This parent’s election day lessons

I’ve always been interested in politics.

I was heavily involved with the political organization at my high school, and I chanted from the rooftops for my fellow young adults to “rock the vote” years ago.

And when I think about it, my political history goes back even further than that. I can distinctly remember “voting” in my first presidential election when I was only 7 years old.

After going through the lunch line, we were asked to place a vote for the next president. It was 1996, and the ballot consisted of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. I remember picking up a piece of paper and dropping it in the Dole box, but I had no idea what it meant.

Now, exactly 20 years later, not much has changed. There’s still a Clinton on the ballot, and I still don’t feel a true sense of confidence in my vote.

Except, back then, none of my friends cared about my vote. And I didn’t feel as though I needed to keep quiet about it. I voted for Dole because I liked his name, I told my friends. And they either agreed or disagreed. It didn’t matter. We still sat together and ate our applesauce.

Now, I’m no longer interested in politics. I hardly read the political news. I don’t write rants about the biased media anymore. I don’t even talk about my stance on hot issues…

…because I’m afraid.

While introducing children to the way our government works is a good idea—and, perhaps, it’s why I did become so interested in politics back then—there are a few lessons beyond filling in a circle on a piece of paper that I’d like my own son to understand when it comes to picking the president.

You’re worth more than your opinion.
This election year has been an ugly one. I’ve seen families divided, and I’ve personally witnessed friendships torn apart. I want my son to understand that people are not separated by their beliefs. I’m friends with people from all walks of life. I can’t count on one hand the amount of different religions in my friend group. I’m friends with hunters, and gun control advocates; anti-vaxxers, and doctors; pro-lifers and pro-choice proponents. Because even though I don’t agree with every one of them, who they are as a person is not defined by their stance on an issue. And I want my son to understand that he’s worth more than how he feels about taxes and minimum wage.

Don’t be afraid to speak up.
I’m guilty, as I admitted, of becoming silent in the face of this year’s election. I am surrounded by many opinionated (read: loud) Americans, many of whom aren’t interested in light-hearted debate. And honestly, I’m afraid of them. I’m afraid of having my personal beliefs—the very foundation of my being, at times—mocked or destroyed. I’m afraid of public humiliation. I don’t know how I suddenly lost the confidence to speak up, but I did. And I don’t want my son to find himself in the same position.

Respect your opposition.
At the same time that it’s important to speak up, I want to ensure I’m raising my family to respect others. I want my son to stand up for himself, but I don’t want him to attack the beliefs of others in order to make his point. The very reason I’ve strayed from politics is because I can no longer bear the pure hatred I’ve been shown. That needs to stop. Likewise, I want my son to know that if the person he voted for doesn’t get elected, he still needs to respect the position. You may not like every president. But, you do respect them.

Be a leader.
Most importantly, I want my son to understand that the president isn’t the only person who can make a difference. Yes, the person we elect can and will shape futures. But, if there’s something we as citizens are passionate about, we can be the president of that passion. If my son wants to reform the educational system, for example, he can take the first step. If he wants to build playgrounds for children, he can. The leader of our nation doesn’t make all of our decisions, even if it feels like it. Some of those are up to us, and we are all leaders.

History will be made tonight. Our first female president, our first television star president… either way, it’s an election that won’t soon be forgotten.

But here’s the thing—the sun will set on this day, too, and the world will continue to turn.

I’m thankful we live in a country where our voices can be heard, but I fear we may end up with a new president and few friends if we don’t remember these lessons.

I went from a very outspoken woman who dreamed of becoming a lawyer or governor, to a quiet voter afraid of being attacked. It’s my hope that my child, and any future children, won’t end up there too.

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