The Weight of Teaching Kids About Politics (and Jerkwads)

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

“Rommey?”

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.