The morning after the election, I vowed not to go on Facebook . . . and then promptly logged on. As I predicted, my feed was filled with emotional posts from my liberal friends, who were somewhere along the five stages of grief. I saw denial (Vermont hasn’t reported yet! There’s still a chance!), anger (I’ve never been so ashamed of my country!), bargaining (God, if you give this to Hillary, I’ll never . . .), depression (I need medication, now!) and acceptance (The sun will rise, folks! Let’s move on!).
This reminded me of posts I saw after the 2012 election, when Obama won his second term. My conservative friends were in a frenzy; taking to Facebook to post some overly-emotional opinions on the election. I recall seeing a range of questions, from the reasonable “How did this happen?” to the more agitated “Great! Four more years of destroying the country!” and, of course, the many posts critical of Obama voters who just wanted a handout—free food, free education, free this and that.
I understood then, and I understand today that people simply need to vent and find solidarity with others feeling similarly confused or outraged. That’s entirely appropriate.
What isn’t appropriate is the many posts I saw from parents both then and today that were so unhinged and distraught that they were unable to conceal their stress and grief from their kids. In fact, many parents invited their kids to share in a family freak out.
For instance, on my own Facebook feed, one mom admitted she “wept” in her daughter’s arms, leading her elementary-aged daughter to reassured her, not the other way around. Another mom admitted it was hard to break the “distressing news” to her children, adding that her children burst into tears when she explained Trump had won (one can only imagine how she broke the news). Another friend said her child was scared of what Trump might do to her and her family—as if he’s watching them. One more explained that her child worried about her brown skin, only to have that fear confirmed by her mother. Many posted a Huffington Post article ,“What Do We Tell The Children,” as if they were preparing to tell their kids “daddy has cancer” or “mommy and daddy weren’t going to live together anymore.”
Of course, there were more thoughtful posts. One mom explained to her daughter that while their family is fortunate to have a nice home and a mommy and daddy with good jobs, not all families enjoy such security and comfort. She went on to gently explain to her daughter that these people are “hurting and they voted for change and for the hope that a new president will make things better for them.” Sadly, this wasn’t the norm. Most people posted overwrought statements filled with the type of hysteria usually reserved for actual tragedy—like sudden death or job loss.
It was clear to me that many parents were forgetting they were parents first, partisans second.
Along with the other parenting basics—providing a stable environment, keeping kids fed, clothed, sheltered—parents need to keep and make their children feel safe. Safety means more than just locking the doors at night and making sure they don’t run into the street. Safety means not freaking them out the day after an election by sobbing in their arms and making statements like, “Your future is doomed” (yes, that was on my feed too).
In addition to talking calmly to your children about the election, parents can also use it as an opportunity to teach kids a little about American history. First, try putting Trump’s victory (or if Hillary had won, Hillary’s victory) into perspective by telling them the many challenges the American people have faced and survived. Here are just a few good examples: Our fight for independence from a powerful adversary, the Civil War, slavery, institutional racism, denying women and blacks the right to vote, the Great Depression, Woodrow Wilson, two world wars, Japanese internment camps or American Indian reservations, Vietnam, market crashes, terrorism . . . When one considers these tragedies, it makes sobbing about Trump seem a bit of an overreaction, no?
Second, Presidential elections are always a good time to explain the phrase “loyal opposition.” According to Wikipedia, the phrase originated in 1826 from a British politician named John Hobhouse during a fight in the British Parliament. Today, the phrase indicates that the political party out of political power (today, that’s the Democrats, who also failed to win control of the House and Senate) can oppose the actions of the sitting President and his cabinet while remaining loyal to the source of the government’s power—the constitution. It also ensures that those who are critical of the President or political party leaders aren’t accused of treason.
As Michael Ignatieff, a member of Canada’s House of Commons, said in a 2012 speech at Stanford University:
“The opposition performs an adversarial function critical to democracy itself . . . Governments have no right to question the loyalty of those who oppose them. Adversaries remain citizens of the same state, common subjects of the same sovereign, servants of the same law.”
This is a concept naturally fit for kids. Kids live in authoritarian regimes run by their parents. They have very little control over their own lives and they aren’t allowed to oppose their overlords (or they’ll get sent to their rooms). Telling a child that in our form of government, people are allowed to argue and disagree without fear of reprisal or punishment is a great way to explain how our democracy works and why the election of a president doesn’t spell doom and gloom for those who oppose the winning candidate.
Do your kids a favor now that Election Day is over: Be a parent and choose history over hysterics.