With the first of the general election presidential debates coming this week, and the daily batch of emails requesting time and/or money for a variety of causes and campaigns, it’s hard not to think about politics.
And, before you tune out or get riled up, this is not a post about one side versus the other. I have my very strong opinions, and you have yours, and we can agree to disagree (or agree, for that matter) on that for right now. What I’m thinking about more specifically is how we pass along our political affiliations, or not, to our kids. I’ve seen a bunch of people struggling with this in the blogosphere, so I thought I’d throw in my two cents.
The struggle seems to be over whether we might be overly-indoctrinating our kids. Ah, the things we modern moms worry about. “Is it right to put my baby in the [your candidate here] shirt?” “Should I try to present both sides equally so my two-year-old can make his own informed decision?”
To which I say: stop the insanity.
I grew up in a very political (Democrat with a capital D) household. Before I was born, my dad ran state and national campaigns. He’s even got a funny story about how he’s the genius behind David Axelrod (or, at least, was for one night almost 30 years ago). I grew up knowing about Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis and Paul Simon and Paul Wellstone. When I was about 10, I spent several afternoons stuffing envelopes for someone running for alderman. I was furious that my 18th birthday was about a week after a presidential election and I wasn’t going to get to vote. Now, my kids sport their new “Baby Got Barack” t-shirts and I try in vain to get two pre-verbal 13-month-olds to say “Obama.”
Am I brainwashing my kids? I don’t think so. No more than anything else. Just as when you chose to raise your kids in a particular religion, set certain expectations in your house about TV watching or behavior or chores, or pass along your socio-political values, you’re teaching. You’re passing along the things that you find important. If you find certain political issues important, then you shouldn’t hide them when your kids are around.
More than anything, as parents, we are trying to give our kids a solid foundation, and part of that foundation is (in my opinion, anyways) the ability to think critically and question assumptions. So you know what? If I succeed in that very important goal, then no matter whether I raise my kids Democrats or Jewish or no-soda-at-dinnertime, there will come a point when they question that which I have taught them. They will choose to reject some of it, though admittedly I hope it’s only the no-soda-at-dinnertime bit. But yes, there will come a point when my kids are free-thinking adults, and will choose whatever path makes the most sense to them. They may look back at their “Tiny Democrat” onesies and smile, or they may shake their heads. And that’s OK.
I’m trying to pass along the things that are important in our family: respect for other people, civic participation, social justice, etc etc etc. I’m not going to hide my political affiliations or preferred candidates from my kids. When they get to an age where they ask questions, I’ll answer them as honestly and fairly as I can. And when they can vote, I won’t go in that booth with them.
Don’t fret about “influencing” your kids too much when it comes to politics. I hate to break it to you, but we’re parents. Influencing our kids is our job. Try to be fair, try to be respectful, and try to teach fundamental things like thinking and participating. But don’t be afraid to say what’s important to you.