We as Black parents have to actively work to make time for our children, for it may never be explicitly given to us.

-Desmera Gatewood

by Desmera Gatewood

One of my movement mentors told me, the “revolution begins at home.” She told me this after I declined to go on a trip because I’d promised to take my daughter somewhere with her cousins.  

I’ve come to realize there’s nothing—no protest, board meeting, speaking engagement, convention, facilitation opportunity, panel, event planning, conference call, forum, or MCing that can give me anything close to the fulfillment of my daughter saying, “I had fun with you today mommy.”  

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I had convinced myself that the weight of the world was on my shoulders as an activist. I believed that I was obligated to give everything I had to eradicating oppressive systems and dismantling unjust power structures, even at the expense of depriving those closer to me of my full time and commitment. I didn’t acknowledge that.

I used to say that I wanted my daughter to be proud of me one day. I failed to see that she’d already admired and adored me. She thought that I was enough before I’d even believed that about myself. All she wants is my time and love. 

Combating oppression and teaching our children how to fight is of the utmost importance, and it is equally as important to nourish and nurture them in other ways. As adults, fully aware of the all the systems at work against marginalized folks, we are constantly considering how oppression impacts our existence, and it’s exhausting. Our children absolutely need to learn the truth about the kind of world we live in, but they also need time and space to just be children, just as much as we need time and space to just be parents.

What my daughter and all of our children need is time, from me, with me. Dragging her along with me while I live my busy activist life is not the same as quality time with her. What is it for me to fight for __________, if it takes me away from time with my child?  

I’m saying this in hopes that all parents, especially those of us who are artists, politicians, activists, healers, preachers, and change agents of any sort, take a step back and remember that much of the wellness of our children depends on how present and attentive we are. They don’t know you as your title in your field, they know you as their parent.  

When you retire, count up the court cases you won, how many times you protested, how many stages you were on, how many awards you won, how many campaigns you took part in, how many union victories you achieved, none of that will be calculated in the sum of who you were to who needed you the most, your child(ren).

The revolution begins at home. Much of the systemic inhumanity we’re facing is perpetuated by people who don’t know love, empathy, compassion, inclusivity, community, and generosity. It means nothing for me to criticize the world for lacking those things if I don’t take the intentional time to experience and demonstrate that continuously in my own home.

I’ve shifted my fear of missing out on the movement, to fear of missing out on my daughter’s life. I’ve shifted my fear of missing out on social and cultural change to the fear of missing out on the changes my daughter goes through. My value shifts create behavior shifts. These actions are not mutually exclusive. I want so badly to help change the world because I love my daughter so much. We can fear missing out on change agency and yearn to be more present parents. For me, the inclination to insert myself into every aspect of movement work was depleting my ability to give my child my full awareness and attention.

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After speaking with other mothers who had also once believed that they were required to exert every part of themselves to facilitating change in the world, I realized that I was not alone in this conflict. I recognized that we as Black parents have to actively work to make time for our children, for it may never be explicitly given to us. I’ve learned the importance of standing firm within my boundaries, avoiding over commitment, and embracing the right to say “No.”

So, you may not see me on Facebook like you used to, for I’ve shifted a significant amount of my screen time to intentional time with my daughter. You may not see me at many events anymore, for I’ve given my daughter more decision-making power in how we spend our free time. You may not see me out in the streets shutting it down; you may not hear my voice on as many conference calls; I may not attend the same number of meetings, but I’m doing work that feels more important and impactful than anything I’ve ever done.

Thank you Danita Mason-Hogans of the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies for your wisdom. And thank you to my little girl Everette-Rose for being the best thing that ever happened to me.

Desmera Gatewood is a mother, writer, and international human-rights activist based in North Carolina.  Desmera is affiliated with Coalition for Peace with Justice, a social justice organization that advocates for the liberation of Palestinian people.