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Parental Indiscretion: Politics of Parenting


Illustration by Kristina Micotti

Rachel Laing​

Owing to the intense interest of our extended families, Ben and Georgia have been steeped in politics their entire lives. Beyond talk of politics at dinner, we watch candidate debates and the Sunday-morning talk shows, hold neighborhood coffees and fundraisers for candidates at our home, and have drafted our kids to do precinct walks, wave campaign signs on election day, and serve as extras in campaign ads.

I always thought it was a good thing to expose them to the machinery behind the democratic process and impress upon them the importance of being active citizens and voters. I was especially excited about the 2016 presidential campaign season, since it started with a woman as the clear frontrunner. (It was a punch to the gut when Georgia was studying American presidents in the second grade, and told me she wouldn’t want to be president because “Girls can’t be president.” I asked her where she got that idea, and she told me, “Well, HAS a girl ever been president?”)

The kids are paying close attention to this election, just as I’d hoped they would. But what they’re seeing play out is counter to everything they’re being taught both at school and at home about what makes America great: our diversity, our respect for all religions, our willingness to aid people across the world who are being brutalized by their own leaders—our very decency.

Trump’s rocket-ship candidacy led to opportunities to talk about fairness, beliefs that differ from our own, and how to judge a person’s character and integrity. It became a chance to reinforce our own values on racial equality, immigration, and compassion for the destitute.

They’re seeing candidates gain an advantage by espousing hateful attitudes toward Mexican immigrants, Muslims, and African Americans who question institutional racism. They’re seeing one candidate in particular lie repeatedly and with relative impunity about incidents that never occurred, who resorts to bullying and personal insults when challenged, who brags prodigiously, and glibly advocates a repeat of some of the most shameful moments in our nation’s history.

They’re not seeing Donald Trump’s poor behavior bring the deserved opprobrium our culture has taught them to expect. (He wouldn’t have survived a tour of Willy Wonka’s factory, that’s for sure.) And as he continued to lead from the gutter, I wondered how our kids could possibly square the support he’s receiving with anything we’ve taught them about our great democracy and the ultimate wisdom of the electorate.

But my concerns about the kids’ perceptions were unfounded. Trump’s rocket-ship candidacy, it turned out, led to opportunities to talk about fairness, beliefs that differ from our own, and how to judge a person’s character and integrity. It became a chance to reinforce our own values on racial equality, immigration, and compassion for the destitute.

Now I’m just waiting and hoping for the opportunity to talk with the kids about the concept of karmic justice.

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