All over social media and in private conversations amongst friends, there is this looming question after the election last night: how do we talk about it with our children? No matter what our views may be, or who we voted for, how do we talk about this election, what it meant, it what it did for the morale and psyche of many Americans?
I don't have all of the answers, but I do know that our children are watching us. They are watching us and how we handle our disappointment. They are watching us and how we handle our triumph. They are watching us and how we talk about and treat others, even people we really dislike.
My son, today, caught a few minutes of the morning news, and 10 minutes later he had used pillows to construct, "A wall to keep the people out of Mokahoma so they don't push all the buttons." He was impacted, even if he doesn't know what it means, what the politics, ethics, safety concerns, public and international relations, etc. surrounding it are. He doesn't even how to pronounce Mexico. He's just trying to filter what he is seeing, hearing, and feeling, and he's looking at me to help him do it.
I need to check my response. Is it going to be filled with hate or bitterness? Is my response going to be gloating, or snobby, or elitist, or condescending? Is my response going to be to fall into a pit of despair loss of hope? Is it going to be based on fear and terror?
Are those ever the things I want to instill in my children?
Or is my response going to be filled with grace. With acknowledgement of disappointment, of pain, and of being hurt. Am I able to clearly communicate my feelings and emotions and point of view without allowing them to become me. To consume me to the point that I can no longer see others clearly. Is my response going to be filled with hope: in myself, in my children, in our future. Will my response promote human dignity and peace, in myself, in my children, in my home, in my neighborhood, in my country, in my world.
Appropriately navigating really hard things... is tough. And then you have children and the stakes get higher. I do believe, though, that we can rise to the challenge. For the sake of our country, our future, and our children. Here are some ways to deal with it:
- Acknowledging your own personal feelings first, and being curious about them. Ask yourself: Why do I feel this way? What does it mean about me? About others? To react is easy. It takes no effort. To respond with thoughtfulness, however, is a discipline that we must all work on.
- Acknowledging real hurt, even if the other side never admits or sees their own fault. Are we strong enough to say, "What you did there? Wasn't ok." We don't have to pretend that it was or that it is ok when we are hurt by someone else, but we do have to choose to keep moving forward. Both sides have been there too.
- Acknowledging the one that I perceive as Other. I must be able to see them as human, and see that they have thoughts, feelings, and concerns too, that are just as valid as my own. How else can I teach my children to be accepting and open-minded? I may not always understand or agree, but there will always be those who view the world differently, and to be human is to live and coexist within that reality.
- Admitting the difficult feelings, hurt, and even fault (we all have some) appropriately to children. It is important to have these conversations, and allow our children to see, hear, and even experience difficult things from us. When they see us go through it, it gives them permission to also struggle sometimes too. It gives them a framework for what is normal, and how to handle the hard things that will inevitably come up in life.
- Modeling for our children how to handle the big things in life. Not throwing a temper tantrum, a pity party, or a gloat-fest. Not trampling on the thoughts and experiences of others, but allowing our feelings to be felt, heard, validated appropriately. From there we must find space within ourselves to live gracefully and dignified with that tension that will always exist.
How about you? How are you finding ways to be open and honest about the difficult things that face our country, without causing them excessive fear or anxiety about it? How are you helping your children navigate a difference of opinion, perspective, and thought from another person? We would love to hear your wisdom.