To all my readers raising tiny children and learning to advocate, I’m going to say something to you that may sound a little crazy. I think it’s time you go to an advocacy conference in Washington D.C. Many advocacy organizations with a national presence that have been around for a good number of years have conferences in D.C. where you can learn from experts about your issue, hear inspirational speakers, and lobby your members of Congress. If you can rustle up the child care, I think you should find one you like and go to it!
“What? Take three days away from my baby? You’ve got to be kidding me! I don’t have that kind of time for myself!” That was exactly my reaction when someone suggested that I learn more about hunger and advocacy by going to the Bread for the World Gathering. I was a new activist, full of excitement about my very first letter to the editor recently published in the local paper. The Bread organizer at my church recognized potential in me to be a powerful activist and thought the best way for me to get involved would be to jump right in and go to a conference and lobby day event. It was so flattering to me that she thought so, but…what about the baby?
It turns out I did go. The baby was just fine for a whole weekend with my husband and it was a life-changing experience for me. I heard inspirational, international speakers who convinced me that I — as an American citizen — had a powerful voice to influence the course of poverty throughout my country and the world. I started relationships with like-minded people who would become critical in helping me not feel alone in my desire to make the world a better place. I learned advocacy skills that I took home and would eventually teach to others in my community. It was a thrilling leap into the pool of activism when I’d been just sitting on the edge dangling my toes. Not only did I go to the Bread gathering that year, but I met RESULTS activists there who encouraged me to go to their conference the following year. Much later, my participation at those conferences led to invitations to the Shot@Life Summit and the ONE #AYASummit. Each conference has brought me new connections, new skills, and new confidence in myself.
You might be thinking, “Great for her, but not for me. I’m too busy to add a work conference in the middle of my life.” Fair point. That’s what I thought, too. Yet I want to share six things a conference can allow you to do that are much harder at home in your regular routine…
- Take a break.
Step away from the children, Ma’am. Your absence will be felt, but joyful side benefits to taking a few days away may include increased child-bonding with daddy, grandparents, or friends who watch them in your absence.
- Get a full night of sleep.
One of my favorite things about a conference is getting real, deep sleep. A fellow activist once asked me what my plans for the evening were. I gave him a huge smile when I said “I’m going back to my room!” He joked that I was so happy about it that he wondered if there was a romantic plan up there for me. No, sirree! That’s just how much I like sleep with nobody needing a diaper change!
- Get out of your everyday routine.
When you are away from the mundane, it’s somehow easier to see yourself as the exceptional, powerful individual you are. Shake it up and make some memories to think about when your back to making lunches.
- Be appreciated by someone over two feet tall.
Toddlers are cute, but sometimes they aren’t the best at conveying that you are smart, capable, and valued. Sometimes they do it when they wrap those pudgy fingers around you and say, “I wuv ooo,” but it can feel like they take it all back when they dump applesauce on your lap immediately afterward.
- Dive deep into the facts.
I don’t know about you, but I have immense trouble holding facts in my head when I’m trying to multitask with yelling infants. Not having to double and triple check the contents of your diaper bag really opens up a lot of space in your brain that you can fill with all sorts of information about your issue!
- Make some new friends.
Not since college had I had such rich opportunities to come together to meet new and interesting people with a common goal. Some of my closest friends now are people I look forward to seeing at conferences each year.
Nothing convinces a member of Congress that you are serious more than the statement that you are a volunteer traveling on your own time to talk to them.
Can’t afford a plane ticket to Washington D.C.? Scholarship or financial assistance is often available for first-time or low-income attendees. If I didn’t have one for my first conference, I wouldn’t have gone. Some organizations are willing to bet that if they invest in you by assisting you to attend once, you’ll have a great experience and want to come back again. If you are a low-income parent and want to talk to your members of Congress about poverty, then you are a valuable voice that needs to be added to the chorus.
If you’re still not sure it’s the right thing to leave your child for three days to go to a conference, just remind yourself why you are doing it. Is it to create a better world for your child? Is it to improve the lives of parents and children who are facing much more difficult situations than the travel dilemma you are facing now? Will this be a step in making you a more empowered, more satisfied mommy? These are very good reasons.
It’s true that if you go, there will be times you miss your children. There will likely be tears when you leave and when you get home. But I encourage you to take the leap for yourself and all the people in the world you want to help. You won’t be sorry!