On November 8, I kissed my 2-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter and tucked them into bed with a whispered reminder that when they woke up, we might have our first female president. After that, I retired to the living room with a glass of pinot noir and a bucket of leftover Halloween candy to discover that actually, no—we’d elect a racist, bigoted xenophobe instead.
Like many moms, I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning in my bed, agonizing over how to explain the election results to my kids.
Specifically, I wondered how I’d share this with my little girl.
At 5 years old, my daughter’s knowledge of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and the entire election process is simplistic, at best. She knows the president is kind of like the “boss” of America and that every four years we vote for a new boss. She knows a woman has never been the president, and that her father and I were optimistic that Hillary Clinton might be the first. And, while she doesn’t know the depths of Trump’s racist rhetoric or his blatant disregard for women, she does know that he believes it’s okay to treat people unfairly, because of their skin color, their religion, or because they’re a girl.
“You’re a bad mom.”
The morning after the election, I posted online about my struggle to come up with the right way to explain to my daughter that even a bully who publicly declares his desire to treat people unfairly can still be elected president. I got a lot of encouragement from other moms and dads who were struggling with the same thing, but I also got a lot of flack from people who thought it was wrong of me to bring my daughter into the political process in the first place.
“Why in the world would you be loading a child with these kind of issues,” one woman wrote. “You’re destroying your child’s piece of mind with things that don’t matter to them. Be a mom and read her stories and play games with her, and wait until she is in high school before you burden her with politics.”
Another person told me that when her 8-year-old asks questions about politics, she tells him it’s a “grown-up thing” and not to worry about it. Perhaps this approach spares kids and their parents some tough conversations, but I can’t help but feel like it’s my duty as parent to raise informed and socially-conscious little humans, and I firmly believe that starts in their earliest years.
Donald Trump’s America is ushering in a scary new reality.
Since Trump’s victory was announced, we’ve seen reports from schools all over the country of students having their hijabs ripped off, of black children being called the “n” word, of Hispanic children in tears as their peers shout things like “go back to Mexico.” Yesterday, I saw a viral post on social media about the high school I attended. Someone had used chalk to draw a wall in the breezeway and written “build the wall” in all caps.
I wonder, what kinds of conversations are happening in the homes of these children who are bullying their peers. Have their parents been talking to them, since their earliest days, about kindness and equality? Have their parents taught them about the innate value of all people—even the ones who don’t look or live exactly like they do? Do they understand that what they’re doing is wrong? I doubt it.
We have a duty as Americans and parents.
When I say I’ve talked to my 5-year-old about Donald Trump, I don’t mean that I’ve parked her on the living room floor in front of CNN and let her absorb his comments about grabbing women by the pussy, or let her watch as he mocks a disabled reporter, or even told her about his plans to decimate women’s reproductive rights, build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and treat all Muslim Americans as suspect.
I mean that I’ve explained to her, in terms a kindergartener can understand, that some people are treated unfairly because of the color of their skin, and that’s not okay. I’ve explained what bullying is and why we should never sit silently and watch others be harmed. And I’ve explained to her that we live in a vast and diverse country with many different belief systems, but, regardless of what we believe, it’s our job to stand up for the rights of every person.
The complexity of our conversations about racism, sexism, and equality will deepen as she matures.
But for now, I’m laying the foundation for the inclusive values I hope she’ll hold, and I’m introducing her, in the smallest possible way, to concern for matters of social and political importance. The woman who criticized me said my daughter doesn’t need to be aware of things like racism or sexism until high school. I vehemently disagree. Sexism and racism are all around us, and we’re only able to fight it when we truly understand what it is we’re fighting against.
It is only privilege that would allow a white woman like me to shield her white children from the realities of injustice. The children of color being taunted, harassed, and told to leave the country, don’t get to avoid the subject just because they’re young and innocent. My kids don’t either. And hopefully by taking small steps every day to raise compassionate, empathetic, and socially-conscious children, we can end the cycle of willful ignorance that lead us to elect a leader like Donald Trump in the first place.