To be there for other people, we can’t abdicate our agency

Photo: MassanPH/Getty Images

My work as an activist and advocate sits at the intersection of race, gender, and class, with a particular focus on family and community. But I can’t show up for others to do this work unless I take care of myself.

To effectively care for myself, I have to be aware of myself. Self-awareness is critical for us individually, but it’s also critical to having workable relationships. Identifying and understanding our boundaries—key in our relationships with others—requires self-awareness.

I used to think of boundaries as a response to enact when people tried to impose upon me or demand something of…

My dear friend, Courtney Martin, and I wrote this piece together.

As seismic shifts continue to unsettle the foundations of all of our lives, clarity about how to respond or even be in this moment is elusive. It’s not surprising that women are unequally impacted. We already earn less, we already shoulder responsibility for caring for children, elders, and others, and we already do more emotional labor. All of these burdens are amplified if we are Black, Indigenous, or women of color. We are all having to adjust and learn new ways to hold our days and routines, our relationships, and our understanding of what we can count on.

Read the rest here.

“we must be very strong / and love each other / in order to go on living” — Audre Lorde, Equinox

A zinnia and a honeybee

On my birthday in 2016, a swarm of bees landed in the plum tree in my backyard and I decided to become a beekeeper. I went to a local “urban farm” store to see if I could pay someone to capture the swarm and set up a hive for me. They convinced me I could do it myself. They outfitted me with a hive box and a beekeeping suit. An hour later I was on a ladder wacking the…

Yesterday, I sent this to many of the cishet-ish men I know. One of them (thanks, Mordecai!) asked me to make it a Medium post so he could share it. Thank you, Sharon Dolan for the inspiration.

Hi, my cishet-ish dude* friends and family!

How are you doing? Great, I hope! So, as well-informed, thoughtful people, I know you’ve been horrified by the abortion bans that cis white men and their cis white women minions are trying to push through in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, and god know where else.

“I remember having conversations in college about how many kids I wanted and how I wanted to start having kids before I was 30. It was a lot; I was like I’m going to have six kids or four kids or something,” Taren recalls. “I think I assumed it would be a ‘traditional’ nuclear family. I had these visions of having these kids and putting ornaments on the Christmas tree, and I couldn’t imagine giving that up.”

Raised by two heterosexual, married biological parents in rural Indiana, Taren was largely envisioning a replication of what she’d experienced growing up. Her…

“Family, kids, marriage is my top priority,” shares Sammi, a 20-year old college student. “All I want are kids. I want a career too. I’m thankful I don’t have to choose, I really am, but if I had to, I know what I would choose, which I think comes from my family. We grew up as a cohesive unit. My family is very, very, very close. And they modeled that when things are hard, you can figure it out, when you love something.”

Sammi’s parents did just that at a time when same-sex marriage wasn’t legal. …

Toni, Sonja, and Mariana cracking up.

When Mariana invited Toni for drinks, she was looking forward to simply catching up with the younger sister she helped raise, but ended up getting a surprise that changed her life. Mariana noticed Toni wasn’t drinking and when she inquired about it, Toni pulled out a onesie. It read, “My crazy Titi lives in Brooklyn.”

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, you’re pregnant!’ I was really excited. I spent a lot of my childhood and adolescence helping to raise my sister when my parents split up, so the thought of her having a child was just super important to me…

Mariana, Anto, and Anthony

Anthony and his wife Mariana met in graduate school while pursuing their Masters of Fine Arts. After graduating, they moved to Oakland, California and lived the lifestyle of young artists, enjoying their childfree existence. As their relationship deepened, they agreed that they would not become parents. For Mariana, the choice seemed predestined, as she’d been told she was unlikely to be able to get pregnant. For Anthony, his own childhood — characterized by extensive contact with the criminal legal system, living in foster care, disconnect from biological family, and being uprooted — informed his reluctance to become a parent.


Marjorie and Lindsay

Born into a big military family — the third of seven children — and caring for her household and younger siblings by the age of nine, Marjorie never had dreams of a partner, 2.5 kids, and a picket fence. It was friendship and circumstance that led her to motherhood and a daughter she loves as her own.

Marjorie met Brenda when they were both working for a garment manufacturer in Los Angeles and the two developed a friendship that would last a lifetime, even when Marjorie moved across the country to Washington, DC. Brenda had her only child, Lindsay, shortly…

Amber and kids clownin’!

It is not unusual for an older child to help care for younger siblings. When the adults in a household are outnumbered by children, the help becomes essential. Olders often keep a watchful eye on youngers while an adult makes a meal or goes to the bathroom. Olders may walk youngers home from school and get them a snack before an adult comes home from work. Olders may babysit youngers so adults can go out for dinner or a movie or other “grownup time.” I’ve talked with many older siblings from big families who had fairly significant responsibilities for their…

Mia Birdsong

Writer, activist. I wrote a book: How We Show Up (Hachette, June 2020)

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store