Building Citizens In The Childminding Room

Last week I attended a Shift presentation at city hall, hosted in partnership with Women In Politics, to learn more about London’s rapid transit plans and to talk about the experiences of women using public transit. Women in Politics, a wonderful group working hard to get more women involved in politics, offered free childminding for participants. I’m not quite sure what went on in that room, but the screams led me to believe they were having a pretty good time!

I really applaud Women in Politics for offering this because childcare can be a huge barrier to women’s participation in political and public events. Now, obviously this isn’t something that is of use to me right now (and won’t be for many years before anybody gets any crazy ideas) but I know it was much appreciated by other attendees, and it also made me think about my own childhood. I know from my experiences as a kid that tagging along to these events can have an impact, and can help build the engaged citizens that our city and our world desperately need.

I don’t come from an overly political family and never attended political events as a child, but political conversations were never off-limits at the dinner table, I remember going to vote with my mom on a couple different occasions, and there never failed to be an orange sign on the lawn come federal and provincial election time! I’m also pretty sure I started reading the paper daily when I was about 8 years old, I got upset when my Grandma beat me to it in the morning.

So I wasn’t a child of politics, but I was however a convention kid. My dad has always been involved in his union, including many years as its president. And what did that mean for me? Many trips to OPSEU’s annual convention.

My friends thought it sounded boring, but what they didn’t realize is that it was one of my favourite times of the year. I mean, what kid doesn’t love skipping school for a few days to stay in the Sheraton in downtown Toronto, eating McDonalds for breakfast before spending the day (and sometimes evenings) in the childcare program offered, which included daily swimming, amazing food, special guests, walks around the city, lots of crafts, and hanging around with friends all day, many of whom had also been going there for years? Oh, and did I mention that this was free? Kudos to OPSEU to providing this, as well as subsidies for food etc. so that having a family was not a barrier to the attendance and participation of delegates from all over the province.

I haven’t really realized the impact until recently. It’s kind of hard to put it into words, but I’m glad it was part of my world as a kid. Through questions here and there I learned what a union does, the impact it can have, and how they work. I remember the excitement during an election year, when they elected the current president (heck I even remember hanging out with his kids). The last year I went they started to incorporate a more educational aspect for the oldest age group. We got to go down to the convention floor a few times, which was pretty much the coolest thing ever! I’m fortunate to have been brought up with exposure to events like these; it normalized unions and these sort of events, and it definitely shaped the understanding, awareness and support for them that I have today. I saw that it was important to my dad, which meant that it was important to me, even if I didn’t entirely understand why. While my ‘participation’ took place from the childminding room (or the hotel pool, ha), I was never shielded from what happened and developed an understanding and appreciation for them in my own little way.  For kids who grow up with exposure to politics, or even through other aspects of public life like volunteering, or their parents work (my experience with THAT is another post in the works!), I’m sure the experience is similar.

Too often we shield children from public, political and civic life, and I believe this does them more harm than good. We force children into spaces created by adults for children for the first 17 years and 364 days of their life, but as soon as they hit their 18th birthday we are absolutely baffled as to why many don’t know what’s going in the world, why they don’t engage in politics in more traditional or visible ways, and why they don’t vote? And then we go on to accuse them of being lazy, entitled, apathetic etc. While I believe that every child is a citizen in their own way, citizenship isn’t something that comes on your 18th birthday, but I also know that being an engaged citizen is a process. It’s a journey I’m still on myself, I’m guessing it’s one that never ends, and it’s one that needs to begin well before children are old enough to vote.

Now, of course not every child gets these opportunities. Not every child has a politically/civically/union involved parent, and there are still so many barriers existing for adults, let alone having them bring their kids along. I don’t have the answers for those issues right now, at least not in this post. But for those of you who can give your kids these opportunities? Please do. Don’t shield your kids from them. They don’t have to canvas with you or be on the picket lines (although we do have a beloved picture from the newspaper with my sister sitting on my dad’s shoulders while picketing!), but they should know what you’re doing. Send them to the childminding if its available. Let them ask questions, share a bit about your day, encourage them to learn more. If they don’t show interest, don’t push it. But if they do? Fan that spark! Not everybody has to or is meant to be a politician or community leader, but let’s do what we can to make political and civic life a true family affair for all, both now and in the future, and I truly believe that bringing your kids along is one way we can work towards this.