In 1989, I was 14 years old. George H. W. Bush was running against Mike Dukakis. We studied the election in civics class and read newspaper articles every morning. We held mock elections and discussed the various opinions and views of the differing political groups. Every night, I would come home and relay the facts from the day to my parents.
Yet never in any of those conversations over dinner did they ever give me an inclination of who they were voting for.
I never knew if my parents were Republicans or Democrats. I didn’t know their stances on abortion or immigration. Whenever I asked, they would simply share both sides of the issues and tell me that it was up to me to decide what I believe.
I never thought about their approach to politics and parenting; it was simply what I knew.
Then, many years later, I became a parent to two children. A very liberal-minded Democrat parent.
And suddenly I was faced with the reality that it was up to me to teach them how to keep an open mind. I could choose to share my beliefs on certain political issues and in essence shape theirs, but a very particular incident stopped me.
The two children of a family friend came and stayed with us. They were 9 and 12 years old at the time. Barack Obama had just been elected for his second term, and the children and I were discussing how exciting it would be to see inside the White House someday.
“Well, I’d never want to see it if Obama was in office,” the young boy who was 9 replied, his older sister nodding her head in agreement.
“Why is that?” I asked, confused.
“Because he’s a terrible president. The country needs a Republican leader.”
“Why?” I asked, looking back and forth between them.
He shrugged as she answered, “I don’t know. That’s what Mom and Dad always say.”
And it hit me. They had no idea what they believed. They were simply regurgitating the information their parents relayed. And would probably continue to do that until it just became part of their own repertoire. It’s not just those children either. According to a Gallup Youth Survey in 2005, 7 in 10 teens (71 percent) confirm that their political views/ideas match their parents’.
As I looked at my own children after that incident, I knew I didn’t want that same thing in my style of parenting. Even if I wanted them to believe the same things I did, it had to be because they choose those views. Not because I forced it on them.
So I’m taking a page out of my parents’ book next year. I’m going to share both sides of the political election when issues come up. I’m going to try my best to not roll my eyes at Donald Trump’s comments about building a wall or high-five every fellow woman when Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic bid.
Instead, I’m going to lay out the facts and the differing opinions, and ask what they believe. At least I’m going to try.
With the recent debates on television, I used the opportunity to create a list of some of the issues raised. Considering my children are ages 7 and 4, I kept it broad. I told them some of the Republican candidates’ ideas for immigration and education as well as some of the Democrats’ ideas. My husband jumped on board as well, and together we laid out both sides.
What I realized was that it wasn’t so important that they understand every issue inasmuch as they understood that we weren’t telling them what to believe. That we were opening the door to them making their own deductions.
I can’t stop extended members of my family from sharing their opinions over our weekly Sunday night family dinner. But what I can do is encourage my children to participate. To share what they learned and perhaps educate others as well as themselves.
And in the end, the only thing I can hope for is that their answers don’t make me want to move us all to Canada. But I’m getting our passports ready just in case.