Better World

Crossing paths: The intersection of parenting and politics — Power to the Parents, Ep. 1

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In the first episode of our podcast, Power to the Parents, ParentsTogether Executive Director Ailen Arreaza interviews Jessica Craven, an activist and influencer who uses TikTok to discuss the intersection of politics and parenting. They discuss the power of media, the importance of being politically engaged as parents, and the impact of having a non-binary child.

Jess shares her experiences dealing with trolls and pushback on social media and offers advice on how to navigate political conversations. She emphasizes the importance of taking action and finding hope in activism, encouraging parents to use their voices and votes to make a difference.She emphasizes the power of collective action and encourages listeners to focus on positive news and be part of the solution.

Jessica also shares her personal journey of supporting her non-binary child and offers advice for parents of LGBTQ+ children. Finally, she provides information on how to follow her and get involved in creating a better future for children.

Takeaways from Episode 1

  • Parenting is inherently political, as parents are responsible for creating a safe and thriving world for their children.
  • Media, including platforms like TikTok, can be powerful tools for discussing political issues and raising awareness.
  • Taking action, even in small ways, can make a meaningful difference in creating positive change.
  • Finding hope in activism and focusing on love and service can help combat feelings of hopelessness and inspire others to take action.

Transcript of Episode 1: Crossing Paths: The Intersection of Parenting and Politics

Ailen Arreaza, host: Welcome to Power to the Parents podcast. I’m your host, Ailen Arreaza, and I’m here today with Jess Craven, who is an activist and an influencer who has taken to TikTok to really talk about the intersection of politics and parenting. Hi, Jess, welcome.

Jessica Craven: Hi, Ailen, how are you? It’s very nice to be here. Thank you for having me.

Ailen Arreaza: I’m great and I’m really excited to have you here. I want to talk to you about media in particular and the power of media. And just to get started as a fun icebreaker, I wanted to ask you about how media impacts you in your day-to-day life and if there’s a video that you’ve seen recently that has kind of changed your perspective on something or moved you. And I can start because I’ve been using this example with some of my colleagues recently, I ran a marathon a couple of weeks ago for the first time. And because I was training for my marathon, so much of the content that I was getting on social media was about running. And you know, like you like one thing, you know how the algorithms work. You like one thing and then it keeps feeding you that. And I saw this video that said, a marathon is just a 10K with a 20 mile warmup. And that video, just like, changed my perspective in such a way that I like carried it throughout my race. And when I got to the last six miles, I was like, okay, this is my 10K. I’ve been training for this. This is easy. I know how to run a 10K. I can do this. And it’s so interesting to think that someone on social media made that video and it just really influenced me in that way. So I’d love to hear if you have a similar experience.

Jessica Craven: Yeah, well, the funny thing is, like, do I have a video on social media that has, like, changed my thinking? Well, there’s a silly one, and then there’s maybe a slightly more real one. The one that moved me recently, my dirty secret is actually that I don’t watch a lot of social media because I’m busy making it all the time, but when I do, usually it’s some animals and children that pops up on my feed. And I got a video of a, looked like it was about a 10, maybe 11 year old child. I think it was a boy who was being reunited with his dog who had been lost. I don’t know if anyone saw this, it appeared to have millions of views, but you know, the dog kind of runs in and they kind of sneak the dog in and the dog runs in and the kid sees him and then just like burst into tears and just embraces the dogs and just sobs and sobs.

That I’m just a sucker for because my kid really, really loves dogs. And then on a more interesting level, I’ve just gotten really into TED Talks recently. So I watched a TED Talk just recently about climate change and how one of the best ways to help with it is just to talk to other people about it from the heart, about how you feel about it, and that really people don’t talk to others about it very much. And in so doing, we can actually move the conversation forward. And I thought that was really interesting. So I like TED Talks. I love watching those people do their magic.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, I love it. Yeah, I love a good TED Talk too. And that’s so wonderful what you just said about just like the power of conversations and talking to people from the heart about an issue, which is exactly what you’re doing on social media all the time. And I’d love to hear how you sort of got started in that, what moved you to start speaking on TikTok about what you were feeling, what was going on.

Jessica Craven: Well, I got started on TikTok in 2020. And to be honest, when I started making videos on it, I didn’t, I’d never been on it. I was not, I didn’t watch it, I didn’t consume it, but I had a friend my age, I’m 55. So my friend was like, you know, she wasn’t that involved in politics. And every once in a while, we were on a video chat app together. I would explain something to her in really simple terms. And she said to me, you need to go on TikTok and you need to make TikToks like that where you explain things to people in simple terms. And I was like, but, but then when the big elections were coming up and I was trying to kind of get more people involved and engage more volunteers, I don’t know. One day I was like, I’m going to go on there and just try to make a TikTok. And you know, it’s not like it took the first day, but, but it did kind of take in a very surprising way. And I found this incredibly interested and engaged audience there who was kind of really thirsty for like, how do I do this? How do I get involved? And so then I, you know, I stayed.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah. What were some of those first videos you created about?

