This is part of a regular parenting column from author, speaker and dad Doyin Richards in which he tackles some of the toughest questions today’s parents face. Have a topic you’d like him to take on? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
My daughter is 23 years old and completely apathetic to the entire election process, including voting. We’re admittedly a very well-off white family, and she’s our only child. I worry she’s becoming one of those ignorant, privileged white women that people can’t stand. How do I get her to realize her vote is powerful and meaningful (not to mention her democratic duty)?
― Brandy in Laguna Beach, California
It’s no secret midterm elections historically see lower voter turnout than presidential election years, but it’s not hyperbole to say this is easily the most important midterm election in decades.
Still, for whatever reason, young people seem content to sit this one out. A survey conducted earlier this year showed only 28 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 were “absolutely certain” they’d vote in next month’s midterm election. That’s an absolutely pitiful percentage considering the outcomes of these elections are going to impact them for potentially the rest of their lives.
I’m (maybe) going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing your daughter subscribes to the “it’s only a problem if it’s a problem for me” mentality that permeates American society. You admit she’s part of a well-off white family, which means most of our nation’s problems probably don’t affect her directly. Kids being put in literal cages by the U.S. government, never to be reunited with their parents? Well, they aren’t her kids, right? Neo-Nazis and white supremacists proudly walking the streets and inciting violence? Meh, she’s not brown or black, and they aren’t wreaking havoc on her neighborhood.
One thing that gives me hope these days is knowing that a number of Americans feel immense empathy, will vote next month and will also ensure others vote as well. And guess what? There are wealthy white people in that group. They subscribe to the “it may not be a problem for me, but I don’t want it to be a problem for anyone else, either” philosophy. That’s how I live my life, and I can tell you feel the same way, Brandy.
But it’s hard for someone to feel real empathy when they live comfortably inside a bubble of privilege (and never have reason to check that privilege). I suggest you do whatever you can to pop your daughter’s bubble.
This isn’t such a heavy lift, either. She can see what life is like for people who don’t have the kind of shield that privilege provides simply by turning on the news or using social media: Twitter threads in which a black man details some of the micro-aggressions he experiences on a daily basis. Video of the sexual assault survivors who cornered Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings to make their voices heard. Audio footage of crying children who have been separated from their parents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Stories like these are everywhere. Your daughter can educate herself from the comfort of her living room sofa. If she listens and doesn’t feel even the slightest bit motivated to do whatever needs to be done to help ease these people’s pain, then she’s failing at being a good human, quite honestly. And I’m not sure that’s something that can be fixed in time for Election Day.
Still, our democracy is crumbling before our very eyes, so there has to be at least a couple of issues your daughter cares about. Find something she does have a stake in, and try appealing to her that way. For example: As a woman, her reproductive rights are definitely at risk. Does she really want a bunch of old white men deciding what she can or cannot do with her own body? I sure as hell don’t want that for my daughters.
Our votes are powerful and meaningful, even if your daughter doesn’t yet realize it. Remind her that her ancestors literally died for her to have the right to say who she does and doesn’t want in leadership positions. If she lives nearby, offer to give her a ride to her polling place on Election Day. Tell her that voting is much bigger than her and much bigger than the simple act of coloring in a circle on a ballot; it’s about the future of this country, and all of us have to make our voices heard. There’s too much at stake not to.
I love my wife, but I’ve been frustrated lately, because she keeps steering our 5-year-old daughter into stereotypically feminine activities like ballet, piano and cheerleading, “because that’s what girls do.” My kid isn’t into any of that stuff; she enjoys throwing baseballs with me in the backyard. And to make things worse, I heard my wife make some off-color comments to her mom a few weeks ago about gay and trans kids. It shocked me, and now I don’t know how to approach the situation.
― Paul in Minneapolis, Minnesota
I don’t want to disrespect your wife, Paul, but it sounds like she’s stuck in the Stone Ages. What is she afraid of, exactly? That your daughter will be less feminine if she plays baseball with you? Or that she may turn out gay or transgender if she doesn’t spend hours practicing her arabesque?
I hate to break it to her, but no amount of ballet and cheerleading practice will have any effect on your daughter’s sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s not how it works. For the life of me, I cannot wrap my head around why some people believe that makes a damn bit of difference.
But let’s pretend for a moment that your little one is gay or identified with the opposite gender. Would your wife love her child any less? If so, she has way bigger issues to worry about than which extracurricular activities your kid enjoys (and that calls for a serious conversation with your wife).
I have two daughters, and I tell them that being a girl means whatever they want it to mean. They both play basketball and can name every member of the Avengers faster than they can the Disney princesses. On the flip side, they also love wearing dresses, going out for mani-pedis and getting cute hairdos. Sure, my kids drive me nuts at times, but at least they’re happy. And that happiness comes from being authentic (and without their parents trying to shove a square peg into a round hole).
I’m sure your wife wants what’s best for your daughter, which is admirable. The problem is, she’s doing a really crappy job of going about it. If she keeps pushing your child down this path, your little one will harbor a hell of a lot of resentment toward her as she grows older, and nobody wins in that scenario.
Sit down as a family and let your daughter drive the conversation about what she wants to do. If your wife does the “yeah, but” thing, steer the discussion back to your kid. If your wife truly wants her child to be successful and happy, she needs to step back and let her be who she wants to be. And spoiler alert: Human beings always find a way back to whatever feels natural to them, one way or another.
We need to inspire our daughters, not control them. As a dude, you shouldn’t have to remind a grown-ass woman of that, but life throws us curve balls, sometimes.
Speaking of which: If you teach your little girl how to throw a good curve ball, she’ll cherish that memory for the rest of her life. Why? Because she’s doing something she loves with a person she loves. And that’s how it always should be.
Doyin is a father, husband and author dedicated to creating and celebrating a world of great fathers. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook at @daddydoinwork or ask him a question for a future column at email@example.com.