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Suburban moms get a lot of attention from the media these days. In fact, interviewing yet another suburban mom about her opinions on the direction of the country is the equivalent of another interview of a rural, blue-collar worker staged in a small cafe — the kind of interview ubiquitous after the 2016 election.
No demographic is a monolith, but the archetype of the suburban mom is white, middle-to-upper-class, educated and married. Her actions at the voting booth — and lately, at school board meetings — are generally caused by her "wanting the best" for her children.
But no one ever asks this follow-up question: What does "wanting the best" for her children really look like?
When I was growing up, my parents wanted to see my generation do better than theirs did. I often assumed they meant becoming better off financially. But I suspect my parents hoped I'd surpass them in other ways, too, such as health, experiences, happiness or in my work/life balance. Just as any great teacher wants their students to surpass them in their craft, I believe my parents wanted me to surpass them in life.
I believe this because my parents never stood in the way of my continued learning and growth. They never erected walls around what I could or couldn't learn. I could read any book I wanted and take any class I chose. The buffet of learning was open to me, and I took full advantage of this freedom. They never stood in the way of my becoming who I am today, even when it took me to the other side of the political aisle and away from my suburban hometown. To me, this is what "wanting the best" for our children looks like in action: letting our children learn and grow, even if it means they grow away from us.
We're witnessing dangerous cultural trends right now that seem to be bubbling mainly in the suburbs. First are the rising calls to ban (and even burn) books. The second is the amplified, largely manufactured critical race theory (CRT) boogeyman. These politically motivated movements are primarily targeted at the swayable suburban mom demographic. Both come under the guise of motherly concern.
Well, as a city mom, I have concerns, too. I'm concerned that by not allowing children to read Toni Morrison or learn an unfiltered history of America's legal systems and institutions, these parents aren't protecting their children, they're stifling them. I'm concerned that feeding a generation of children nothing but a whitewashed history and "approved" books will result in adults who are unable to participate as global citizens, let alone effect real change. Instead, they'll be fearful of the world, suspicious of new things and frightful of change — just like these parents.
These parents might say that they want to protect and shelter their children. I think they are trying to quell a fear that their children could one day challenge or provoke their thinking. With knowledge gained from school or a book, they fear that their children could threaten their established sense of self, identity and belief structures. When wanting what's best for our children amounts to little more than censorship and origin-story fairy tales, we have to stop and ask: Who is this protection really for? The children? Or the parents?
I want my children to go out into the world, equipped with knowledge and insight I never had, and lead the way forward. I want them to understand the world at a depth I never reached. Personally, I find it thrilling to learn new things from my children. I love to ponder ideas I've never before considered. This does not threaten me; it exhilarates me.
I hope one day the media gets around to interviewing a city mom for a change. While we're waiting, I'm here to say that I, too, have always wanted what's best for my children. By that, I mean I want them to surpass me in every way. This is what's best for them, and it's what's best for me, too.
Keri Mangis is a writer in Minneapolis.