The Weight of Teaching Kids About Politics (and Jerkwads)

Mommy, why are so many people putting Rommey signs in their yards?


Yeah, Rommey. Like that one.

I look and it hits me: Romney. Ah yes, a Presidential election year. He wasn’t reading four years ago, being only two. The kid is smart, but not that smart. He also may have been present when I watched the news, but he didn’t watch the news in 2008 — like he does now, with or without me. Sometimes he is so startlingly my child that I wonder how horribly we will clash when he is older. I’ll cross that bridge later.

“Oh, Romney, with an N. It’s a Presidential election year, like they were talking about on the news the other night, and Romney is running for President. The people with signs in their yards think he is the better candidate. They are showing their support for him and will vote for him on election day in November.”

A turn signal length of silence before, “But not us?

The weight slams down on my shoulders.

The responsibility of helping our sons make sense of both religion and politics sometimes feels like too much, too heavy a burden to carry. I want to do the same thing my parents did, to inform my sons about the ins and outs of a democracy and leave them with the room to make their own decisions, form their own opinions about the bigger stuff in life. I feel that is hugely important, and I want to do as good a job of it as my parents did seeing as how they’re mid-range conservatives and I fall on the liberal side of the political fence. Even my grandfather, quite the conservative, accepted my liberal ways, sending me political cartoons and entering into respectful political commentary. My family is not one of fear-mongering email forwards, hate speech and general political angst. Even my brother is growing up and finding secure footing enough in his own beliefs, much different from my own, that he no longer tries to bait me into political discussion. Much.

I want that for our sons, for them to feel safe talking about their thoughts and political beliefs, to ask questions of us when they don’t understand. I want to feel confident enough in my own political beliefs to look them straight in the eye and say, “I don’t know.” Because a lot of the time, I don’t know. I don’t understand why certain people — on either side — are mean, why they say hurtful things, why they lie. I don’t quite know how to explain to them that political extremism of any kind is not healthy, is not safe for normal, everyday citizens. These concepts are big and huge. I want to do them justice; I want to do right by my sons, to shape their understanding of what it means to be a part of this country, to have a say in who leads us, to know that sometimes people don’t believe the same as you and, for the most part, that’s okay.

Suddenly I have a flash of a conversation with my parents. I had traveled to the polling place with them where they had cast votes int he 1992 Presidential election. We pulled up outside my grandparents house, where I had been pestering them the whole mile and a half, “Who did you vote for? Who did you vote for?” My father refused to tell me that day, claiming that it mattered less who he voted for and more that he went out and actually voted.

So, I decided to skirt the issue.


“Well, Buddy, it doesn’t matter if Mommy or Daddy like Romney or Obama more. What matters is that we live in a democracy and we get to vote, we get to choose who leads our country.”

I decided to go on.

“Someday you’ll get to help choose too, and you will get to make the choice. Not Mommy or Daddy. You. You get to choose.”

A brief pause before, “Someday?

“Yes, you don’t get to vote until you’re 18.”

Well, that’s not fair!

Outraged, both boys launched into a tirade about how they wanted to be able to vote too and 18 was too far away and on and on. I heard about it all the way into the house and over after-school snacks. I smiled. I hope when they are old enough to vote that they are that passionate about wanting to help shape our country, so passionate that they couldn’t be bothered to decide whether they wanted milk or juice with their snack.

I won’t hide my support of my preferred candidate, though we’ll probably forgo the sign in the yard because what do those really do anyway? Are they supposed to sway me? “Oh look, so-and-so has a sign in his yard and he’s a great guy so I should probably vote for his candidate?” I imagine we’ll have more conversations over the next few months about the candidates and democracy and voting and the issues. Quite honestly, if I can get out of this election year without having to explain the word rape to my news-watching six-and-a-half-year-old, I’ll be pretty happy.

Maybe between now and then we’ll hit a rally, like LittleBrother and I did in 2008.

Me & P at the Rally
I know, right?

In November, the boys will come with us to vote. We’ll have pancakes afterward at the fire department. That evening, we’ll let them stay up as long as possible to be a part of the events. This is the election that will begin to shape their understanding of our country and the people who live within its borders. I hope — I hope — that others try their hardest to be as respectful as we are in this household of others’ political beliefs and rights to have and express those beliefs. I’d sure hate for their first lessons in politics to be that some people are jerkwads.

So, if only for the sake of my sons and how I’m trying to raise them not to be jerkwads, let’s all leave room for each other this year, okay? Okay.


