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Moms Talk: The Politics of Parenting

How much do your kids need to know about your political views?

My daughter just LOVES President Obama.

This is based on next to nothing. He is “her” president, in that he’s been president since she learned what that was in kindergarten. About the only two things that she knows about him is that he’s multiracial like her (the same reason she roots for Apollo Ohno on Dancing With The Stars) and that one of his daughters has the same name as her mom.

Oh, and that one of her grandpas doesn’t like him very much.

When she goes on about her love for him, one of her parents smiles fondly, mentally egging her on. The smile of the other is more strained, as that parent is internally comparing her naivety to that of the electorate. 

My daughter knows that her father and I disagree about the president. But she does not know which smile is which. And I don’t think that she needs to.

How exposed is your child to politics? Tell us in the comments section.

I’m not saying that we keep our child ignorant of politics. She knows that there is an election coming up, and some of what that means. She’s marinated in the things her parents agree on: with many openly gay family members and friends in her life there is no question of our stance on Referendum 74, for example.  And she has learned about some of the issues in school, and others by exposure to that one grandpa’s love of Fox News.

But since we don’t watch the news in front of her, she hasn’t yet been steeped in the roiling boil of hatred that is modern politics. She’s seen only a very clean and sanitized version.

I personally think that’s a good thing. She’s eight. She doesn’t need the sex and violence of politics. (My heart goes out to all of those who raised pre-teens and teens during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.)

As parents, my husband and I are dedicated to teaching our daughter how to think, rather than what to think. Because of this, I enjoy her being exposed to beliefs of all different flavors, be that political, religious, philosophical, or otherwise. And learning to agree to disagree is also important to me. 

So I would never try to keep from her that many people disagree with her beloved president about many things. But does she need to know that some people think he wasn’t born in Hawai’i or that they compare him to Hitler? She doesn’t even know who Hitler is yet.

When she’s older, she will be more involved. Next election cycle she will be 10, and 12 for the next presidential. She’ll care more, and have her own opinions. Will I then more want to let her know where I stand? I don’t know yet, but I think so.

I look forward to hearing about the age that you readers think is the right one for full frontal political exposure. But right now I see young kids on both sides with signs supporting arguments they couldn’t possibly understand, and I just cringe.

For us, for now, it’s the process that is important. My girl watches her parents vote at home, with voter information pamphlets in hand and web browsers open. She knows that we sometimes argue and sometimes vote for different people. And she goes with us to drive to drop off the ballots in the drop box at City Hall and cheer at doing our civic duty.

But which boxes got checked by which parent? It’s just none of her business yet.

Of course, if you think I’m wrong, we can agree to disagree about that.  

Edward A. October 14, 2012 at 04:52 PM
While I agree with your practice of not indoctrinating your kids, but your reasons for not indoctrinating your child seem to have more to do with the fact that you and your husband disagree, based on this statement: "She’s marinated in the things her parents agree on.." The true test of whether a parent allows their kids to make up their own minds is religious indoctrination. We are fond of telling ourselves our religion is freely chosen, but it isn't a coincidence that the vast majority of people follow the same religion as their parents. When I see a facebook status from one of my friends bragging how religious their grade-schooler is, I just cringe. We find it tasteless to see kids being indoctrinated in politics, but think nothing of turning our kids into little religious automatons.
Malia Kawaguchi October 14, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Edward - that's a good point. I think we still try philosophically to not indoctrinate her even when we agree, but it's harder to keep her from knowing our stand on the things we agree on, since they infuse our lives in so many ways. I think we would not want to explicitly tell her what to think, but it's true that I'm far more likely to say something along the lines of "But I just don't understand the other side on this one!" than in other discussions. Still, yup. Laurel, I'm interested to know how you decide what the right level is. I think that I try to expose her to the rough outline of the ideas that are being argued about, but keep her from knowing my beliefs (in the same way I try not to tell her what foods I don't like so that she can decide not to like radishes on her own) as well as how hateful the debates can get.
Thomas Liberty October 16, 2012 at 04:47 PM
I'm curious as to how the author would respond should her daughter suddenly become persuaded by her grandpa and father (since i assume that her fondness of Obama was taught in school, and/or encouraged by her mother), to show an affinity for the Tea Party.
Thomas Liberty October 16, 2012 at 05:07 PM
With all due respect - how does one inform a young child that they have something so benign, in common with the president? And why would you, anyway? Does it start something like this, "You know child, that Obama is very much like you - he is multi-racial - and mommy loves you *wink*wink*;0 " Now, if the father was looking to bring the daughter over to the right side, he might persuade with this - "You know dear, that Romney's favorite color is purple *wink*wink*. oh, btw - just because grandpa is against prop 74, doesn't mean he dislikes homosexuals, or wants to prevent them from marrying. As a matter of fact, gay people can get married right now - it's just not sanctioned under state law as civil unions are. etc." The author speaks about being open in terms of politics, but has she allowed her daughter to hear a thoughtful, and respectful argument against prop 74, that doesn't result in claims of bigotry or prejudice against its opponents? Is the author willing to talk about the history of marriage as it relates to society, politics, economics and philosophy? Or does she just explain it like many, in terms "right" or "wrong"?
Caitlin Moran October 16, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Hi Thomas, I'll let Malia respond, if she so chooses, to your questions about her parenting approach and your comparison of being bi-racial to having a favorite color, but I was struck by your statement that "gay people can get married right now." Yes, there are civil unions, but those are not called "marriage." From what I understand, preserving the "sanctity of marriage" (i.e., not allowing the term to be used for same-sex couples) is one of the main arguments of the anti-prop 74 side. Am I missing something here?

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