Like many American families, we watched the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump last week. And like many Americans, we watched the Women’s March the day after.
The two events showcased the best of our democracy — our ability to chose our leaders and watch the transparency with which power and control changes hands in this country along with our right to freely speak our minds, demonstrate and protest against decisions or agendas that we disagree with.
Yet even though we are able to enjoy such freedoms, it can still be a confusing time for many as we continually hear and see about how divided we are as a nation.
While it’s confusing for many adults, for a child, it can be completely overwhelming. Take my 6-year-old for instance.
After ingesting the scenes on television those 2 days, he calmly looked at my wife and I and asked, “Is the President a bad man?” That’s a completely understandable question and one that required a thoughtfully worded answer.
Wherever you fall on the political spectrum — and my intent is not to impose my views or beliefs — I think we can all agree that it’s in the best interest of all Americans if we have a successful, respected, credible leader in the White House. We all want our children to have opportunities to succeed. We all want to be free to pursue our interests and desires. We all want to be safe. We cannot be ignorant and believe that a president controls all of those things or has the power and influence to make everyone’s dreams come true. That’s a fallacy. But a president does set the tone for the nation and creates and defends policies that he believes will help foster success and good relations for as many Americans as possible.
That’s why we told our son that we need to support the president, no matter who holds that lofty office. Don’t be fooled — this country has been deeply divided before and will be deeply divided again. Any reading of American history will bring that revelation to the fore. Whether it was Alexander Hamilton’s philosophical differences with Thomas Jefferson, the warring sides during the Civil War sparring off over slavery and state’s rights or the paralysis in the 1950’s & 1960’s over civil rights, Vietnam, etc, our country has weathered storms. Fierce, unforgiving, deadly storms.
We also explained to our son that while many people voted for Mr. Trump to be president and lead our nation there are many others who did not want him in charge and disagreed with his comments and actions regarding women, the disabled and immigrants. We further explained, in terms that our child could grasp, that words and actions have consequences. He’s smart enough to understand that when you say something that hurts someone else, you get in trouble. This provided a perfect teaching moment.
Our other big lesson to our son was that in this country you possess the right to stand up for what you believe in. That’s what we hope politicians do and that’s what we, as citizens, are expected to do. Our son understands that when he sees someone being mistreated, he has the right to stand up for them. We wanted him to know that his voice is important and he should feel free to speak his mind and allow his voice to be heard.
When a child asks a question that pierces straight through the BS and arrives at the very essence of an issue, it can shake your foundation. How do we answer? Do we evade and dance around the topic? Are they old enough to grasp the concepts and nuance of a situation? My wife and I believe in being as honest as possible and the show that our democracy put on over the past week has given us ample opportunity to give our curious eldest a window into our country, human nature and his future.