Jessica Craven: The first videos were, I mean, after the initial awkward, you know, just kind of, how do I make this work? How do I turn this thing on? I did a couple saying like, I need people to volunteer to make phone calls and stuff like that. I did, I think the ones that really started to kind of gain me followers were me telling stories about phone banking. I do a lot of phone banking, a lot of volunteering for campaigns.

And every once in a while you have a phone call that’s really extraordinary. It just happens. And so I started getting on and telling some of these stories like, Oh man, I talked to this person today and you know, whatever it was and, um, and people love that, they were really fascinated by that. And then I would do the phone banking on the videos sometimes, or I would call my representatives on the TikTok, which is something that I have a newsletter where I really encourage people to call their reps, so I was like, well, let me show people what it looks like. And then people were like, that’s so cool. So it was stuff like that.

On being nervous about calling your representatives

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, that’s, I mean, that is really cool because I know that for a lot of people, calling your rep might feel, I don’t know, daunting, scary. Like, some people have anxiety around it. And so what kind of feedback were you getting from folks when you were kind of showing how to do it on, live on video like that?

Jessica Craven: Literally just like I never knew that was how you did that. I never knew that, just all of it. I mean, they just, people were like, I’ve never seen someone do that before. And then I would see feedback in the comments, like “I just did it, I just did it.” And people would say, that was my first time ever. And it just is a really incredible feeling. I think that we tell people, call your reps, but nobody really knows what that looks like. Most of us don’t even know who our representatives are.

Or if we do, we have never called. A lot of people have anxiety about that kind of thing. So I just sort of showed them like, it’s not that hard. It takes about 30 seconds, maybe a minute, and no one’s gonna yell at you or challenge you. It’s really simple and like, you can do this. And I guess just by showing them, that was impactful.

On why parenting is political…

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, so at ParentsTogether, where I’m the Executive Director, that’s one of the things that we encourage parents to do all the time. And I’d love to hear … so I’d love to hear sort of like, tell me about your kid, your mom. Tell me a little bit about that.

Jessica Craven: Okay, well, my kid is 14. They are non-binary, so they go by they/them pronouns. So if you hear me say they, I’m talking about one child and it is my child. And they’re fantastic, they’re terrific. They are probably the largest reason that I am in the work that I’m in. I just have a very strong desire to make sure that the world they grow up in is stable-ish and safe-ish and livable. And so the fire in my belly all the time is just like, protect MJ, protect MJ and, and everybody else’s kids. I have nieces and nephews and I love kids. Like I just love kids. I do. And so, I feel that these are people who don’t have a vote and everything is at stake for them. And so I am working to make sure that those of us who do have a vote use our vote on behalf of these people who don’t. So that’s, that’s it. Yeah.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, and they’re our future, right? And we need to protect them because without them, there’s nothing. So I love what you just said and something that we hear sometimes at ParentsTogether when we ask our folks to reach out to their representatives or talk about something that might be political, sometimes we get this feedback from our audience that says, oh, you should just stick to parenting. Stop getting so political. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on that, about the intersection of politics and parenting. Is parenting political by nature?

“What is the point in having kids if we don’t make the world a place where they can survive and thrive?”

Jessica Craven: I mean, is parenting political? It is the most political job there is. I mean, we, I think of it a little bit like we’re building a nest, right? That’s what parents do in nature. Like they create a sort of nest or a safe place for their kids. And that is what we are doing as we raise them is we’re simultaneously trying to create a safe world for them to go out into. So what is the point in having kids if we don’t make the world a place where they can survive and thrive? And every single step of the way, we are making choices about how we’re raising them, what we’re teaching them, where we live, how we live. And those are all, I think it’s so funny when people say politics doesn’t affect me, politics is affecting every second of every bit of your day, whether we know it or not. It is all around us. It’s the water that the fish swims in.

And so yes, of course, as a parent, I want to make sure that my kid has the best shot they’ve got. And so yeah, heck yeah, it’s extremely political. And if we choose not to be political about parenting, someone else is going to do it on our behalf. And we may not like what they do at all.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, no, I absolutely agree. And when we hear that, it’s that same thing. So many parents are struggling. We hear from parents that they are, it’s hard for parents to make ends meet. We are, parents are stretched so thin. We have so much, our burden is so heavy sometimes.

