Are temper tantrums social justice opportunities?

A is almost 13 months, so walk into our house almost any day and it’s likely you’ll see some sort of minor temper tantrum within twenty minutes. It normally only lasts 10-30 seconds, but it can be a theatrical treat: back-arching, nose-crinkling, fake crying. And this can happen in response to almost anything. Today, I didn’t let him chew on the bottom of my gross flip flop. How dare I!

As easy as it is to [half-] jokingly complain about these moments, I consider them opportunities to cultivate a critical social justice skill in my son: empathy. My in-laws lovingly make fun of one phrase that I’ve seemed to say to A every time he starts to fuss:

Are you feeling frustrated?

The response is an attempt to recognize and name the emotion that A is feeling in those moments. To manage a temper tantrum by acknowledging what he is feeling, first and foremost. To legitimate his emotions. I’m sure he really is frustrated that he can’t chew on my shoe, no matter how ridiculous that seems to us.

The way we talk to kids about their emotions—particularly our sons—is a one of those mundane, critical acts of social justice. Too often, boys are subtly (or not so subtly) taught to mute their emotions. Speaking to A about his emotions cultivates his emotional intelligence and ultimately models compassion for him. By saying You seem really sad right now!, I want to encourage him to recognize and honor emotions in himself and (later) in others. Particularly in the cultural context of toxic masculinity, I try to be cognizant of using “emotional vocabulary” with A—and to teach him not to be ashamed of expressing or recognizing his emotions.

I’ve recently started pointing out illustrations in books of characters showing a lot of emotion. It’s a similar idea: that small, mundane act encourages him to recognize emotions in others and build empathy for them.

Empathy is a necessary–though not sufficient–step in becoming a human being who cares about social justice. It teaches us to care about others’ emotional states, even if they don’t match our own. Empathetic people can still be racist, sexist, etc., of course. Blame human social psychology and all that in-group/out-group BS for that. BUT an anti-racist/sexist/oppression person inherently must be empathetic. It is a prerequisite, but not the only one.

*P.S. I don’t think this is a revolutionary approach by any means–lots of parents have being doing this for years. Still, I do think it is still helpful to consciously and explicitly state what might be an unconscious thought or practice.

A Turkish Name for an American kid

“Give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. my name makes you want to tell me the truth. my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.”—Warsan Shire

Naming your child isn’t a mundane moment of parenting, as this blog claims to be about–it’s actually one of the most powerful moments of parenting. Their name dictates how the world will treat them and how, in turn, your child will view the world.

My husband and I both grew up in the U.S. He in a college town in Missouri, me in a small city in Pennsylvania. We both grew up watching Hey, Arnold and playing with Beanie Babies. We both attended high school right at the Myspace/Xanga era of social media (what a time to be alive!). But there was one difference: my husband, though for most of his childhood and adolescence was in the US, is Turkish. His parents first moved here before he was born, with his older sister in tow, doing anything they possibly could to make ends meet as graduate students. After my husband was born, they moved back to Turkey during my husband’s toddlerhood. My husband has a Turkish first name that he now goes by (and that his family has always called him), but when he was growing up in Missouri, he went by an Americanized version of his middle name (“John”). To many who know my husband from that time in his life, he is John.

So when it came to naming our first born, it’s kind of weird that we chose a Turkish name for A. I admit that, for the first few months of his life, when I would introduce my son to strangers, I would have this weird mixture of pride/embarrassment when I said his name (that was my own ish that I’ve since gotten over). My name is Olivia, after all, a relatively common name in the United States. I always wondered what people would think when I said, ‘Hi, my name is Olivia, and this is my son [insert Turkish name].’

Is naming your child an act of social justice?

There’s lots of reasons we chose a Turkish name over a name more common in the US. Most importantly, we (and my husband particularly) want our son to have a strong Turkish identity. My son, for all intents and purposes, is White. He certainly passes for White. But because we named him what we did, instead of Nicholas after my grandfather which we considered, the world inherently treats him differently. And that’s ok.  He understands the world in a more nuanced way because he will hear people struggle with his name, ask him to repeat it, or quietly try to avoid using it at all. My husband lives with that hidden curriculum of names, and we decided it was worth passing down those lessons to our son.

Ultimately, the name is a family name—my son’s great-grandfather’s. There are arbitrary cultural boundaries on what seems ‘American’ and what seems ‘other.’ We are allowed to honor my husband’s family without skepticism.

While Shire’s poem has a gendered aspect that I haven’t talked about, her words are applicable nonetheless. His name makes you want to tell him the truth.


Heather Heyer was the child of a mother out there, who undoubtedly received the worst news of her life yesterday. There may be a small bit of solace knowing that she died with her middle fingers up at Nazis, but, honestly, for a parent who is grieving, I can only imagine that it is little solace indeed. She gave her life because of the White supremacist regime, and her mother grieves…just as millions have throughout American history.

