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Should Parents Bring Kids to Protests?

I have really mixed feelings about whether kids belong at protests or not. I'm truly on the fence enough that during last month's March Against Monsanto, I just couldn't decide whether or not to bring my littles or not so we went to the beach instead... and now I'm kind of kicking myself. The thing is, I've had major hangups about this since before I even became a mom, but now, more than ever, I feel that standing up for my beliefs to secure a peaceful, healthy world for future generations is all the more important.

What's keeping me from protesting family-style, then? Well, let's start with an issue people feel pretty strongly about, myself included. I'm all for reproductive rights and, being fresh out of Texas, I've seen how necessary it is for people (especially women) to make themselves heard when those rights are being stripped away. But would I bring my kids to a rally? Probably not.

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I recently rocked the "Where Babies Come From" conversation with my five-year-old, but definitely don't think he's anywhere near ready for a discussion about circumstances in which a pregnancy might not be carried to term. It simply wouldn't be appropriate for me tote him along to a pro-choice event. Same goes for the pro-life side. In fact, images of people with their kids at abortion-related protests, in particular, have always struck me as pretty distasteful—whichever side they're on. Little kids don't, and shouldn't, have opinions about reproductive politics. Their presence at these kinds of protests is exploitative; whatever parents think it might bring to the table—"Look, my kids agree with me?" Vs. "See, I don't hate babies?"— they're using their kids as pawns instead of treating them like people. This is weird and not okay.

On a less principled and more practical note, bringing kids to events as charged as many protests are seems potentially unsafe. Standing up for your beliefs is awesome and important, but you wouldn't need to protest if someone out there (probably several someones) didn't vehemently disagree with you. And while most protests are peaceful and problem-free, what if some psycho showed up and committed a violent act while your kids were there? Sure, random acts of violence can happen anywhere and you can't live your life in fear, but bringing kids to a dedicated space for heated debate? This gives me pause.

And some of the changes I hope to see in the world —or some of the existing things I hope to see defended and protected—have everything to do with having kids in the first place.

And what about bigots? I'm not sure I want my kids witnessing the kind of negativity, hatefulness, homophobia or xenophobia that some grown adults at protests display. Whatever you want to teach your kids, that's on you. I want my kids to grow up as optimistic, kind and compassionate people who make a positive difference in the world in their own unique and genuine ways. They don't need to know, just yet, what they're up against in terms of existing social injustices, polarizing belief systems, and poorly behaved grown-ups.

On the other hand, I really feel like there's nothing like leading and teaching by example, and I want my kids to know that if we believe in something strongly, we should go and do something real about it. Protesting is a powerful form of peaceful political engagement with a long history of making important change. And some of the changes I hope to see in the world —or some of the existing things I hope to see defended and protected—have everything to do with having kids in the first place.

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Kids clearly have a place at some types of protests, right? Nurse-ins don't work without babies. And, while their presence is less fundamental to protests about, say, education reform, parental medical choice or environmental issues, these are topics that directly impact children's lives and futures (they're also topics I'm totally comfortable discussing with my littles), so maybe kids have a real place at these kinds of events. But then again… maybe not? As I said, I'm torn. And we didn't end up making it to that march.

Maybe we'll go next year.

Have you ever attended a protest with your kids?

Image via Flickr/Relux

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