Well, it’s almost over. The election that modeled the exact opposite of the values we hope to instill in our children. Lying, name calling, misogyny, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism and hatred. This will take a lot of time to make sense of as parents, let alone explain to our children. Yet, parents we are; our children just hours away from waking up full of questions.
The truth is, even as a parent educator, I don’t have all the answers. The good news is we don’t have to. We can still be present and hear their feelings about the results. And just like so many learning opportunities that came with this election, we have a responsibility as parents to take this one. Matter of fact, I think it’s our best hope for changing a clearly very angry, mistrusting society.
What I can share is the messages I hope to convey to my own daughters tomorrow morning, and in the days to come.
Message #1: Your feelings are okay
How our children react and how long it takes them to sort through their feelings may vary greatly. We might be sure our four year old will be over it by morning snack, only to hear them sad about it days later. We may expect weeks of tears and fears from a twelve year old only to seem totally over it by the end of the school day.
Our children will have their own emotions and the very best thing we can do is normalize them. We can do that by listening and letting them know that many others are struggling to make sense of the election and its outcome. Share how you are feeling as well, and what you are doing to take care of yourself.
Message #2: The world is NOT coming to an end.
While many of us may feel that way, the truth is, winner or loser, all of us will be getting up tomorrow morning and getting kids off to school, going to work, grocery shopping and doing all the things we do to keep our families going. No, it might not be our most productive few days, but that’s what we do. So you can reassure your kids that life will go on.
I feel pretty strongly we need to make sure this message gets in. With all the fear and anxiety running wild the last few months, we need to proactively reassure them that they are safe and they are loved.
Message #3: Human beings are incredibly resilient.
We may feel ill prepared to face the feared changes ahead, yet each of us can look back at our own lives and see countless times that something felt scary, hard and impossible. We were sure we wouldn’t make it, and then we did. This is resilience - the willingness to persist, to learn from the experience, and to try again.
This country has been through horrible times. It’s made some huge mistakes that have cost our society for generations. We have fought wars, survived the great depression and natural disasters. We’ve even faced seemingly hopeless political turmoil. Yet somehow we get up, dust ourselves off, and recommit to try again.
We, as a family, as a community, and hopefully as a country will continue to work for the rights of all people to be treated with dignity and respect. We will acknowledge our privilege and stand up for those who have been marginalized. We will make sure our children and all children are valued and respected for all that makes them unique.
Message #4: We have a lot of listening to do.
If one thing is clear from this election, at any given moment half of the people in the country feel like they don’t belong and are not represented by the laws and values of their country. Continuing to shout louder over the other side will work about as well as it does among fighting siblings.
We have got to slow down and listen.
When people feel heard, they are so much more likely to come to the table and work towards a cooperative solution. We need to shift our focus from judging others to trying to understand. We still may not agree, but we can come closer by listening, by realizing that they too feel scared and that they don’t belong. Isn’t this what we tell our kids when they struggle to navigate disagreements with peers and siblings?
Share with your kids how you plan to do more listening and ask what ideas they have for doing the same.
As I process my own emotions this evening, I write this as much for myself as I am for you. When I wake up tomorrow, I have two daughters to grieve with. And when we have shed our tears, we will find our hope, our strength and start listening.