A few months ago my sister-in-law and I started a podcast. (This is genuinely the real reason I haven’t blogged since it began.) I’ll go into that more in a future blog but it is because of that podcast that I’ve had MANY emails, Facebook messages and texts asking me how I talk to my kids and my family about Donald Trump.
We end each episode of the Mama Bear Dares podcast with a dare that (we hope) inspires the listener to live life with more love and compassion-for themselves, for their significant others, for their children and for all of humanity. So people aren’t reaching out to me because they think I have it figured out, they are reaching out to me because Leslie and I have created a platform that encourages people to continue to reach out in kindness and love.
The honest answer to their question about teaching my kids kindness when they are hearing sound bites from a man who could be our next President being the very opposite of kind? I’m genuinely not sure how to answer that.
I admit to saying truly unkind things about Trump. Maybe some are true, most are probably just fear coming out in words. Sometimes my kids are around, sometimes they aren’t. So if that’s where you’re at-where the fear and the anxiety and the sleepless nights have you being unkind-I get that.
Here’s what I’m going to try to do today though:
- Instead of just give my kids sound bites from me I’m going to sit them down and tell them why I’m not voting for Trump. I want my kids to see that I arrived at my decision because of facts not fear. I want them to learn what we value as a family by who we elect politically. When we read the Bible and hear about all of the times Jesus came to help the people the governments of the day forgot-I want my kids to understand the relevance of that today. I don’t want them to grow up thinking that Christians vote Republican. I want them to grow up being able to differentiate between someone who says they love Jesus and then treats everyone around them like hot garbage from someone who just does the daily work of loving those around them consistently and (sometimes) quietly. My kids deserve to hear smart, rational, non-fear based facts about how our country is right now and my hopes for the future. They won’t get that from me yelling, “What an idiot” at the TV.
- I will show them videos of past Presidents during their acceptance speeches at the conventions. I will try to raise kids who don’t just fall for the flashy lights, pretty words and rehearsed pauses. We will stop the videos and ask “ok this is what they said, what do you think this means?” Just like when we go past magazines at the store and one of them comments on the models I remind them of photoshop, lighting, make up and angles-I will also remind them of the difference between rhetoric and reality. I never want my kids to be disengaged consumers buying whatever anyone is selling. I want them to see past the rhetoric. Who is being included? Who is being left out? If Trump were to make this actually happen who benefits? Who doesn’t? In that phrase he just said is it inclusive or exclusive? Overall did you get a feeling that he loves this country and its people or did you get the feeling that he hates this country and most of its people?
- Every time I hear another racist, misogynistic, islamophobic, homophobic (all the ists and bics) instead of reacting out of anger I will label those things appropriately and, when able, ask our kids to imagine someone from that target audience and ask how they think it would feel for them to hear that. Because when Donald Trump is coming at us with anger, I want my kids to instead react with empathy. Just like I encourage my kids to empathize and defend the kid from the bully at school, I want them to see what Trump is doing and recognize it as the same. And I’ll also discuss the danger in other-izing an entire group of people. Once again asking, if someone talks about a group of people who looks, believes or acts differently than they do in a way that’s derogatory do you actually think they would ever go out of their way to make life better for a member of that group? I hope this teaches them that in the future when they hear of kids or adults speaking poorly about an entire race, gender, nationality or religion it’s probably a good indication that my kids’s energies would be better spent on someone trying to heal the divisions rather than widen.
- When my kids come home to tell me that their friends are voting for Trump instead of reacting with a “Jesus” (this is my go-t0 response, it’s whatever. I’m working on it but dam*. Bless) I’ll react with a “and how does that make you feel?” If my kids don’t have the words for how that makes them feel I’ll give them words for how it makes me feel when I have friends voting for him. It makes me scared. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It makes me feel like maybe we don’t have as much in common as I thought we do. It makes me feel like we need to move. It makes me feel like I’m alone. It doesn’t necessarily erase any of their feelings but I hope it helps them process them in a healthy way. In a way that is able to sit back and understand that maybe those friends are just regurgitating what their parents say. That it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the children themselves but on their desire to relate to and be a part of the conversation in their own homes. It’s a good example of how wanting to be included can lead to things that maybe don’t actually reflect how we feel or what we think and I’ll stress again that being an independent thinker is one of the most powerful things you can be. Sometimes it’s lonely but you’ll always be able to fall asleep knowing you’ve stayed true to who you are.
- I’m going to remind my kids that they can make a difference. I genuinely believe this election will come down to who shows up at the polls. Obviously every election does to some extent but this one feels like the stakes are higher. I have told them for as long as I can remember that their voices, their bodies and their stories matter. But I’ll show them I believe my own life matters by voting in this election. And I will remind them that as they get older I want them to vote however they see fit not how I see it, not how their grandparents or their friends see it. I don’t want them to think that because they are Christian they need to vote Republican. I don’t want them to think that because they are white they vote this way or black they vote another. I don’t want them to vote with who their husband or wife is voting for. I want them to do their own due diligence and research all of the candidates. I want to equip them with the knowledge of how to do that and this election seems like a pretty great time to start so that when they turn 18 (just did the math…Trysten is eerily close to voting in the next Presidential election. Gulp) they are confident in their ability to choose for themselves and no one else. It took me far too long to learn that lesson.
- And I will point out the things that they aren’t old enough to see but that I believe is important. I will show them that most of the people at the RNC this week were white. I will remind them that whiteness doesn’t represent our country and that when any majority is allowed to go unchecked it always spells disaster for minorities. Always. So when I encourage them to be kind I mean to be kind to the people who are being left out of the conversation when Trump is at the podium. The people who run the risk of being exploited even more than they are already. I will remind them that our kindness is ALWAYS better spent on the people for whom our communities, our countries and our world discounts and sees as disposable. And I will wake them up to the privileges they have that others don’t. And use Trump as an example of unchecked and unregulated privilege. Though I’ve talked to Trysten specifically about winning the virtual privilege lottery (white, male, middle class, intelligent, no visible signs of disability, cisgendered, currently straight identifying, etc) I haven’t talked to the others about the other various ways privilege plays out and how we have to stay awake to the realities of others or we run the risk of neglecting them too.
This political season is a really great training ground for teaching my kids that fighting fire with fire burns the entire country to the ground. We are seeing this play out on the national stage but my kids do not need to see it play out in my house. If I genuinely want my kids to react to an angry person or an angry idea with respect and rationality then I have to show them how to do it. I’m absolutely going to mess up because I’m human and I’m still learning to process my emotions in a healthy and beneficial way but I have to start somewhere.
Last night a friend who, like me, has Republicans running down all sides of her family. People she respects and loves messaged me with “I need someone to tell me what to do.” I don’t think I know what to do but I’m going to start here.
Equipping my family with knowledge, agency, love, empathy and compassion feels like the most profound thing I can do. Today it certainly feels like the most revolutionary act that is needed from us.
Are you feeling this same tension? What are you doing with you kids?