the president-elect. The big question now is how do we respond? Do we stay quiet, or do we keep raising our voices in the face of this travesty? Do we fight, or do we settle down, and mind our own business? It’s especially challenging for parents, who want to lead by example. We want to teach our kids to respect differences of opinion, but sometimes it comes down to knowing what’s right and wrong. We want to teach civility, but a widespread acceptance of hatred is what got us here to begin with.

Not everyone agrees with protest, or even saying out loud that we are angry, though. Some believe we should go back to hugging our relatives at the holidays who cast a vote for hate, as if nothing has changed, as if they didn’t cosign racism, even if they claim not to be racist (which just about all of them do). Some believe in sweeping it all under the huge, metaphorical rug, and moving the hell on. But I can’t. Not anymore. Sweeping it under the rug in the name of keeping the peace has gotten us to where we are now. There is no peace. And 2016 may very well go down in history as the year white people realized that their collective silence about race was just another, equally powerful, form of oppression.

When I was young, the philosophy was “we don’t talk about politics or religion- it’s not polite.” Now, I’m not so sure that silence, in the name of politeness or mutual respect, is the answer. Should we teach our children to be as polite as we have been? Should we teach our children to simply give their respect to those who believe our country would be better off with less of a minority population in it, who don’t care about the thousands of people who require daily medications and may soon be without health coverage, who are quick to condemn protest, but haven’t once condemned the violence that has been spreading like wildfire since the beginning of Trump’s campaign?

I don’t think those actions are worthy of respect. If we didn’t know before, now we know. We’ve learned that silence is violence and it leads to the continuation of oppression. Taking my kids to a protest was just one small opportunity, among many, to show my children that it’s okay to be outraged—that our collective outrage is important, crucial even. That our voices need to be loud and that there are many people in this country who need to hear our voices. It’s a way to normalize our rejection of hatred.

Protesting is far from the only thing we can do, but it is still an important means for finding strength and expressing ourselves as citizens of this country. In the days that followed, we donated to a number of important causes and made calls to our state representatives. I signed about a dozen petitions and I looked for opportunities to volunteer and more spaces to organize. I hung my daughter’s handmade sign in our window, so that everyone can see that in our home, we believe “Love Trumps Hate.” We made also made a new sign—one I regret not hanging last year when protests were breaking out all over my city after Freddie Gray’s death. It reads “Black Lives Matter” and we hung it on our front door. I may wear a safety pin, too, but I will also listen to people of color when they say “we need you to be louder than a safety pin.”

The truth is, like a lot of people right now, I still feel helpless. But as a mother, I won’t own that and I won’t give into it. I will push that feeling as far away as I can, as hard as I can because I have a duty and obligation to teach my children that they are anything but helpless or insignificant and feeling that very way is what prevents change from coming. We all have the ability to raise our voices and to get loud and to speak out against hate and to show our babies how much hate hurts, if nothing else. But we cannot believe the lie that our anger is equal to their hate. Our anger is a natural response to hate, and some things are worth fighting for.

Yesterday, a friend put up a post that read “who would you have been in the civil rights era?” This post confirmed everything I’ve been feeling- that our voices are needed, that our peaceful protests are important, that teaching our children to speak up for what’s right and good is an absolute necessity. As a mother, my first and most important job in the world, I’d like to think I would’ve been someone who passed on the urgency of rejecting hate to my kids, who didn’t worry about being called too loud or opinionated. Millions of Americans will likely dealing with the repercussions of a Trump presidency for years to come. The next generation had better be louder, smarter and more fearless about speaking up for justice than we’ve ever seen. It’s our job to make sure that happens.

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