“My kid went to bed believing in the best of America,” wrote one of my friends. “I can't bear to wake him up.”
That could be said of many disbelieving supporters of Hillary Clinton. America has elected Donald Trump as its next president. And the question that has surfaced across social media among so many who voted for Clinton – besides “How did this happen?” – is what to tell our children.
Parents always want to be able to say to their children, “You are safe.” But at this moment, there are millions of Americans who cannot say that convincingly, even to themselves.
Throughout the campaign, the veneer of civility was ripped away, revealing a coarseness, misogyny, xenophobia and racial hatred that had apparently percolated below the surface in so many corners undetected.
Parents struggled to contextualize for their children that a candidate for the highest office in the country displayed the very vulgarity and bullying behavior many families and schools worked so hard to combat.
In my own social feed, some have said they’ll tell their kids that “in real life the bad guy wins way more often than the good guy.” Many said they cried with their kids, who had stayed up to watch the returns.
"Your mom and your grandparents are immigrants,” one friend said he would tell his kids, flipping the immigrant story as encouragement to consider leaving the country. “Sometimes you have to leave your home for a better life."
And others have shifted the focus from the election to kindness and how people treat one another.
In my own home, my husband and I are on opposite sides of the aisle politically. So the most important thing to convey is not our own partisan fervor, but respect for our system, messy as it may be. So we will tell our preschooler and kindergartner five things:
- We are Americans. And what that means is we believe in democracy. And sometimes, democracy is difficult. That leads to the next point.
- Everyone gets a voice, but that doesn’t mean our vote will always prevail. Even if our pick for president didn’t win, we honor the results of the election. Because that is how we transfer power – peacefully. No matter who is sitting in the Oval Office, we must respect the office of the presidency.
- Speak up. We speak truth to power and fight for those who need our support.
- We respect one another. We may come from different places, believe different things – maybe even passionately – but we treat one another with the same respect we expect to be treated with. Even when most of the people we know say one thing, we should remember that half of the country feels the other way. And we must respect our fellow Americans.
- We don’t walk away. Politicians concede races. But as citizens, we do not concede our legal rights and sacred responsibility to remain engaged in who governs and how they govern our country. Sure, people have talked about moving to Canada and New Zealand. But we don’t flee when it gets hard. We steady ourselves, stand together and work to make things better for all of us.
That is what America is – constantly in the process of becoming a more perfect union, even through its challenges and imperfections.
As President Obama said, the sun will rise. And now, it’s morning in America.
What are you telling your children about what’s next for America, whomever you voted for on Tuesday? Share your feelings in the form below or in the comments section.
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