Maddie was about to turn one-year-old on Election Day back in 2008, and Heather and I had fun including her in the history making events.
We took her with us to vote (where she got a bunch of cool stickers), and kept her up past her bedtime so we could watch President Obama’s acceptance speech together. It was great to involve our little Mooseroni in the political process, but it was also easy to do so because she was only a baby. Figuring out how to expose kids to politics gets a heck of a lot harder (and more complex) as they age. Despite this it is incredibly important that we do it the right way, especially as our country’s politics grow more contentious by the day.
I remember one time at school back in the day when my class debated who should be our next president – George Bush or Bill Clinton. The discussion got very heated with my classmates yelling at each other, and even though I was just a kid myself it was clear to me that A) none of us had a clue what we were talking about, and what little we did know we were just parroting from what our parents had told us.
In hindsight, I realize my classmates weren’t just parroting what their parents had said about the election; they were also parroting how their parents treated the other party and its candidate. Why else would these kids get so upset and yell at their classmates when they didn’t understand (and frankly couldn’t understand at their age) what each politician stood for? Their parents, whether they realized it or not, were teaching their kids that the way you deal with people with different political opinions is by yelling at them without a shred of respect. Pretty scary stuff.
So what should parents do differently? Ideally they should model respectful behavior toward other political parties and politicians so their kids learn to respect different opinions, and also encourage their kids to develop their own opinions. I’m going to try my best to do both of those things with Annie.
But you know what? I’m no saint. I have been known to yell at the TV from time to time when a politician is spouting some nonsense on it. Making it through the next seventeen years with a grin fixed on my face during the evening news is going to be very, very hard. It’s also going to be very hard not to let my opinions influence Annie as she tries to make up her own mind about things.
It’s going to be tough. I want to raise a daughter who is able to form her own opinions while respecting the opinions of others, but I worry that – because of my own foibles – she may end up more like one of my old classmates than I would ever want.