I was hearing and reading a lot about "how do I explain this to my children?" and "what do I say to my children?" This being Trump's election.
Many of the children in question are under the age of eight.
I tried to recall my political mindset prior to my ninth birthday. Sure, I know historically who was in office during those years. But I couldn't remember any personal enthusiasm or disdain for the presidents or candidates or elections during my first eight years of life. I must have been stupid, unaware or apolitical in my early years. But I also can't recall my classmates espousing the merits of a political candidate or president. Electoral college? I'm pretty sure I was only vaguely aware that university was a place you went after high school. To my young (and apparently neophyte brain), the electoral college probably sounded like a place where mayors went to school to learn how to be mayors.
Are young children more politically inclined now? Are these savvy tots debating hot button issues and the pros and cons of the electoral college on the playground? Are red and blue more than colors in their crayon boxes?
When I talked to a friend today, post-election, she broke down sobbing about how she would explain Trump's win to her five year old daughter. I could tell she was having a full-blown ugly cry. "I have to tell her, I- I- I- have (sob) to (sob) tell (sob) her before she goes to (sob) schoo-oo-ool (sob) this afternoon. (sob sob) What am I going to say (sob) to her? How can I (sob sob) explain it to her?"
I saw this friend and her daughter a few weeks ago. The kid was wearing underpants on her head and had a meltdown over the remaining popsicle flavor options. That was the IRL gif going through my head as my friend sank further into an angst-filled sob fest over this latest parenting challenge the election had thrown at her. I struggled to imagine that little girl having an opinion or understanding of the election process and the candidates.
Naively, I suggested, "Um, maybe you just tell her there was a vote all over the country and, just like every four years, we'll have a new president in January?"
My friend felt I was underestimating her child's grasp of the election and what it really means. You know, really means to her as well as society at large.
My friend continued, "She named her new Barbie Hillary so she could play madam president! (sob) How do I break this horrible news to her?"
I made the mistake of asking about Barbie playtime, "Um, couldn't she still call her Barbie Hillary and play madam president? Does the real Hillary's loss remove all possibility of playing madam president with a Barbie doll?"
My friend brushed me off with, "You don't (sob) understand how much (sob) this election means to her!!"
I was honestly confused, "You mean to [your daughter] or to Hillary Clinton? I think I have a pretty good grasp on how much this election meant to Hillary Clinton."
"MY DAUGHTER!! (sob sob)"
Getting a little weary of what I thought was an overreaction, "Um, she's five. She gets a kick out of wearing underpants on her head. She plays with dolls. Because she's five. Does she really have a strong feeling about this election? Maybe you don't really need to tell her much about it. Maybe you answer questions on a need-to-know basis?"
My friend said I don't understand because I don't have children. She said her daughter is very aware of the election and what it means to America. And Hillary's loss is going to crush her five year old's soul and warp her sense of the feminist collective. I kept my mouth shut about how Barbie dolls are probably doing more damage to her child's soul and the feminist collective. I knew this was not the time to have The Barbie Talk. My friend was agonizing over how to "handle" this with her daughter.
The conversation had me wondering just how woefully unaware and stupid I was as a child. So I called my mother.
Here's a transcript of that conversation. I'm posting this as a guide for parents grappling with how to tell their children about Election 2016.
"Hi Mum, how's it going?"
"Boy am I tired, what a night!"
[long and meaningful pause] "Mum?"
"Have you figured out how you're going to talk to your children about the election?"
[riotous laughter] "I've been worried about that all morning." [more laughter]
"But seriously, mum, I'm curious. I don't remember much about politics or elections or presidents until I was about 10 or 11. Was I really stupid, or unaware, or apolitical until then? Or do I just not remember that part of my childhood?"
"Oh good grief, no, you weren't stupid. I think you were probably a little more aware than some of the other children at school. You always had very good grades in social studies and government."
"Even when I was young?"
"You know your father and I never pushed our politics on you. We believed it was crucial that parents remain objective so their children can grow and develop their own political choices. Nothing worse that someone who votes a particular way simply because it's what their parents did. Religion, too, for that matter. Anything, really."
It's true, I knew this, I remembered this from my later childhood.
"But did you tell me anything about elections or candidates? Did I care?"
"Does any child under the age of eight really care about an election or candidates? Unless they're reciting what their parents told them, or what they overhear at home, I don't believe children that young have enough world knowledge and political understanding to talk politics. Nor do I believe they're naturally interested. Given the choice, children will play or watch cartoons or whatever it is they do on all those gizmos these days."