And so many parents, when we talk to them, feel like that’s on them. Like it’s their responsibility to like solve all of that. And I don’t know, I just feel like there are so many solutions out there that are possible if as parents, we realize that they existed and sort of like demanded them. And so I’m curious about how you’ve been, whether that’s part of the work that you’re doing as well.

Are solutions for parents possible?

Jessica Craven: Yeah, absolutely. And there are so many solutions out there. And I think that we can, yeah, people tend to throw up their hands and sometimes for really good reason. If people are just working incredibly hard to just make ends meet, they’re working two jobs, I mean, that is understandable. But when we have a little bit of extra time and we can look around and say, oh, wow, like, there are policies that will either provide paid family leave or not, that will either put a little bit more money in parents’ pockets every month for their kids or not, will provide childcare or not, will make our schools safe from gun violence or not. These are all, you know, lead in our drinking water. I could go on and on and on. There are policies that will affect all of these things, every aspect of our lives. And again, someone is working to make those policies go one direction or another.

And so whatever your party is, there’s actually, I think from what I understand, quite a lot of agreement that, you know, we all want our kids to be safe from gun violence. We all want to breathe clean air and water. We all want enough money to be able to put food on our table. There are policies that can help make that more possible. And that is what fires me up about what I do is that when I help a good, you know, candidate or, you know, win or a good law pass, I know that I am helping to actually meaningfully change someone’s kid’s life, maybe mine, maybe someone else’s. And that’s huge. What greater thing could there be to do?

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s become like politics is a dirty word, right? Like I said, whenever we talk about it, sometimes our audience is like, oh, don’t be so political. How do you respond to that? How do we make politics fun and interesting and something that can actually, how do we let people know that they can affect their life in very meaningful ways?

Jessica Craven: Yeah, I mean, that is, you know, let people know that politics affect their lives in meaningful ways. I think there’s a number of ways. And that is kind of the ongoing question. You know, I remember going out door knocking. I was knocking on doors for a candidate with MJ, my kid, when they were probably eight, seven, I used to bring them with me canvassing. And I still do sometimes.

And we knocked on this one guy’s door and he said, oh, you know, we started, I started talking, they were just standing behind me. And he said, Oh, I don’t vote. And I said, Oh, are you sure? And he said, yeah, I don’t vote, politics don’t affect me. And when we walked away, I couldn’t get him to change his mind. MJ was so disheartened by that and so shocked. And, and I had to explain, yeah, there are people who just, who feel that their voices don’t matter.

And it’s really, it’s discouraging, but it is our job to let them know that their voices do. One of the ways I do that a lot is by pointing out really simple, concrete ways that government is in our lives, whether we like it or not. You know, how much we’re paying at the grocery store, how much we’re paying in taxes, how much we’re paying for our auto registration. You know, how clean our air and water are. All of that is politics. Every aspect, what’s printed on our currency. It’s all politics, what’s taught in our schools. So there’s that. And I also, I really try to remind people of how often elections come down to one or two votes, and then or five votes or 10 votes, and then how meaningful those changes in elected officials can be in policy. So telling stories, helping people to sort of bridge the gap, because a lot of people just don’t understand. And being patient, meeting people where they are, I guess.

On keeping things manageable…

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah. And so in addition to creating content on social media, you also write a newsletter and the name is Chop Wood, Carry Water. Can you tell me a little bit about what that name means?

Jessica Craven: Yep. Yeah, I can. It’s actually not a very good politics newsletter name at all, but it’s on Substack. I’ve been writing it since about late 2016. And the reason it was named that was because I wanted people, at a time that was, let’s just say, a little tumultuous, I wanted to give people a sense that instead of worrying about the future and getting really caught up in, like, sort of projecting things into the future that we didn’t really know. This idea of like when you’re anxious or when you’re feeling like things are messed up or when you’re feeling like you don’t know where to start, just chop wood, carry water. It was actually a saying, it’s actually, I believe, the name of a book about Buddhism. But my dad taught me the saying when I was going through a divorce when I was in my 30s. And I was just sad and bummed out. And he was like, well, just, you know, you’ll feel better eventually, but right now just chop wood, carry water.

And I, I always remembered that phrase that when things feel overwhelming and really hard, just what can I do right now? I’m a really big believer in action as an antidote for both, you know, society’s ills and for anxiety.

Ailen Arreaza: I love that. I’d never heard that before, but I’m gonna start using that because it just, it feels applicable to all kinds of situations, even parenting. Like this whole idea of like, we’re raising these kids. We want them to, we have these ideas for them and we want them to be a certain way and they’re gonna do whatever they’re gonna do. And all we can do is chop wood, carry water, support them in the moment.

