Yesterday I was watching Rachel Maddow with Sally. Rachel had Elizabeth Warren on, and I turned to Sally and said “That’s Elizabeth Warren. We like her.” And then I froze. I know that I like Elizabeth Warren, but that doesn’t mean that Sally does or has to. What was I saying?
When I was a kid, my parents always said it like that. It was never about “this is the candidate mommy and daddy support”; instead it was always “this is the candidate we support.” As in, the whole family. In fact, the idea that family members might disagree on who to support was completely foreign. Campaign events were the same – we went out as a family, whether we liked it or not. We held signs for the candidates our family supported. We went door to door. We addressed mailings. Our participation and assent was assumed.
During the 2008 election cycle I visited the home of a good college friend of mine. His little sister was eight, and she asked me immediately who I supported, and then informed me – this was primary season – that she supported Hillary. Vocally. Adamantly. That little girl let everyone around her know that she supported Hillary because it was about time we had a woman president. I was completely shocked by this because – and this is the important part – my friend’s parents were both politically conservative. And yet, they let his little sister go around supporting Hillary with nary a word of reprimand. They didn’t take her aside and set her straight, telling her that no, in this home they supported McCain. And I couldn’t understand that.
I tried to imagine what it might have been like had I challenged my parents’ political views as a child, or supported a different candidate. I couldn’t. The closest any of us ever got to that was the few siblings who resented all the campaigning and became essentially apathetic. That didn’t generally go well. Participation was mandatory, and saying anything about campaign events being “boring” or wanting to get out of them was…frowned upon, to say the least. Dissent was not allowed.
I think part of the reason for this is that my parents were 100% sure that their political positions were correct – and not just correct, but God ordained. With this sense of infallibility, having their children share their political beliefs, like their religious beliefs, was of utmost importance.
Now fast forward to today. I am very passionate about my political views, but I’m not 100% sure they’re all “right.” And speaking of “right,” I’m no longer completely sure what that means. My political views flow from my understanding of the world and from my values. Someone else who views the world differently or holds different values would legitimately come to different political positions. I might disagree with those positions, but that doesn’t mean that that person holding them is somehow illegitimate. We’re all different, we all have different viewpoints, and we all have different values. And while I might try to convince someone else to share my specific values, on some level it’s okay that we, as human beings and as citizens, disagree.
As a parent, my goal is not to raise children who share my exact political beliefs. My goal, rather, is to raise children who are critical thinkers and compassionate human beings – and who are able to make their own decisions and form their own beliefs. In fact, I would rather have Sally grow up to disagree with my politics after thinking things through and choosing for herself than have Sally share my exact beliefs not because she thought them through but simply because they’re what I believe. And the same for Bobby, of course.
So while I will definitely invite Sally and Bobby to tag along and participate in political events, I won’t dictate their politics to them or tell them what they have to believe. Instead, I will answer questions about what I believe and why and let them make their own choices. More than that, letting Sally and Bobby know that Sean and I don’t always agree on every political issue will be healthy for them, teaching them that it’s okay to disagree (I never saw my parents disagree on politics, ever). I don’t want to raise carbon copies of myself. I want to raise individuals with their own minds, thoughts, and dreams.
Next time Rachel Maddow hosts Elizabeth Warren, I’ll tell Sally “That’s Elizabeth Warren, and I like her a lot.”