Social Justice Parenting - Happy as a Mother

Social Justice Parenting

with Author Dr. Traci Baxley


  • Being A Social Justice Parent
  • Instilling Anti-racism In Our Children
  • Fundamentals Of Raising Anti-Racist Children
  • Parenting As A Form of Activism That Creates Lasting Change

In the wake of George Floyd, many parents’ eyes have been opened to the injustices that BIPOC communities face on a day-to-day basis. This has also left many parents questioning how to “do the work” and raise inclusive children. Figuring out where to start when it comes to anti-racism and social justice work can feel quite daunting. Dr. Traci Baxley is here to teach us about ways we can use our parenting as a form of activism, teaching our children to show up and intervene on behalf of others.

Being A Social Justice Parent

“Social justice parenting is a way that we intentionally and purposely raise our children to care deeply, to love radically, and to really show up for others,” Dr. Baxley said. 

She explained fear-based parenting might have us keeping our children away from others as a means of protecting them. But when we do that, we’re often keeping our children from interacting with people who may be different than us or our family. 

There is an element of fearing what we don’t understand or what is different from us. “We project our own fears and anxieties onto our children, and when we protect them from our fears, we then are creating those same anxieties and fears in our kids,” Dr. Baxley said. “They need to see the world from some other perspective other than their own.”

Instilling Anti-racism In Our Children

“Anti-racism is a step beyond raising good people. Raising good people, to me, is a little more passive,” Dr. Baxley explained. 

Raising anti-racist kids has to go beyond raising kids who don’t hurt people. This is raising kids who intervene when something unjust is happening.

It can be hard to start these conversations with a very young child. We look at innocent toddlers and preschools and think, “Do we really have to talk about that? Do they really need to know now?” 

I grew up in an area that wasn’t very diverse. Looking back on it, I can see how racism was taught very early on. “People are waiting for the right moment, or the right age, and if we look at the studies, children recognize racial differences as early as six months,” Dr. Baxley said.

Children start preschool with racial biases, so for these conversations to be effective, they have to happen early. “Who do you want to educate your child about race?” she asked. Kids figure out that race carries social implications in our country with or without us talking about it. So, do you want them to learn from Hollywood and social media or you?

Fundamentals Of Raising Anti-Racist Children

Dr. Baxley uses the 4S’s as the fundamentals of anti-racist parenting. These are self-reflection, survey, speak, and seek.

Self-Reflection requires us to check in with ourselves. Race wasn’t talked about in my home growing up, and when it was, there were some racist things said. When we come from a situation like that, we have to carefully keep it from impacting our own parenting. 

Self-reflection takes courage, but if we’re not able to do it, it’s hard to accomplish any of the other S’s. I grew up with some racist ideas, and re-examining that as the mom of three black boys is heavy. It carries a lot of shame with it. 

“This is the part that a lot of parents I work with want to skip,” Dr. Baxley said. It can be easier to get defensive and argumentative than admit that we’ve been taught these things. But we can’t teach our children better without this step. 

Scripts from early childhood are so woven into our brains that we can’t control every thought that pops into our heads. Never having a negative thought about someone we were taught to view as different again is probably an unrealistic expectation. Instead, I try to notice when I’ve had a negative thought about someone I assume to be different than me.

I like to play “what-if” games with it. “What if they work for NASA?” “What if they teach Cello?” I play out all the different possibilities in my head. Since we can’t necessarily control our thoughts, what we do about them matters.

Change is hard though, and as we try to become anti-racist, there are going to be some awkward moments. “Don’t give up when it feels unnatural or uncomfortable,” Dr. Baxley said. 

Survey the life choices we’re making. The biggest one may be where we live. If we choose to live in an all-white area, our children will go to school in an all-white area. The kids in extracurricular activities will look like them. “Survey your children’s bookshelves and your toys,” Dr. Baxley suggested. 

Speak is where we start having conversations with our children about race and how to be anti-racist. 

Since my family is biracial there may be more natural opportunities for me to discuss race. But if we’re in an all-white family, we can use things going on in the world as conversation starters with our children. 

But we can’t wait for the right age or the right moment to have these conversations, because that’s how they get overlooked or put off for too long and just don’t happen. And the research indicates, kids form their opinions on race early.

Seek out opportunities for children to be around different children. “Start seeking out ways you can support other people,” Dr. Baxley said. “We get hung up on this word privilege and people get angry about it, nervous about it, but really privilege is just a way that we may have a little more power than somebody else. How do we use that power in ways that we can become change agents?”

Parenting As A Form of Activism That Creates Lasting Change

“Parenting in itself is activism,” Dr. Baxley said.  “People think of activism as this big thing that other people do. But what we do in the privacy of our homes will show up in public space.”

Reading books about people who are different with your kids and discussing the character’s struggles with your children can be a good way to start a conversation. Dr. Baxley also recommended having a set of core values with your family, so when things come up, it’s easy to remind ourselves and each other that this is our value. “If your kids are three, four, or higher, they can be part of creating those values,” she said.

“The small ripples that we do every day in our homes will have bigger ripples out in the world, and it doesn’t take a lot,” she explained. “That’s part of activism.”

It’s also important to remember if we’re going to be inclusive, we can’t cherry-pick who we include. I grew up in a very conservative religious home, and when we think about supporting the LGBTQ+ community, it can contrast some traditional religious values. 

I’ve really had to think about this. Beliefs expire. We can change every day. This conversation isn’t just about including people of different races. We have to embrace everyone. Try books about kids who have two dads or two moms. 

“You should always be on the edge of feeling a little uncomfortable in what you’re doing, because that means you’re growing too,” Dr. Baxley said. If you’re comfortable, it’s probably time to do more. 

Trying to live—and teach our kids—values that may fly in the face of how we were raised or what we’ve been taught can be really hard. If you want to parent differently and are struggling with this, the motherhood roadmap provides a step-by-step framework to finding your own values. 

Dr. Traci Baxley is a professor, consultant, parenting coach, speaker, mother to five bi-racial children, and the creator of Social Justice Parenting. An educator for over 30 years with degrees in child development, elementary education, and curriculum and instruction, she specializes in diversity and inclusion, anti-bias curriculum, and social justice education. Dr. Baxley’s first book, Social Justice Parenting: How to Raise Compassionate, Anti-Racist, Justice-Minded Kids in an Unjust World will be published by Harper Wave in October 2021. She lives with her husband and children in Boca Raton.





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