Jessica Craven: That’s right. And when you get overwhelmed with all the parenting tasks in the morning when it’s like, the dog needs to be fed. I gotta make the lunch. I gotta feed the kid. I gotta do this. Just keeping it really simple to that next right action in front of me always works in pretty much any area of my life.

On having a non-binary child

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah. So I wanted to talk to you about your kid a little bit, who you mentioned was non-binary. And I’d love to hear sort of how they came out to you and how you’ve experienced that transition as a mom.

Jessica Craven: Mm-hmm. Sure, yeah. How I’ve experienced that transition as a mom is somewhat clunkily, but mostly it has been just a magnificent experience and such a learning curve. So MJ identified, you know, they were assigned female at birth, identified as a girl until they were 11. At about nine, they told me after seeing a little bit of an episode of Queer Eye that featured a lesbian, we were driving to the library to drop off some books after watching that and they were in the back seat and they said, you know, mom, I think I’m like that girl on Queer Eye. And I said, oh, yeah, what do you mean? And they said at the time she said, I think I get crushes on girls. And I was like, oh. That’s awesome. That’s great. I actually felt a small sense of relief, which I’m guilty, it just seemed easier to me in some way, but that’s just my silliness. I’m married to a man who I adore, of course, but I was like, oh, that’s terrific. I was a little surprised because they had never really let on. That’s great. And then we went on with the day. I didn’t want to make a big fuss about it.

And so I started doing a little research about how best to support them. And I just kind of, you know, started the journey of like Googling, my kid might be queer. What does that mean? And then when they were 11, they told us that they wanted to be, that they wanted to have they/them pronouns used and that they identified as non-binary. That was a little harder. You know, my husband and I are not super young. We were just, it was just hard to understand. I didn’t really know any non-binary people.

Um, and it was actually my mom. I called her the night that, the same day that MJ, told us. And I was crying, not so much because I was, I didn’t disapprove. I just was confused. And I was like, I think they’re too young to make this decision. And my mom just said, Jessica, if they want to go by they/them pronouns, let them. If that’s who they say they are, that’s who they are. Just love them. It was really amazing. My mom is, what, 82 now. She was like, just love her, at the time, her. We still get the pronouns wrong. You know, I mean, it’s still a work in progress, but, and so I did, that’s what we decided to do. And it has literally just been a spectacular journey. And I love and completely adore watching MJ go through this journey. I love having a non-binary kid. It is so interesting. I learned so much and they are thriving across the board.

And I hope that at least has something to do with the fact that we were just like, okay, if that’s who you are, that’s who you are. Great.

Ailen Arreaza: That’s all we can do. That’s all we’re supposed to do, right? Love and support our kids the best that we can. But I imagine that having a non-binary kid adds an extra layer of fire in your belly when you think about politics, right? And the kind of world that you wanna create for them in the future. So I’d love to hear sort of how that’s affected your work as an influencer talking about these issues.

On the power of kids seeing themselves in media…

Jessica Craven: Totally. Yeah, it’s affected my work quite a bit just because, I mean, it’s one thing in the abstraction. I have always supported, obviously, LGBTQ rights, but when it’s your own family and your own kid, it’s a really different situation. It suddenly is very visceral. So that is even more important to me than ever. And things like, you know, book bans, which are very abstract, and you hear about them in the news.

But when the books they’re banning are books that I went out and got MJ specifically so that they would not feel alone, you’re like, wow. And I’ve really tried to explain to people that the thing about these books, I mean, it’s that when MJ was first coming out, they would say to me, there’s like no books about kids like me. I just, I’m not like every book is about like the girlfriend and the boyfriend or marrying the prince or whatever. And so I went out of my way to find those books so that they wouldn’t feel so alone. And that’s what those books do, right? And you’re, cause I’ll stop with this, but like we’re living in a heteronormative society. We’re living in a society where everything is set up for boys and girls and you know, the men’s room and women’s room and, or whatever, you know, if you’re talking about race, it’s very sort of white normative, like whatever it is. And so finding these books that are, show your kid their world dramatized is really important.

Ailen Arreaza: Oh, absolutely. My kids are Latino, we’re a Latino family, and I have seen something similar happen with my kids when they see characters who speak Spanish, who are like them. Like there’s a new Spider-Man who’s Afro-Latino, and my kids are just, they just think it’s the greatest thing. And he was like eating fried plantains in the movie, and they were like, look at that, mom, we eat that too. It just means so much to kids to see themselves reflected in media. It’s incredibly powerful.

Jessica Craven: So powerful, and I love that Spider-Man. Yeah, it’s incredibly powerful and important. And I think it’s important to remember that we want kids to feel part of a community and that’s really hard when they’re not seeing themselves anywhere in the community. So it’s a gift we can give. It should be something we all are so happy to do to just help our kids feel more comfortable.