"So you didn't tell me anything about elections and politics?"
"Of course we did. We taught you the process. We told you to respect all points of view. That was more than enough until you were old enough to grasp issues and the candidates' stances. And even then we worked very hard to keep the conversations objective. Young mind forming and all that. We did not want to sway you with our opinions. Our job was to teach you the process, teach you about the different parties, give you some history, equip you with the tools you need to navigate the process. The rest, the opinion-forming, was up to you. "
"Thanks for that, Mum. I appreciate the effort you put into making sure I developed my own mind. Was I just lucky to be the youngest and the benefactor of trial and error, or did you do the same with [my brother and sister]?"
"Your father and I agreed on this before we were married. We felt that strongly about making sure our children formed their own minds and opinions. We were not interested in creating and controlling miniature versions of ourselves."
"But that's risky, we don't all agree with you."
"Exactly! How boring it would be if the entire family agreed on everything! And what would be the point of creating people only to manipulate them into the same opinions as ours? Why bother creating a family of sycophants? The fun of creating children is learning who they are and helping them develop their unique personalities. Forcing our opinions on you would defeat that."
"What if you felt strongly about a candidate?"
"We never had that problem. There have been very few candidates we felt strongly about - positive or negative. Some of the candidates certainly concerned us, but not to the point of fear or hostility."
"I don't remember you or dad getting really upset over an election result. Surely you have not liked every president."
"No, but you know us, 'the people have spoken,' and 'this, too, shall pass.' No sense getting worked up over something you can't control. And something that will change in four years. There are good lessons about winning and losing, too. We wanted you to learn to be a gracious winner and gracious loser. So we never got too worked up over election results."
And that's how you "handle" the election with your children.
There’s a lot of talk about leaving the country if a chosen
presidential candidate doesn’t win.
It’s frustrating when you believe in a cause or a political
party or a candidate and other people don’t share your passion - or even
understand your point of view.
And it’s disconcerting and disappointing when a cause, or
political party, or candidate in opposition of your choice is popular enough to
threaten your choice.
You look at the people supporting the opposition and you
think, “I’m not like them. They’re not like me. If they support ___________ we
can’t possibly have anything in common, and I don’t want to know them.”
And maybe you think, “The people who support ____________
are stupid/backwater hicks/uppity city folk/brainwashed/lemmings/etc. etc.”
And then you might become so frustrating that you think, “If
those stupid/backwater hicks/uppity city folk/brainwashed/lemmings/etc. etc.
manage to gain control of __________, that’s it, I’m leaving America because I
cannot possibly live in a country full of stupid/backwater hicks/uppity city
I’m hearing and seeing a lot of this – from both sides (and
the middle) of the political spectrum.
And it makes me sad. And frustrated.
What I hear is, “If you don’t agree with me, if my ‘team’
doesn’t win, I’m not willing to work for compromise and change. I’m too
narrow-minded to consider another point of view, too lacking in creativity to
find a creative solution that solves problems beyond party affiliation, I’m too
angry to take a deep breath and think about a bigger picture. I’d rather mock,
rant, taunt and ridicule than listen, think, evaluate and solve. If everyone
doesn’t agree with me, I’m taking my citizenship elsewhere.”
I quietly take all this in, listen to the angry (rage-filled,
actually), frustrated, stubborn, narrow-minded, uncreative, threats from both
sides (and the middle, and the outside). And I wonder, “Am I the only one who
sees how similar they are?” On a Meyers-Briggs assessment they’d share traits:
Anger (to the point of rage), frustrated, obstinate, stubborn, narrow-minded,
opinionated, uncreative, passionate, selfish, steadfast, loyal, task-oriented,
lacking big-picture thinking, unoriginal, unwilling to compromise. The only
difference is their party affiliation.
I understand passion. I love and respect animals and nature,
passionately. It’s difficult for me to understand hunters and companies who
pollute the environment. Really difficult. I struggle with it.
But I'm working on acceptance.
There’s a family in my hometown who have gone above and
beyond to help my mother. They’ve taken time off work to help her to doctor
appointments. They drop meals off to her. They salted and dugout her driveway after
a bad ice storm. They’ve done airport pick-ups and drop-offs for me. They are
humble, giving people. They always tell me how much they like my parents, and
how helpful my parents were to them when they first moved to our small town. Every
time I thank them they say, “Oh my heavens, it’s the least we can do, after all
your parents did for us when we moved here. Don’t give it another thought.”
people, right? Yes.
