My Kids Had a Run-In With an Angry Pro-Lifer & It Helped Teach a Valuable Lesson About Opinions

·5 min read

It is a goal in our home to raise children who think critically, ask questions when things don’t seem right, and have an awareness of their history and identity so they can form their own opinions about social and political issues.

Recently, we visited my hometown of Georgetown, Kentucky, a long way from our 2-bedroom Manhattan life. One evening, their older cousin (14 years old, also visiting from Nairobi, Kenya) took our 8-year-old twins for a walk to get ice cream.

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My husband and I were excited at this first independent journey for the boys, and thought it fairly safe for them to walk to quaint downtown Georgetown and back with a newly-14-year-old. But when their evening turned out to include a run-in with an angry prolifer, it prompted valuable conversations about opinions and voice.   

 “A WATER BOTTLE WAS THROWN AT US!” they exclaimed as they ran through the door upon their return, holding said water bottle with a mix of pride, wonder, exasperation, and anxiety.

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 “What happened?” I implored.  

 “We ‘booed’ a car, then we started walking, and suddenly we heard a loud clank and turned around and saw they’d thrown this metal water bottle at us!”

 “Why did you ‘boo’ a car?” 

 “Because they are the people who don’t want abortions!”

 “How do you know?” I asked.

 “They had a ‘Pro-Life’ bumper sticker on their car!” they responded. 

Things began to make sense at that point. We openly and often discuss reproductive justice and the reversal of Roe v. Wade in our home, and my husband and I don’t shy from sharing that we believe abortions are healthcare for anyone who wants one and that denying them is a dangerous tactic of Christian Nationalism, the patriarchy, and white supremacy. So naturally, we weren’t surprised they were attuned to the bumper sticker — but we wanted to know more.

While there are aspects of the exchange we’ll never fully know (have you ever tried getting details from a kid?), the incident provided an important starting place for conversation around speaking up for things we believe in. And to be honest, though we’re weeks from the incident, I’m still wondering if we handled it as well as we could have. Raising children is hard. 

Nevertheless, here’s a bit of what came out in the moment, along with some threads and themes we’ve revisited since.

  • We affirmed their voice and that they wanted to share it.

  • We applauded their agency and ability to make value statements.

  • We posed some basic questions to think about before choosing to share your opinion openly.

Is this a safe time and place?

We talked about how safe, of course, is a loaded word that means different things for different people, with non-white people always most at risk or “not safe” because of the ways white supremacy manifests. As Audre Lorde teaches, “Raising Black children — female and male — in the mouth of a racist, sexist, suicidal dragon is perilous and chancy. If they cannot love and resist and the same time, they will probably not survive.”

Are there any caregivers or trusted adults close by in the event I share my opinion and something bad happens?

If not, they’re on their own — which isn’t always a good thing.

Are there any statistical assumptions we can make about the type of person we are encountering/value we are challenging that can guide or caution our decision about whether to speak up?

We talked about how statistically, prolifers” are also “pro-gun,” which correlates to violence and harassment. No social or political category one aligns with is a monolith, of course, but we must make statistical connections about behavioral norms for our children.

Is there anything about my visible identity that may ignite bias, prejudice, racism, or violence?

We pointed out that their older cousin is a bi-racial Black girl who, although she benefits from colorism, is a victim of misogynoir, especially in a Southern small town. Misogynoir is a term that holds the nuance of being both female and Black, coined in 2010 by American academic Moya Bailey, who defined it as “to describe the particular brand of hatred directed at Black women in America.” We also noted that our boys are often seen as gender fluid & openly expressive, expressions that threaten cis-heteropatriarchy.  A common characteristic of cis-heteropatriarchy is dominance, and when control is threatened, a resort to violence is common (like the throwing of a water bottle).

What am I hoping to accomplish by speaking up right now?

While these conversations and questions are just a starting point, we hope they provide our children with a foundation from which to pull when they encounter a similar situation in the future. These topics are large and complex, but not too large and complex for the minds and worlds of our children.

As we continue to reflect on the incident, we are grateful no one was hurt and absolutely crushed, though not surprised at this specific grown adult’s choice to resort to violence in the face of opposition. Together we are asking:  I wonder what kind of conversations he had growing up? What were the questions asked of him? What was taught to him about what it means to “be a man” and to “defend yourself?” How does he justify being “pro-life” and throwing a weapon? What will it take to change someone’s initial reactions to disagreement? How do we move from violence to conversation and, potentially to understanding and change? Do we believe change is possible?

Perhaps most importantly, will our collective children suffer or flourish from how we answer these questions?  While we’ll never ace the parenting journey, we can embrace its complexity and the avenue it provides for important conversations and social change head-on. After all, it seems to me that we could all use continual lessons on voice, values, and violence.

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