My husband and I have brought A to a few direct actions and protests throughout his twelve months of life so far. Not enough–never enough–but some**. When my husband heard someone was killed in the counter-protests in Charlottesville yesterday, the first thing he said is ‘I get so scared when A is at rallies like that.’ I’m scared, too. Of neo-Nazis driving cars into crowds and hurting my baby. Do I have a right to bring my child to events like that, when there is a risk of a White man (the most common type of terrorist in the United States) doing something so grossly violent? After all, my goal in life is for A to be safe and healthy, above all else. At the same time, don’t I, as a White parent, have an obligation to bring him?

Yes, the events of yesterday made me scared to attend protests with A. The way that Black and Brown mothers are scared every day when they let their babies, no matter what age, out of their house. This shouldn’t be about my feelings. I can be scared, have those feelings, acknowledge them and that they make me human. And then move on and move forward. Recognize the terrorism that occurred in Charlottesville yesterday. Mourn the life that was lost in Charlottesville. And still continue to show up, with A when I feel it is safe, to events, rallies, and direct actions.

And when I don’t feel like it is safe for A, continue to show up in those small, mundane moments of parenting. Continue to show up at bedtime while reading. Continue to show up during diaper changes and during playtime. Parenting communicates social messages of power, whether you are at a direct action or not. Use the opportunities that you have.

P. S.

Before the women’s march, this article helped me decide to bring A.

**I don’t want this to sound self-congratulatory or trying to prove that ‘I’m different than all the other White people because I’ve been to a few rallies’ I don’t deserve that label White activist, and I’m sure I am complicit in supporting White supremacy sometimes, even as I actively try to disrupt it in my day to day life.

Storytime and Naming Whiteness: ‘Tubby’ by Leslie Patricelli

My son has had a favorite book for the last few months—Tubby by Leslie Patricelli. It’s a sweet tale about a baby during bath time, with a mom, dad, and a surprise dirty dog on the last page. I’m guessing he loves it because the baby’s face is particularly expressive or maybe because I make a funny ‘bbbbbb’ sound with my lips on the page when the baby is pretending to be a motorboat. Either way, it’s almost always the book he holds out to me insistently repeating “doh, doh, DOH” (which seems to be baby for ‘please read this to me!’).


First, I want to state what I think is obvious but still worth stating: it’s not bad that my son reads books about a White family with heterosexual parents doing a sweet, mundane ritual like bath time. Being White isn’t something I want my son to be ashamed of. But the goal of this blog is to be conscious of how the banalities of parenting are some of the most powerful moments that communicate lessons around power and social identities. So, let’s take a moment to be conscious…

He sees a White family with heterosexual parents doing bath time at least twice a week (did I just admit to only bathing my son twice a week?!). The problem is not that the characters are White, but if and when he becomes exposed only to White characters. When White becomes the invisible norm that he learns not to see.

By the end of the day, when its bedtime and he’s holding out Tubby insistently–I’m tired but he’s being so freaking cute–I can’t help but read it one more time. In those little moments, I sometimes say something like this: 

“This is a really nice book about a family just like ours. What isn’t as nice is that there are only characters with a skin tone like ours, because most books written for you already show people that look like us. But there are people with lots of different skin tones in the world, so it’s not very fair that most books only show people that look like us, is it?”**

It’s my hope that these types of comments gently refuse to allow Whiteness from becoming the invisible norm against which all else is compared. Naming Whiteness is the start. It’s not sufficient, but it’s something.

Surprisingly, there’s a lot I want to say about a book with only 72 words in it (yes, I counted), so I’ve split up my comments into two posts. I’ll post ‘Tubby pt. 2’ soon.


Happy wiping,



Yes, I know my son is only twelve months old. Yes, I know he really has no idea what I’m saying. I want to give myself a few years of practice/habit-making in making comments like this!

Can wiping butts be woke?

Can wiping your kid’s butt be an act of social justice? I guess it depends on who is doing the wiping, what type of wipe you are using, what are you saying as you wipe, how you involve your kid in the wiping process, etc. It’s these questions that keep me up at night (apart from my one-year old son, sometimes)—[How] can the daily activities of parenting be acts of social justice, particularly for [upper middle-class/cis/hetero] White parents of a White child?

To me, parenting for social justice means prioritizing critical thinking in your child about how society organizes power along the lines of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability status, religion, and other social identities. It means actively pushing against colorblindness, heternormativity, cisnormativity, rape culture , toxic masculinity, etc. in your child. Parenting for social justice is obvious when you bring your child to direct actions and rallies, but this blog is dedicated to understanding how the more banal acts of parenting (for example, butt wiping) can in and of themselves contribute to a more just world.

My son (‘A’, as I’ll refer to him here) turned one year old last Saturday. I probably changed his diaper at least three times just on his birthday (his dad had to work all day, but I know his grandparents tackled a few dirty diapers that day, too). Did any of those moments of our lives promote social justice?

Once a week for the second year of my son’s life, I am going to write about my trials in answering that question and other questions around ‘parenting for social justice.’

Let’s speak poop to power together.