Alison Symington, Everyday Advocacy

My Voice

Mother’s Day Reflection 2020: Human rights activism & motherhood

I found myself reflecting this morning on what it means to be a mother. Why is it that I like to include the fact that I am a mother in my professional bio, and I bore my colleagues with stories of their antics? Shouldn’t my personal life be separate from my work? 

Well, … beyond just the fact that my kids are great, … for me, becoming a mother was a personal choice — enacting my own sexual and reproductive rights. It has been a fulfilling and transformative experience. But beyond this, mothering is integral to every part of me — personal and professional.

I suspect few activists who are not mothers appreciate how much being a mother is fundamental to the very essence of my activism, research and writing.

Because you understand sexual and reproductive rights in a vastly different way, having experienced the overwhelming bodily experience of pregnancy, the unfathomable accomplishment of delivery, and the ever-present obligation of breastfeeding and carrying a baby/toddler around day and night.

You understand workers’ rights differently when you face a different set of choices and considerations because of your responsibilities as a “working mother.”

You understand poverty and wealth inequality differently when you see your colleagues without children living at a different standard of living than you. You understand it absolutely when you must make difficult choices about how to spend the few remaining dollars in your bank account (or credit available on your card).

You understand community, inclusion and discrimination differently when you see how young children engage and care for one another. When you regularly attend a daycare centre or an elementary school, you gain particular insights on how our society is valuing diversity and acceptance — through the investments we make (or don’t), the chosen curriculum, and the way teachers and staff are trained and compensated. You begin to see how small actions and choices are not just “acts of kindness” or “oversights,” but are fundamental to the daily experiences of diverse people.   

You understand the right to housing differently when you put a sleep cap on your infant to prevent drafts in the night or crawl around on your hands and knees to make sure there is no possibility of slivers for a newly crawling baby. When you meet your new neighbours or wash an apple for a bedtime snack. When you double-check the latch before going to bed and are woken up repeatedly by the kid sharing your bed. As a mother, each of these simple actions has many layers of concern and analysis behind it. And as a human rights activist, you can’t help but consider what it would be like to be doing these same things living in a car or otherwise insecurely housed.  

I believe that I understand substance abuse, violence, dignity, and choice differently as a mother. I have a considerable amount of privilege and don’t claim to have faced the difficult choices many women face daily, but I think I can understand their experience better because I know the importance of each little look, touch and word in the life of your developing child. Because I am a mother 24/7. It is a responsibility that I always carry with me. I look at everything through that lens — both because I have to and because I want to.

Deciding to become a mother is by definition a commitment to creating the future. For me, it was a commitment to not just enjoy life and solve the problems/seize the opportunities of the day, but to look at the big picture, the systems and policies that structure our society, the values and practises we are teaching, the very future we are creating. Parenting is about the future — not in the rosy Whitney Houston “children are the future” way, but in the real boots-on-the-ground, hands dirty, “in it” way that changes a person, their work, their outlook, their analysis, and their motivation.

I am a different activist than I would have been if I was not a mother. Motherhood is an act of love, of rebellion, and of advocacy. And I believe that in a very real sense, motherhood is my superpower.