For so many of us, the election of Donald Trump presents a parenting challenge. How do we explain to our children that a man who won by mocking other candidates and who has spoken badly about others has taken the role of leader of the free world, a position that our children look at with admiration, as the ultimate power and responsibility? Many have waxed eloquent about this parenting challenge, with even a Facebook group started that addresses this very question.
But rather than viewing this as a challenge, I see it instead as an opportunity to take this situation and teach my children (and myself) some very important take-home lessons.
1. People are not absolutes, neither good nor bad. We have been trained by Disney movies to think that good characters are beautiful and when they appear on screen, life is blue skies filled with a bright sun. Evil characters, on the other hand, have sallow complexions and hooked noses and appear with thunder and rain. But as we know, life is a little more complicated than that.
All people are made of both good and bad qualities. I found President Obama’s positions on Israel to be hurtful and was counting the days until he was out of office. But Barack Obama is a wonderful father and husband. He acted like a mensch with the transition of power. In many ways, he showed character that I hope my children will emulate. As much as I may have disliked his policies, for me to say he is all “bad” just isn’t fair or true.
And the same is true for Donald Trump: Trump’s words have often reflected bad character and I would never let my kids watch the debates on TV because the way he speaks to others is not something I want my children to see and learn from. And yet, he has treated Israel as a friend. How could I not be appreciative of that? I like how he found something genuinely positive to admire about Hillary Clinton, when asked during a debate. As much as he has been painted as a misogynist because of his abhorrent comments about women, Ivanka Trump is gracious and an accomplished professional and mother and her father clearly respects her. Just because someone has negative qualities or policies, does not mean they are all bad; it is up to us to find and appreciate the good in each and every person.
2. Think before you speak. There is a big difference between not being PC and saying (or tweeting) anything that’s on your mind. You should always stand up for what you believe, but not everything you think needs to be said. Think before you speak (or tweet). We can’t change what Trump says or does, but we can use this a take-home message for ourselves.
3. You don’t always get what you want. I had to accept defeat months ago when my candidate dropped out. It was an actual week of heartache when I saw who the choices were going to be and in the end, I was unable to make myself vote for either one. But we move on because that’s democracy; we need to accept the voice of the majority according to the rules, even if we don’t like the end result. Kids today are very entitled and if they don’t get what they want, all we hear about is “it’s not fair.” Here is our opportunity to teach our children what happens when we don’t get what we want. What better role model than Hillary Clinton, who has suffered public and humiliating defeats time after time again and yet, she faces her fate with equanimity and puts on a brave face. She doesn’t keep quiet about what she believes but she accepts reality in a gracious way. That is the message we want to share with our children about how to face the setbacks they will surely face in life.
4. Give people a chance. Negativity never helped anyone. It was a bitter election that led to a lot of hurt. But the fact is that Trump is the president now; let’s not focus on past statements but give him a chance to do well, which is in everyone’s best interests. And if he says or does something that is clearly crossing a line, let’s raise our voices loudly enough to make him realize he is accountable for his words and actions. But give the guy a chance.
5. Choose your battles. It’s important to distinguish between policies we don’t agree with (which is part of your candidate losing) and actions and statements we find abhorrent. In other words, choose your battles. If you make a stink about every little word or nuance, you lose your power.
6. Hate goes both ways. Lastly, remember that your approach is not the only valid one and that comments can be hurtful and disrespectful both ways. My daughter’s friend repeated her parent’s statement that Trump is a monster. Another girl, whose parent voted for Trump, was very hurt. In essence, this child was saying her friend’s parents had voted for a monster. Keep in mind that half the country voted for him and had their reasons to do so (and I imagine most did not support him because they thought he was a bigot).
If you don’t like that Trump is speaking out against other people, be careful how you yourself speak. Hate goes both ways. We’ve seen hate lead to a person yelling at Donald Trump’s daughter on a plane in front of her young children. As justified as we sometimes find our feelings to be, are our words and even actions what we truly want our children to see? Are we truly spreading love and not hate?
Every challenge has an opportunity to be a moment of growth for ourselves, and our children. This situation is no different.