On navigating social media…

Ailen Arreaza: Absolutely. And yet, I wonder if you ever, especially on social media, there’s lots of trolls, there’s lots of pushback, there’s lots of folks spewing often hate. And I wonder if you’ve seen some of that and how do you react to that? What’s your way to handle that?

Jessica Craven: Well, how do I react to trolls is that I usually block them. I have a very, very low tolerance for abuse, name calling, any of that stuff. So if they wanna have a conversation about policy or anything, that’s fine. But if people are just calling names or the sort of what they would call the ad hominem attack, I will not tolerate. Attacks on my kid, I would not tolerate. But I don’t talk about my kids that much and I would actually would never let MJ themselves come onto social media. We actually don’t, MJ’s not on social media yet. And that’s a personal choice. But I’m not going to expose them to that. It’s pretty, it can get really pretty nasty. So you have to have either a thick skin or just kind of the ability to block and go on and I don’t want them… This is my journey. I made the choice to put my face out there. So I didn’t, you know, they have not made that choice and I don’t think they’re really ready to make that choice.

Ailen Arreaza: No, totally. That makes a ton of sense. But I’m curious about when you’re creating content, which is often political, I’m sure that there are folks who disagree, who have a different point of view. How do you respond to that generally? It just feels like we’re so polarized right now. And I’m curious, yeah.

Jessica Craven: Yeah, this is a particularly difficult moment. And I would say that every social media creator I know is struggling a little bit to sort of, you know, navigate the waters. That’s real choppy just in general. And the country is very divided. I will always try to have a conversation if someone is arguing in good faith. That I am totally willing to do.

Usually it’s a little bit more of goes straight to name calling, in which case, um, I don’t, again, I won’t engage in that. Um, but I am also like, there are certain kinds of people that I’m like, we are going to have to agree to disagree. Like if someone says something like, uh, you know, you’re a bad parent, your kid is a girl and you should just accept it. Like I’m not going to dignify that with… You know, that’s just like, we’re living in different worlds and I’m not going to, my job is not to spend my time trying to educate that person. So it’s a, it’s a lot of like knowing when to, when to engage and when not. And it’s a lot of work on not taking things personally. And I’ve been called a couple of really terrible things. And you have to, I have to know when to get off the computer, off the phone and go hug my kid, walk my dog, hug my husband, get back into my actual on the planet community, because without that, the social media stuff will destroy. It’s tough.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, it can be really, I mean, it’s such a double edged sword, right? Because I’m sure that you’ve also had experiences where you’ve built community and like connected with people on social media. I’d love to hear if you have any examples of that.

Jessica Craven: Oh, yeah, I mean, it is largely a really positive experience. And, you know, when I go on and share some kind of victory or something good that’s happened, you know, to watch all the comments of just people celebrating, it’s very meaningful, and especially right now because we have almost an epidemic of hopelessness going on. There is so much fear and hopelessness for, you know, various reasons. And, you know, some of them are obvious and some are political and some are not, but especially with the young people, there’s a lot of stuff to worry about.

So what I really try to do is be someone who brings hope. I don’t always succeed. I’ve made videos that have been unpopular for various reasons, but I try for the most part to be uncontroversial because I’m just sharing good news or ways we can try to make a positive difference. And so maybe I’m a little less controversial than some because of that, but even so. It’s not always pretty, but I love the people that follow me on TikTok. 95% of them are fantastic.

On hope being an action…

Ailen Arreaza: Okay, so we are living in a moment of hopelessness, but you seem to have found a key to hope, and I’m just, what gives you hope? Where are you getting hope from right now?

Jessica Craven: That’s a really good question. Where am I getting hope from? Well, like I said, I discovered early on in this process when I sort of found this, I kind of found what I was meant to do in the world when I was 48 years old. Like it’s kind of an unusual story. But when I found that this was what I was meant to do, part of that was realizing that, as I often say in my newsletter, hope is an action, right? So if I feel hopeless and I just sit around thinking about or talking about the fact that I’m feeling hopeless, I’m going to feel more hopeless. If I share that with other people, they’re gonna feel hopeless also.

When I take a simple action towards the thing I believe is the right thing, weirdly, I suddenly feel a little bit more hopeful. So I have discovered that hope is not a feeling for me, it’s an action. When I feel hopeless, I do something. Even if I don’t feel like it, even if I’m just like, there’s no point. I just do something, I just do an action that seems like it’s going the right way. And the result of doing that, and then I share that with other people. And so as you become a sort of purveyor of hope, you tend to see more of the reasons for hope in the world. So I spend a lot of time looking for reasons for hope. And as a result of that, I’m not naively optimistic, there are incredibly huge challenges that we’re facing right now. But I also have a lot of reason to feel optimistic because of the people I see every day working to make things better. And we don’t hear about them as much, but they are everywhere, everywhere. And most of them, of course, are moms. I mean, parents, but moms, especially. It’s just the way it is.