Here’s another thing about them: They hunt. The whole
family. Obviously I would prefer that they not kill animals for sport. I have to
separate my feelings about hunting from who these people are: kind, sincere, generous
people. It’s not always the easiest reconciliation. But it’s the mature,
big-picture thing to do. See the good, applaud it. Look past the differences. They
know I’m vegetarian, I’m sure they think I’m weird because of that. But they, too,
look past our differences and focus on the good.
When my mother had a major health crisis while on vacation
with my dad, they had to rely on healthcare 1,000 miles from home. She was
airlifted to a hospital by a medicopter service funded by Catholic charities. A
Muslim neurologist saved her life. A team of physical and occupational therapists
comprised of Baptist, Hindu, and Jewish therapists helped her walk, talk, eat
and write again. The townsfolk in the small town heard about the out-of-town
couple in the hospital and brought food, toiletries, a hand crocheted blanket,
books, a steady stream of therapy dogs, and representatives from every
faith/practice imaginable stopped in to wish my mother and the family well.
They prayed, meditated, raised hands, laid hands, wrapped hands, counted
Rosaries, chanted mantras and in one particularly big leap of interfaith, performed a Shinto
ritual carried out by 97-year-old local Shinto leader whose granddaughter was a
nurse at the hospital. All these people, strangers, didn’t care about my
parents’ religious or political beliefs. They only cared that a vacationing
woman had a life threatening health crisis and they did what they could to
One of the therapy dogs was handled by a retired guy. He and
my dad bonded over sports and “man” talk, which was more helpful therapy than
his dog. The guy stopped by the hospital for an hour or so in the afternoons and had coffee with my dad, gave my dad a much needed break while my mother was in various therapies. My dad went into town for lunch one day and saw the guy getting into
his car. The car was adorned with several bumper stickers of a specific political
party, a political party that my moderate father was frustrated with at the
time. But he was already friends with this guy, and grateful for this stranger who took time to just talk sports and tools and cars. He did not think, “I
can’t be friends with him because of his political party affiliation.” He
simply did not bring up politics when he saw him again.
I know these are extreme and “well, in that situation, of
When I see/hear someone say, “If you are a ______________ I
don’t want to know you,” I think of that retiree and his therapy dog and the
afternoons he spent keeping my dad company, which kept my dad comforted and sane
during a very difficult time. There are people making blanket statements saying
they don’t want to know that guy and others like him because of his political choices. Or that they
will leave the country because of people “like him.”
So I feel compelled to speak out about this.
I’m getting older, I’ve lived through a lot of elections, I’ve
seen a lot of candidates come and go. Some good, some bad, most of them
mediocre. The good ones inspire us, the bad ones give us something to complain
Life goes on.
We still have to go to work (or find a job), we still have
to eat healthy, get some exercise, and find time for family. Find time for
whatever spiritual devotion fuels and inspires us. Work on hobbies, read a book
or two, maybe take in a ball game or movie now and then. Throw in helping a
neighbor or stranger, and keeping your community clean and safe and there’s not
a lot of time left for anger and selfishness.
But if you do all that and still feel anger welling, and a deep level of
frustration that makes you want to renounce your citizenship, I suggest making
time to volunteer time (not money) to a charity that serves the: elderly, disabled, abused,
or children. Giving yourself and time (not a check) to people who need help with basic life needs will
broaden your perspective. You’ll meet some of the people you want to leave
behind, people you didn’t know needed you.
Closing yourself off to people who don't think like you is comfortable because you're always surrounded by like-minded people. Everyone agrees with you. You're in a cozy blanket of conformity. It's the easy choice. No conflicts, no compromise, no challenges that lead to introspection and broadening of the mind.
Isn't one of the goals of life, a goal we all share, to expand horizons and perspectives?
I'm not sure where the people who are threatening to leave America are going to live. Are there islands for Democrat expats only or Republican expats only? Let's presume money is not an object. You have a steady stream of bazillions of dollars. And you are so angry at the opposing candidate that you vow to leave America if they win, move somewhere where everyone shares your exact political beliefs. Where is that? Where is that place?
Anger, blind-hatred (any hatred), stubbornness, narrow-mindedness,
unwillingness to compromise, unwillingness to look at an issue from a different
perspective, lack of creative thought, and most of all, running from a
situation that’s not in-line with your personal outlook, is not going to lead
to a better life, a happier life, or even a decent night of sleep.