Like many other parents, I woke up on November 9th afraid for the future and struggling to find the right words to explain the election to my children. Though I didn’t know exactly what to say and the end result was probably far from perfect, I shared my fears about President Trump with my kids. And then we had breakfast.
As the week wore on, I kept reading articles, posts and tweets telling parents like me to just get a grip and stop scaring the children. And I just don’t get it. Yes, I am worried about the future. Yes, I have discussed my fears with my children. But my kids don’t seem damaged by or paralyzed with fear from these conversations. Of course, only time and future therapy sessions will tell, but I believe they’re stronger for them.
First of all, the fears I continue to have are not coming from some delusional hysteria. We all witnessed this campaign, so please stop saying we should now “wait and see.” Without listing all of the racist, incendiary, fear-mongering things candidate Trump has said, I’ll just point out that highlights include a Muslim registry, science-denying tweets about vaccines and climate change, and the abusive vitriol he’s hurled at any woman who dares stand up to him.
None of us know for sure how much of that racist, sexist, fear-mongering campaign rhetoric will translate to political reality but what I’ve seen so far is enough to seriously frighten me and everyone else who’s paying attention.
Since the election, we’ve seen countless news reports of racially motivated violence and vandalism. The Russian government succeeded in disrupting our election. Trump has picked a climate change denier to head up the EPA transition team. Mike Pence supports the very damaging and unscientific anti-gay “conversion therapy.” And, finally, two words: Steve Bannon. Any one of these constitute a real cause for concern. Taken together, it’s no wonder progressive parents like me are panicking.
My kids are five and twelve, so I discussed my fears with them in an honest and age-appropriate way. I told my younger daughter I think Donald Trump is a bad guy who has done some bad things, so it’s important to speak up for what we believe in and do our best to keep everyone safe and protected. She asked questions — can’t we tell the police to arrest him? — and I tried my best to explain how we might take action through the political system. My twelve year old is disgusted with Trump and dismayed by the election results, but he told me he’d rather not know if someone voted for Trump because he doesn’t want to lose friends over politics. I offered another viewpoint — that the personal is the political — but he stood firm and disagreed with me. And we still ate breakfast.
In other words, like anything else, I offer my opinion and my kids are free to disagree. Far from damaging, these conversations gave my children an opportunity to be thoughtful and compassionate. How can we deride kids these days for being “little snowflakes” incapable of dealing with negativity and at the same time want to deny them an honest conversation about the ugly political reality all around us?
In the wake of this election, I am parenting just as I always have: with honesty about the bad things that sometimes happen in our lives. I know no other way and my kids, for better or for worse, aren’t interested in some sugar-coated version of reality. Maybe it’s growing up in a city. Maybe it’s my bluntness. I really don’t know but I do know that from me they’ve come to expect the truth.
Disappointment and injustice are real, and our kids won’t be prepared for it if we heed the advice of some conservatives and just “give Trump a chance” or “wait and see.” My grandfather, who was lucky enough to escape the Nazi regime, always prided himself on his well-timed realization that it was time to get out. I never thought I’d see the kind of brazen anti-semitism that now happens daily thanks to Trump but, now that it’s here, my own family history persuades me not to “wait and see” but instead be very clear in speaking out against the hate all around us.
My kids’ friends and our family friends are justifiably worried for their own safety in Trump’s America. I can’t tell my kids or any of them to calm down and “give Trump a chance.” This is a man whose election has been celebrated by the KKK and he has done nothing to disavow it. It’s not delusional to have these fears. It would be absolutely delusional to ignore them. Yes, I am afraid and, yes, I will continue to be honest with my kids about what’s going on around them. In our family, we won’t put our head in the sand and pretend these very real, grave concerns don’t exist. As far as I can tell, my kids are not harmed by my fear and honesty. They seem to be stronger for it.