On “bringing your drop”…

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, well, it’s true. I mean, moms do so much and often feel so hopeless. So I love what you said about like, I do one thing. So like, if you had to tell somebody to do one thing, what would you say to them to feel better about the state of the world?

 “I encourage people to really think of themselves as a little drop of water, right? And if every single drop of water in that giant wave said, I’m not coming because I don’t matter, you’re not going to have the wave.”

Jessica Craven: Well, to feel better. You know, one thing that I was told a long time ago is that if I’m feeling bad, look for someone else who’s feeling bad and try to make them feel better. And that often helps a lot. That never fails. But I mean, I wanna stay sort of vague in my responses to like what kinds of actions, but, you know, look for a cause you care about and then just look for an organization working towards that cause and then write them an email and say, how can I help? Like, what can I do? And you don’t have to commit your entire week to it. It can be like, I have a half an hour a week to give. What can I do? And then, you know, organizations are all looking for volunteers. They’re all looking for ways to slot people in and they will work with whatever you are willing to give them. Find a political candidate who gives you hope or you feel has integrity, and offer to help them, they will take it. There’s just so many little tiny things. And the problem is, is that people feel that, well, it’s such a little tiny thing, like whether I do that or not, that’s not gonna make a difference. And we have to change our thinking on that. I have a workshop called Activism 101. And the first thing I tell people who come to it, it’s for people who have never really done activism before, is you have to stop thinking like, oh, my little actions are so insignificant, but what does it matter if I volunteer for a half an hour a week? Like that won’t change anything. And I encourage people to really think of themselves as a little drop of water, right? So each of us is just a little drop of water, and it is true that on our own, we just can’t do anything.

But if you put all of those little drops of water together, that is when you start being able to carve stone, right? And if every single drop of water in that giant wave said, I’m not coming because I don’t matter, you’re not going to have the wave. So individually, sure. Maybe our single action doesn’t matter, but we’ve got to think of ourselves in a collective of people taking action. We can’t always see them.

But I am telling you, because I see them every day, they are out there in the millions, and they are doing incredible work, and they need everybody to bring their drop, as it were. So that’s all I encourage people to do is just bring your drop. You don’t have to bring the whole wave. Bring your drop.

Ailen Arreaza: Bring your drop. I love that. And so often this hopelessness translates into what you were mentioning of that person that you were canvassing for who said, I don’t vote. I don’t believe my vote matters. But a vote is a drop. And so pitch me here. Tell me what you told that person outside their home to try to convince them that voting is so important.

“Self-esteem comes from taking esteemable actions…and the most esteemable action we can take in this world is to vote.”

Jessica Craven: Well, I’ll tell you what I told a person who I spoke to on a phone bank recently, in a recent election. And she was, I was calling voters and I got a wrong number. It was not the person I, you know, sometimes that happens when you’re phone banking, the voter files have the wrong number. So I started talking to this young lady and I explained why I was calling. And she said, oh, well, I’m not going to be voting. I’m not even registered. So I said, oh, really, hun? How old are you? She said she was in her early 20s. And I was like, you know, why is that? Why have you not registered? Why have you not voted ever? And she said, well, I just wouldn’t know what to do. And I don’t feel like I’m well enough informed. And what I said to her was, I’m going to tell you something that I was told when I was your age, which was, I was sort of struggling with my self-esteem a little bit. And somebody told me, you know, Jessica, self-esteem comes from taking esteemable actions, right?

That’s how we get it. Not from wishing for it, not by getting a new lipstick or whatever. It comes from taking esteemable actions. And I told this woman, I was like, the most esteemable action we can take in this world is to vote because it is an absolute declaration that our voice matters. So I was like, I cannot encourage you enough to — the state I was calling into had same day voter registration. I was like, I am going to encourage you. I gave her my cell number. I was like, I’m going to send you a link for how to do same day voter registration. And I want you to think about doing it because your voice matters. And I can hear that you don’t think it does, but that’s never going to change until you start acting like it does. And the crazy thing about that story. So help me, this is true, I made a TikTok about it, was that I texted her back on election day and she had actually gone and voted, she had registered and voted.

And I was like, I am so proud of you. And she was like, it felt really good. She said, it felt really good. I’ve never done that before. So, you know, I think Americans often just feel they are so disconnected from democracy and from their power. And so my job, so much of what I am here to do is just tell people, you matter. You can change the world, you know? If you think one little being can’t make a difference, just ask a mosquito. You know? I mean, we can do a lot when we get busy being our most buzzy selves. So, not that I like mosquitoes, but you understand the metaphor.

