The morning after Donald Trump became the president-elect of the United States, my Facebook feed exploded with overwrought parents of young children unsure what to do next.
“What do I tell my kids?” was the question on everyone’s minds, followed by the sentiments, “They’re terrified of Trump,” or “They worshiped Hillary!” Many posted a Huffington Post Parents article in which consultant and PhD Ali Michael urged parents: “Tell them, first, that we will protect them.” Pardon my French, but what the hell?
It’s not that I’m pleased with the outcome of the election. But there’s no way I’m dragging my six- and seven-year-old into the emotional bacchanal that is the current state of American politics. Ask me again when they’re teens or even tweens, but for now I’m not going to discuss hypothetical fallout with people who wear Ninja Turtle PJs to bed.
As much as parents think their children get it, they really, really, really don’t. On the eve of the election, my seven-year-old son asked me if Hillary Clinton wanted to kill newborns, something a friend had told him on the playground. I told him no. At least, not at the inaugural ball.
Before someone wants to debate the finer points of late-term or partial-birth abortions — which is, of course, what this statement was about — let me repeat that my son is SEVEN. I’m waiting to discuss the intricacies of pregnancy termination until he is old enough to say the word “penis” without giggling. We may never get there.
Let Me Introduce You to Age-Appropriate Politics
It’s not that we don’t discuss politics in this house. But we tend to focus on procedure and precedent, not complex policy decisions or the cult of personality surrounding any particular politician. For this election we discussed how people vote and who gets that privilege. I did a rough sketch of the three branches of government. My children were tickled when they heard about the people of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire voting at midnight, all seven of them.
But the majority of the concepts being discussed in these elections — abortion, immigration, terrorism — are so complex, so tinged by human emotion, that trying to explain them to my children would be an exercise in futility. My daughter still doesn’t understand why she can’t use a urinal like her brother, so I’m guessing the finer points of nuclear disarmament might be lost on her. If I can’t expect them to understand these issues, why would I expect them to form opinions on them?
It’s unrealistic to think parents won’t pass along their values to their children. But when my son urged me not to vote with my vagina, I had to ask myself if the world has gone completely mad. As far as I know, it’s physically impossible to vote with your genitals (and I’ve been to Amsterdam).
It’s Not Cute or Persuasive
Part of my disgust has to do with a general disregard for politicians. My philosophy on elected leaders has always been — again, pardon my French — same s**t, different a**hole. While I know this isn’t strictly true, as different leaders will pursue different policies, I think the policies themselves are what’s worth getting passionate about. The policy makers are just intricately coiffed vessels who like to hear the sound of their own voices.
Even if I didn’t have a healthy disregard for the infallibility of people running for office, I would like to think I wouldn’t foist my hero worship, and consequent demonization of the opposition, onto my children.
When my son told me he liked Donald Trump because — surprise! — his BFF liked Donald Trump, I refrained from saying, “Son, I’ve met meatball subs who are better qualified for office.” Instead I asked him why. After listing all the things he didn’t like about Trump — “He’s mean, he doesn’t like girls, he wants to kick out people who aren’t American” — he shrugged his shoulders and said, “But, you know, he’s cool.” It’s about what I would expect from someone who routinely gets small objects stuck in his nostrils.
When proud parents shared posts on social media of their toddlers cheering on Hillary Clinton, I didn’t say to myself, “Wow! Braylyn has really taken stock of the issues and figured out her own mind. How astute.” I figure the little tyke was simply parroting her parents.
Conversely, when the children of Trump supporters claimed he could stop speeding trains or fart thunderbolts or whatever it is he’s supposed to be capable of, I didn’t think they were on to something. In parenting, more is caught than taught, and there was enough crap being flung around during this election for even the most uncoordinated child to catch it on the fly.
It’s possible I’m wrong about this. Perhaps there are three-year-olds who assessed the candidates’ records, sized them up against their own personal opinions, and independently declared one “amaze balls.” I doubt it. My children aren’t idiots, but at that age they still blew their noses on the curtains.
Have You Ever Met a Real Child?
Was I shocked and hugely disappointed the morning after the election? Yup. But I calmly told my son Trump had won and warned him to be kind to the children who had been rooting for Hillary. From what he understands, this is like a Little League game. In my opinion, that should be the sum of it. This is a child who is too scared to go to the bathroom alone at night. He needs to know that a lunatic now has access to nuclear launch codes? Puh-lease.
For me there was no greater indication that my children are unfit to take on the intricacies of politics than the debate my son had with himself over breakfast the morning of the election.
“Mom, is Florida part of America?” he asked.
“Oh cool,” he smiled. “That means when Donald Trump builds a wall around the country, we get to keep Disney World.”
He thoughtfully munched on his cereal before adding: “But if he’s president, dad will have to leave the country, which isn’t good.” (Dad is a British citizen.) “But Disney World is awesome, so yeah, I hope he’s president.”
As long as he has his priorities straight.