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Public Meetings for Parents: A Survival Guide

Posted on January 12, 2020


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Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Maggie Jones – connect on LinkedIn and Twitter!

What I’m Listening To: Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast and Sia’s Original

What I’m Reading: Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids – And Start Raising Kind Ones by Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant


As many others living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Chris and I experience “Metroplexia.” He works in Carrollton and I work in Fort Worth. We reside in Bedford, which is about the midpoint of these two cities, 20 miles each way. We both work full-time and enjoy a variety of activities outside of the office. We also have kids who happen to require full-time care and enjoy a variety of activities outside of school. (“Working families! They’re just like us!”)

Each day is carefully orchestrated, especially when it comes to evening activities. But one thing is consistent, both in parenthood and local government, and that is even the most delicately coordinated game plan doesn’t always result in a score for the home team. Some days you need a little wiggle room.

On one particularly wiggly day, I found myself answering a phone call from Chris, stuck in Carrollton. He couldn’t make it home in time for me to drop off the kids before heading to my monthly Parks Board meeting. I realized I had about 45 minutes to run home and let the dogs out, grab dinner, pick up kids from school, and get to the meeting, kids in tow.

***

Nobody is more full of false hope than a parent walking into a public meeting with young kids, a partially charged tablet, and McDonald’s Happy Meals.

As my kids bickered over shows and tablet games, ran between chairs, and randomly quoted Scooby-Doo, I attempted to pay attention as we worked our way through each agenda item. Over time, the evening seemed more hectic and I began to try just about anything I could to get my kids (ages 4 and 2) to sit quietly: extra snacks, walking around, opening doors, closing doors, bribes, walking outside, threatening to go home, more snacks, more bribes. Nothing seemed to work.

Embarrassed and defeated, we spent the last 20 minutes in the hallway.

The next morning, I emailed my fellow board members thanking them for the grace they had kindly given me the evening before. In turn, my inbox filled in a way I had not expected.

Your boys were great and hearing the little giggles and yelping actually made me smile several times.

Sometimes it’s nice to have the younger park generation around.

Life is so short. And you need to enjoy all of those times you get. I know it is a lot at times, but they certainly didn’t cause any issues for us.

***

When my youngest was around a year old, I had the opportunity to present to a room full of people about behavioral health and law enforcement. Since Nick hadn’t been cleared to go back to school, I decided to bring him with me since I had a supportive boss who so kindly let me do so and I was short on time after exhausting it during my maternity leave. About halfway through my presentation, Nick decided the microphone in my hand made some extraordinary sounds and immediately began tapping the mic and blabbering.

This is all cute and adorable unless you’re trying to convey a series of (serious) data points to a room full of law enforcement officers, behavioral health professionals, and other partners. As my anxiety beginning to brew, I caught a warm smile out of the corner of my eye. A colleague of mine motioned to take Nick so I could finish the presentation without interruption. Nick was right at home the moment I handed him off to her and curled up in her arms.

***

Nobody said I should have stayed home. Nobody said public meetings weren’t for kids. Instead of an angry inbox, it was full of joy, optimism, and inclusion. I received more than one or two high-fives on the day I presented with Nick.

If we want to be serious about public engagement, we have to be open to all public engagement, including our tiniest constituents (and their parents), too. Fortunately for me, the Parks Board was open to opinions, park-related or not, of my kids (which makes sense, given that most playground equipment is designed for children between the ages of 2 and 12) and my boss had let me bring my baby to the office when I was in a pinch.

It has been exciting to see articles popping up like, Parents Could Get Child Care During Public Meetings Under Innovative City Proposal and Ideas We Should Steal: Free Childcare at City Meetings. As Lauren Smith Brody is quoted in the latter, “There’s not one city challenge I can think of that doesn’t impact parents in one way or another—from safe roads, to paid family leave, to quality schools and healthcare facilities, and fair taxes.”

We do not always know when our little ones will have to join us at the helm. Life happens. Although I will likely double- and triple-check my game plan next time, I embraced the opportunity for a little wiggle room. I want our kids to learn more about our communities and the work that we do. I want them to know about the public process. I want them to engage. I want to teach them to be kind and respectful. I want them to learn how we are all connected because if we can begin to understand each other just a little bit better than we did yesterday, we – and the communities we are a part of – will all be better off.

Next time you see a parent struggling with their little one, especially at a public meeting, give them a high-five, offer the granola bar in your bag, or play a game of peek-a-boo. It might be just what is needed to keep all of us at the table. For those of you debating whether or not to get involved in the public process because you might have your mini-you in tow, here’s the best advice I can give you: just do it.

And bring snacks.

Did you know? #ELGL20 will have childcare via Politisit as well as lactation privacy. ELGL’s formal policy is “babies in arms can come to the conference (but not armed babies).”

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