Ailen Arreaza: I definitely do. And it’s like, I love to hear that because we are powerful. And that’s one of the things we try to remind our audience at ParentsTogether about. It’s the power that they have, the power that parents have. And I especially think that parents are incredibly powerful because they are driven by love, right? Like the love that we have for our kids, there’s nothing more powerful than that in the world. And we should leverage that love to effect change and to make our world a world in which we want to see our kids growing up and thriving and living their best lives. So I’d love to hear that.

Jessica Craven: Absolutely. And that leading with love as opposed to, like I always tell people in my newsletter, we’re not fighting the evil. We are adding to the light. We are bringing more good to the fight. There’s always going to be, I wish there weren’t, but there’s always going to be sort of greedy, venal people or organizations doing bad stuff. And I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

But the more we bring to the side of good or the side of the light, it makes the fight more sustainable for me. If I’m fighting evil, it gets exhausting. But if I am simply like bringing another candle to the sort of, you know, big pool of light, that is, I think if you ask me why I feel so much hope, it’s because I’m not fighting evil. I am working to bring more good. I’m trying to help the good guys. That’s what it is.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah. And that starts from a place of knowing that there is good. And I agree. There is so much good.

Jessica Craven: Yeah. And you’re right. If you center that around love, you’re gonna head for the good. Like you could say, well, what is good? What is evil? Well, if I’m heading towards love, and especially the love a parent has for their child, I’m probably, you know, if I’m helping to feed kids, if I’m helping to like help people have health insurance, like it’s hard to argue that those are evil things. I guess you could, but it’s hard. So if I’m going in with an attitude of sort of, you know, it sounds cheesy, but like with an attitude of service, I’m probably gonna stay on the right track. Because I think most of the quote unquote evil that we see is pretty clearly motivated by self-seeking, greedy motives. And parents don’t typically have that as much. I mean, they do maybe, but if we can head into our work with a feeling of like, I wanna help my kid and I wanna help all kids, we’re probably gonna be on the right track.

Ailen Arreaza: I think that’s absolutely right. Okay, so to wrap up, I’d love to hear what you would say to a parent who is just, these parents that we know are feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, hopeless. What would you say to them?

Jessica Craven: I would say, okay, so someone’s feeling hopeless, they’re feeling exhausted. I think the first thing is I would say, I get it. Like, I think we’re all very tired and I completely understand that there’s a lot of reasons to feel hopeless. But I think we can change our definition of hope. There’s a great Vaclav Havel quote about this in fact, that I don’t have in front of me where hope is not necessarily an optimism, but it is a belief that it is worth fighting for the things we believe in, whether or not we know we can attain them, right? So when I make it my job to just, again, like I may feel hopeless about the future, but I know I have power and I know I feel better when I do something. So I am going to do a little something. I’m going to come from a place of love. And all around us, we see stories of just unreasonable, impossible things that happen when people decide to do that.

So I would say that, and I would also just remind people that we’ve been through a lot of tough times in this country. Our country has a very difficult history, obviously, that is putting it mildly, and we’ve had some very, very bleak moments. And in every one of those moments, there were people who had it way harder than we do, who did not give up.

And they didn’t just throw their hands up and say, this is too much. I’m going to go watch Netflix. A, they didn’t have Netflix, but B, they were like, I will do what I can. And they moved mountains with that determination. And it so doesn’t mean I can’t take days off. It doesn’t mean every once in a while I break down in tears and just, you know, and that’s fine, but then I get back up, I dust myself off. And I think if those people could do it under those circumstances, I can certainly do a little bit from mine. And so, and the last thing I’ll say is just remember, although we can all feel very alone because we’re all in our little homes with our little social media, but I am telling you, I am telling you because I know them and I see them, there are millions and millions of other good, decent, caring people in this country who are working so hard to make a difference. We don’t hear about them as often, but they are out there.

And do whatever you can to chase down that hopeful news and focus on it. I always say what we focus on grows. So if you’re just reading the purveyors of anxiety, you’re gonna feel terrible. Find some people who are spreading the good news, who are spreading the hope, who are calm and giving you reasonable things to do that might help, and you’ll start to feel better right away. And just remember, do not forget, hope is an action. What can I say? I believe that if we don’t quit before the miracle, we actually may see a miracle.

Ailen Arreaza: I love that. And just on a personal note, I needed to hear that today. So thank you, Jess. It’s amazing.

Jessica Craven: I’m glad. Yeah, I’m glad.