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13 Replies to “The Weight of Teaching Kids About Politics (and Jerkwads)”

  1. The other day Elle said “I hate Romney.” I know she didn’t hear that from me or Hubby, but she has heard Hubby and I talk while watching Morning Joe and knows who we voted for and who we are going to vote for, so I think she was trying to make us happy with her statement (7 years olds love approval). I went into the whole, we don’t hate people and Romney isn’t a bad man, he just isn’t the man I’m voting for. That is true. I don’t think he is a bad man. He seems like a good solid man who is a great father and husband.
    Trying to teach the kids politics is so very hard because people get so emotional about it and kids want to make their parents happy. It is fun as they get older to talk about stuff. Mita always goes the opposite of us (sports, politics, time of day…) because it makes her happy and that is always fun as well because it’s teaching them debate skills, listening skills and using your head skills. I don’t mind telling my kids who I am voting for because I back it up with reasoning and explanation and encourage them to think for themselves. I also want them to know as young girls that I am voting for and fighting for them and the freedom to live their lives by their own accord. Since the girls are older they (minus Elle) do know about rape and they are getting to realize that some people don’t think it is a big deal unfortunately :(
    It is my hope that more and more parents talk to their kids about democracy, the privilege of voting and how important it is to me fair and kind.
    Good job mama :)

  2. Yay for you! My kids live in a split household. Sadly an extended family member is rigid and never wrong, and my views are in the minority, so we never get an opportunity to actually discuss politics. I need to find a way to remedy that.

    1. There are some people in our families that aren’t my immediate mom/dad/brother/paternal-grandparents that aren’t as… open and awesome. Some of them have learned that I won’t engage and that they need to keep certain ill-worded opinions to themselves. Some haven’t learned. They will. heh

      Divided houses aren’t horrible — mom and dad actually didn’t agree on all of the issues or all of the candidates. I don’t think FD and I agree on all of it either, which I think will be good for the kids to see as they get older. As long as the two of us remember not to be jerkwads. Because that can also happen. Whoops?

      1. I’m made to feel stupid for my views so I just retreat and get defensive. I feel like I need to research my position more but between mom’s taxi, and everything else I do, I don’t have five minutes to research anything.

        And I am guilty of getting emotional. I feel threatened. I need to practice my dialoging skills.

  3. Hear Hear! As a conservative I get tired of the bashing and ugliness that comes from both sides as well. Charlie has been asking about the President because it is being talked about in school. I’m not sure the election has been brought up yet but am pretty sure it will.

    Charlie has asked us who we want as President and why. I’ve been skirting the issue too.

    1. It’s not that we won’t discuss who we’re voting for at some point, but in that particular conversation, it didn’t feel right. Which reminds me I need to find the pin that I bought on Etsy last election season. Nothing like supporting your candidate in STYLE. (I’m such a dork.)

      1. yeah then good luck with trying to explain WHY you think a person can’t run the country very well or WHY you disagree with a candidate. We haven’t had much luck with trying to explain it on 2nd grade terms around here.

        I’m open to any suggestions you have and I will definitely be borrowing your verbiage!!!

        Especially as BB is more attune and aware of stuff and more emotionally mature than Charlie is.

  4. LOL, okay, the “it’s not fair” argument cracked me up.

    I like the idea of making voting a family event, with pancakes afterward. It adds a great level of social reinforcement about it, and it gives familiarity to the polling process. As a kid, I was never taken to the polls with my parents when they voted, so it was a new and awkward thing for me later when it came time to vote. So, good idea! Thumbs up. Your sons’ first lesson in politics will be about how the voting process works and what it looks like to vote, as demonstrated by parents.

  5. Amen! I don’t care WHO other people decide to vote for. It’s their decision and their choice to vote for the candidate they feel will do the best job. It’s not mine. Nor does fear mongering and hate speech have a place in my life, political or not. That’s the beauty of what this country was founded on – being able to choose what we want to do with our lives and the opinions we want to have without being told what to think, do and feel. I posted on my FB about this and basically said that I hate all the “political ads” making fun of “the other guys.” Even if I lean more toward the political party the “ads” claim to support, I don’t think that making fun of people who don’t think as you do is the way to go. Frankly, I don’t really lean toward one extremist side or the other. I tend to be much more middle of the road – I figure if someone wants to make a choice, as long as it doesn’t affect me or the people I love negatively, then go for it. I’d be happy if we could fire all politicians (doesn’t matter their purported “party”) and start all over again, but I know that’ll never happen. I think you handled the situation VERY well, and it’s awesome that your boys are showing so much passion! :)

    1. You echoed some of what I didn’t include in my post that also makes it tricky: obviously I want them to understand certain things, certain reasons why we, the two adults, vote the way that we do. I’m not sure how to teach such things — just yet — without being all This Is How It Is, End Of Discussion. My parents did it well, so I have to find my own footing here.

  6. Mea doesn’t remember the last election since she was only two, but I remember her saying “Obama” only too well. It was too cute coming from her little mouth.

    We have been having lots of conversations about voting in general in our household. About voting rights for women and minorities in particular.

    This is the first presidental election that my oldest daughter will be able to vote (which got a huge “That’s not fair!” from Mea, especially since she wants to do anything that her big sister does.)

    When we were kids I remember only too well going to the polls with my parents. Watching as they flipped levers on the old voting machines. My Dad was/is always pretty tight lipped about who he voted for, my Mom on the other hand had many discussions with my sister and I about women’s rights, and how important it is/was for us to vote. I have tried to have similar discussions with my girls letting them know that they can vote however they want, but they should always make sure that the candidate they are voting for represents what their personal values are, and that most importantly, they should vote.

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