BORING YOUR CHILDREN; OR, TALKING TO KIDS ABOUT POLITICS

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“Obama spends four billion dollars a day!”

My oldest child spoke these words to me accusingly and waited on my reply.  Certainly his mother who had taken to saying things like “I’m not made of money” would be outraged at the President’s profligate spending.  How could she be supporting a politician of such extravagance?  He looked at me as if I’d been out squandering his allowance on entitlement programs.

“Um, what are you talking about?  Where did you come up with that information?”  I asked him.

Here’s a guy who’s not bored by politics!

“I heard it on the radio and saw it on TV,” he replied, tapping his foot expectantly.

I was relieved to think he’d just fallen prey to a conservative sound bite, but momentarily concerned that he’d been tuning in to Fox News.  I got on the Google right away, hoping to find actual facts about the rising debt.  I don’t like to discount any claim by either party unless I’ve done a little bit of research on my own.

(From what I was able to discern, the math was accurate.  The debt had risen about four billion dollars a day between the time that Obama took office and the time the claim was made by the conservative advocacy group Crossroads GPS.  But, PolitiFact rates the claim as “half-true” because the blame rests with both parties for the spending policies in place that have led to the increased debt.)

“You really can’t believe everything you hear on TV, Dylan,” I cautioned my son.

Still, I was caught off guard by the realization that I am no longer my children’s primary source of information; I find that I’m often caught off guard at this stage of parenthood.  So, I took this opening as an opportunity to have an hour-long conversation with both kids that covered topics ranging from collective bargaining and labor unions (“Aren’t you glad you don’t have to work all day in unsafe conditions at age 12 for just a couple of dollars?”) to Social Security and Medicare.  Initially, I tried to back up everything I said with facts and figures and to answer their questions as objectively as I could.  But, quickly I realized that I needed to explain my political beliefs to them as they relate to my value system.  Facts and figures couldn’t explain why I believe in the concept of universal health care.  Or, why I think there should be more, not fewer, restrictions on gun ownership; I had to talk about what I believe to be morally correct.

But, this is where things get tricky these days, isn’t it?  Because, if I tell my children that it is a moral imperative for all citizens, all people, to have access to adequate healthcare, does that mean that those who oppose universal healthcare are immoral?  How do I explain that there are some people who would say that, by virtue of the fact that I am pro-choice, I am a supporter of the murder of unborn babies?  With all this “right and wrong” being tossed about, I try to remind my kids (and, often, myself) that our primary duty is to treat others with kindness, tolerance, patience, and love.  But, in a democratic society, there are two ways that we do that, right? Both by how we treat people personally and in the way we use our voices and votes.

I believe that it is my charge to love my fellows no matter how much I disagree with their politics. (Thankfully, loving someone doesn’t necessarily mean I have to be friends with him/her on Facebook.) To that end, I am trying to impart this message to my kids:  Stand up for the less fortunate, stand against systems of racism and oppression, and be mindful of the greater good, but remember that most of us are following what we believe in our hearts to be the “right” thing, so be loving to all and be generous of spirit.  Oh, and it never hurts to have a sense of humor.

(I mean, I think I actually said that whole thing because both kids sort of stared at me, open-mouthed for a while and I’m pretty sure one of them rolled her eyes.)

I can’t wait to cover religion!

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