Parenting

Talking politics with kids

Tracy realizes that the most exciting part of the U.S. presidential election was the chance to talk politics with her six-year-old.

Why are American politics so much sexier than ours? My husband is a stats geek, so he loves election night no matter what, but the conversation about the race for the Oval Office, especially the debates and platforms of the candidates, seemed to dominate the water cooler crowd much more than Canadian politics ever do.
 
Facebook and Twitter were alive with nail-biting excitement as the polls started to close across the United States. And so was my six-year-old daughter — like father, like daughter, it seems. As Sean settled into the couch with his snacks and laptop to watch the voting results, Anna settled in beside him. I think he was thrilled to be able to discuss how it all works with her. I put Avery to bed (“But I want to watch the Alexia with Daddy too!” she whined) and let Anna stay up a little later. She’s been getting up at about 5:12 a.m. since the clocks fell back, so I hoped keeping her up late might help us the next morning.
 
“Daddy and I will be Team Blue,” she informed me. “You and Avery can be Team Red.”
 
“No!” I yelped. “No, we can’t. We’re all Team Blue.”
 
“How come?” Anna asked with a frown. I was disrupting her sense of order for the brewing competition. But this was no backyard soccer game.
 
“People vote for the leader who they think is going to treat them fairly and do things that they think are the right things for the country,” I said, trying to sum it up in terms that would sink in for her. I don’t claim to be an expert on either leader’s platforms, I just know how I feel, particularly when it comes to politicians trying to reach into my womb (and I know it’s not even my womb, but it very well could be if that thinking takes control in the United States). I am acutely aware that I’m raising two women, especially at times like this.
 
I tried to find the words to explain it to Anna — obviously without getting into abortion and contraception. “The guy leading Team Red is not someone who I think treats women fairly. His team thinks they should be able to make decisions for women that are none of their business.”
 
“And men too?” she asked.
 
I smiled sadly. Aye, isn’t that the rub? “No, in some cases, just women.”
 
“Like a parent makes rules for their kids, but just for the girl kids?” Is my daughter awesome, or what?
 
“Yes, sort of like that. Except these are grown-up women, who can make their own decisions and it’s not up to Team Red to make those decisions for them. So that’s a big reason why I don’t want to be on Team Red and don’t want them to win tonight.”
 
“Does the blue guy think women can make their own decisions?” (That question hit me hard: Is it 1942 or something? Are we truly talking in these terms? But we were and I was worried that I’d just put an idea into Anna’s head that I never dreamed would ever be there: That women and men aren’t equal.)
 
“I think so. I think the blue guy has a lot more respect for women. He has two daughters, just like us, and seems to realize that all people are the same — which is obvious, right?” (She nods.) “Every person should have the same rights.”
 
“What are rights?” she asks.
 
“They’re the things people are allowed to do. The law shouldn’t say that some people can’t do things that everyone else can do.” (Then this slipped out — somebody stop me!) “Anna, did you also know that in some jobs, men get paid more than women to do the exact same job?”
 
“For real?” she said, confused. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. It doesn’t even make any sense!”
 
“I know!” I said. “So when we vote for people to lead our neighbourhoods and our provinces and our countries, we have to think about what they believe in and how that will impact us and our neighbours. When you’re 18, you’ll have to do a lot of thinking before you vote. And maybe someday you’ll be one of those leaders trying to do great things for Canadian people.”
 
“I don’t want to do that!” she squealed. “I don’t like standing up in front of people.”
 
I smiled and hugged her, and realized that this was the most exciting part of the election for me. I love that Anna’s come to the age where we can have these conversations, even if I’m not the most astute follower of politics. I love that she has such a thirst for knowledge, such thoughtful insights, and the ability to ask such probing questions about the world around her in general.
 
We have a new chalkboard in our kitchen, which has turned into one of Anna’s favourite ways to communicate with us. We write notes to each other, and now she counts on us to leave her a question on the board before we go to bed, and she answers it when she gets up. On election night, she wrote out “Team Blue” and “Team Red” with checkboxes beside them, so we could let her know who won.
 
Sometimes, I get a tingle in my chest when I listen to her talk, amazed by what she thinks — and eager to see where those thoughts will someday take her.

Have you discussed the recent election, or politics in general, with your kids?