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How Political Is Your Parenting?

Another political season is underway, and this week we're talking about involving your kids in your politics.

How much do you involve your kids in your politics?

As a new presidential election cycle gets underway, let’s talk about how politics factors into your parenting.

In the family I grew up in, which included some who served in elected office, I couldn’t avoid becoming politically aware at a young age.

My parents involved me in their political lives actively, including me in their discussions of news and issues of the day.

My father voraciously read the newspapers, and encouraged me to do the same. The hum of political talk shows was the soundtrack of my weekend mornings.

But as passionate as my parents were about their politics, they never suggested I jump on their campaign wagons.

They were equally passionate that I learn to think for myself, become informed about the candidates and issues, develop my own views, and be able to defend them. 

I think that came back to haunt my father in my teenaged years.

Although it will probably be equally as tough for me, I am following a similar path with my own kids.

At their young ages, we simply communicate the importance, and celebrate the privilege and excitement of having the right to vote.

We take our kids with us when we visit the ballot box, where we the parents get excited about getting a sticker for a change, proudly wearing our “I Voted” stickers all day.

That level of involvement feels appropriate to us at this stage of their lives. They also hear us discuss politics, and see us reading our ballots to one another as we hash out how we want to vote on election days. 

But, that's as far as it goes for us right now.

If we choose to show up for a cause that concerns us, we choose to do so without our children in tow.

From time to time, I see parents seemingly using their kids as political props, and it doesn't sit well with me.

It actually bugs me when I see infants and toddlers wearing onesies featuring political messages; or holding protest signs supporting positions they don’t yet have the knowledge and experience to truly make a judgment about; or dressed up in gimmicky costumes that makes for cute photo-ops, often sure to lure a reporter at a demonstration.

I worry about the safety of the children included in the various “Occupy” demonstrations around the country. 

In another hotly debated recent example, a YouTube video of a young boy, confronting then Republican presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann, about her opposition to same-sex marriage went viral on the Internet.

The video showed the 8-year-old boy, Elijah, who is being raised by two women, shyly delivering his message to Bachmann, who had to lean in extra close to have him repeat it, in order to hear him. 

The issue for me wasn’t the view he expressed, but the obvious discomfort he displayed delivering it.

I don’t doubt that he probably whole-heartedly believes in what he said, but did he come up with the idea to stand in line to zing a political candidate at a book signing and broadcast it to millions?

His mother defended her decision to "let" her son confront the candidate by saying that it was his idea to deliver the message when she herself became too nervous in line to do so.

That seems suspect to me.

Either way, as a parent, I simply would not put my kids in the position to speak for my politics.

What’s your take on including kids in your political life? What do you think is appropriate? Should young kids be included in political activism?

RWCook January 06, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Yes, I agree, using kids as political props is more of a reflection on the parents than any cause they may be promoting. At home I feel compelled to offset the strong left wing bias in the schools - from the sky-is-falling environmentalism, the union and bond cheerleading, to the Howard Zinn School of Anti-American History that's taught.
X January 06, 2012 at 08:12 AM
"...by saying that it was his idea to deliver the message when she herself became too nervous in line to do so." I worry about any parent who's not brave enough to tell Ms. Bachmann that she's an idiot.
L N Beer January 06, 2012 at 02:26 PM
My wife and I, now living in Danville, were both in elected office in Colorado when our daughter was born in 2008. We have a great photo of my wife leading a legislative session with the baby around her neck in her Bjorn. My teenaged daughters both enjoyed sharing the "fun" parts of political life, like parades and big events, and they appreciated the chance to meet many of the state and national leaders they saw on TV. But we never made them do the routine work of politics like stuffing envelopes or walking door to door.
Kirsten Branch January 06, 2012 at 05:57 PM
I think that's great, L N! It's a part of your life that you shared with your kids. It also sounds like you had great boundaries about it, too. Also, I think I should clarify that I was mainly talking about younger kids. I think as kids mature and have a grasp on the situations they are exposed to, they certainly can begin to express their viewpoints, and can participate in the political process. I think young people NEED to be exposed to political life, and taught "the value of activism," as one of my Twitter followers pointed out. I just don't particularly like it when people trot out their small children to proclaim their politics....that includes candidates. I thought the Clintons always handled their daughter, Chelsea, in this regard in a classy manner. She certainly was at the photo ops, but she was largely out of it, until she was of an age that she could choose to speak up for herself. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Kirsten Branch January 06, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Thanks for weighing in! Now, I would love to hear how you have exposed your kids to politics in a healthy and educational way? Particularly, if they are, when and how did your kids become politically active?

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