Ailen Arreaza: So, Jess, I love to hear about sort of like your journey with MJ coming out to you. And it’s so incredible to hear that like your mom who’s older, you always assume that like older people are gonna be more conservative about these things, but that she really is the one who inspired you and helped you really focus on the most important thing, which is to love and support your kid now. And I’d love to hear what advice you might have for other parents whose kid has come out to them or who might have a kid who’s part of the LGBTQ community. What would you say to them?

“I think we never go wrong when we just allow our kids to go on their journey and just walk next to them. My job is not to say you need to be this or you need to be that. It’s just, I am here with you. I see you. I celebrate you.”

Jessica Craven: I mean, I don’t wanna, what I would say to them, and I would never presume to tell another parent how to parent, because it’s a very personal decision, right? And everyone’s gonna do what is comfortable for them. But I will say that my experience has been pretty much what my mom said. Just love them. Like, just love them. See them, listen. And if this hasn’t happened to you yet, and you think, well, I don’t need to listen to this part of the podcast because, you know, my kid isn’t queer. You just don’t really know. I didn’t think MJ was queer either until I found out they were.

But I think we never go wrong when we just allow our kids to go on their journey and just walk next to them. You know, my job is not to say you need to be this or you need to be that. It’s just, I am here with you. I see you. I celebrate you. Everything you are is incredible to me. And I’m here if you need me. Right? Like that’s kind of what it feels like to me. And what I have done is really make an effort to get those books where queer people are represented, find some queer bands, you know, look for, I really felt that I wanted to lean into it and that, um, has worked out really well for me. So I would just say that, again, fighting it for me was not an option after that first moment, where my mom, you know, kind of talked some sense into me. And I’m really grateful for that because I don’t know that fighting it would have done anything except make MJ so sad and so bitterly depressed at home and it wouldn’t have changed anything about the way they felt inside. So you know, I’m just a happy witness. That’s what I get to be.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah. That’s such great advice. And then for parents who are worried and scared for their kids. And you know, so much, like we said, we are so driven by love, right? And we wanna love and support our kids, but, and parents might be feeling like, this is gonna be so hard for my child because the world is not supporting them. What would you say to parents who are like, oh, I’m scared, I’m worried, I wanna protect my kid, and I don’t know what to do?

Jessica Craven: Yeah, I mean, what I would say to parents who were scared about their kid coming out is that’s how I felt too. One of the reasons I cried when MJ told me that they were non-binary was because I was like, oh God, that world is not set up for this. They’re gonna be isolated and different and it’s gonna be painful and they might get teased. And I know for parents of trans kids, these can all be really dangerous situations depending on where you live and what the community is like. I live in Los Angeles, so it’s like pretty chill here, but that’s not always the case.

I would say advocate for your kid. Be their fiercest ally. Let that child know that you cannot change the world immediately, you can’t make every single person be tolerant or accepting, but you will fight like hell to make sure that they are protected and safe. And you know, I would, I can’t even, I don’t even want to think about what I would do if someone started picking on MJ. You’d have to probably, you know…and they know that. And that’s all I can do. I know the world’s going to, you know, they go to work and they, I mean, they go to school and they hear the occasional slur, anti-LGBTQ slur that should never be used. And I think, you know, it probably bothers them, but they also like, they know they’re loved. They know who they are and they’re strong in it because we at home are telling them, you’re great, you’re awesome. And our extended family is telling them they’re great and they’re awesome. And that’s how I think you arm your kid to go out into a world that’s not exactly always safe for them with at least the knowledge that they’re okay. The people with the problem, they have the problem, not me.

And then of course, there are also certain places that right now, MJ doesn’t want to travel to, well, let’s just say there’s several places in the country they don’t want to go. And I respect that completely and I would not make them. So I guess that’s it. And you just like, let them set the boundaries of where they feel safe and where they don’t.

Ailen Arreaza: Thanks, Jess. I feel so inspired and I am sure that our audience is gonna want to get more doses of this inspiration on a regular basis. So tell us, where do we follow you? How do we sign up for your newsletter? How do we continue to just soak in your brilliance?

Jessica Craven: Oh, well, that’s very nice of you. And first of all, thank you so much for having me. This has been such a fun conversation. And I love, literally love ParentsTogether. Like you guys are an amazing organization. And I mean that really as an advocate for kids, like you are, I always tell people ParentsTogether is like the lobbying organization that kids don’t otherwise have. And I really appreciate that about you. People can follow me on Instagram or TikTok at jesscraven101.

And my Substack, so if you go to Substack and you search Chop Wood, Carry Water Daily Actions, you will find my newsletter. And yeah, and whoever you are listening to this, you can play a role in making our kids’ future better. And I don’t mean, that is not just a cringey saying, I mean it, you can. You have power, we need you. Please join us in some small way. We will welcome you to this very worthy work.

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