I realized after the election how my husband and I failed to help our kids prepare.
This is the first year my two youngest stepchildren were able to vote in a presidential election, as Kenneth turned 18 in August and his sister turned 20 this year. Their excitement led to diligence in preparing to vote. They were determined to take action and to be informed.
They watched the three debates (and the “Saturday Night Live” versions). They read the voter guide from cover to cover, and in true millennial fashion, they sought out every bit of social media commentary they could on Clinton and Trump. Kenneth frequently spouted factoids he found on Reddit, and Shannon, who works at her university’s NPR radio station texted bits of trivia to us on a regular basis. And then they mailed their ballots in early, as that's how we vote in Washington state.
But with all of their planning and our political discussions, we failed to prepare them for how things are in the non-Washington parts of the country. They were born into this blue state, and though they have traveled – albeit infrequently – like many kids, they assume most people their age think like they do. Many of their face-to-face and online friends lean libertarian or democratic, except for the few gun enthusiasts who frequent the range near our house, and Millennials have generally rejected the GOP.
The early morning news of Trump’s win made my kids angry. After all of the hate rhetoric and sexual assault accusations against our president-elect, my daughter is now questioning her future as a young woman and as a young woman who wants to go into journalism. The fact that she self-identifies with the LGBT community compounds her angst.
As a parent, I feel we have let our kids down…not because Trump won, but because we inadequately prepared them to comprehend other people’s viewpoints and to view those opinions without judgment or the assumption that, “I’m right and they’re wrong.”
The whole election was months of name-calling, accusations, and behavior like the "hear no evil" monkey, covering his ears not wanting to listen to anything but the voices in his own head.
Glenn Beck was on NBC on election night and he stated that, “we have failed to listen to each other and trust each other.” For the first time in my life I found myself agreeing with something he said.
I want my kids to grow into adulthood being willing to listen to all sides and arguments, to draw their own conclusions, to be able to respectfully disagree with people without thinking it's the end of the world. But we need to do a better job modeling this behavior and regularly reading other viewpoints and discussing them over dinner.
We also want our kids to understand and accept that their viewpoints may change over time. States themselves go from red to blue and back again, and neither is right or wrong; it's part of the process.
The outcome of this election for our family is that we stop making assumptions. We stop saying, “that guy or woman is an idiot,” when we don’t agree with something they've said. We learn more about ourselves and our neighbors. And most importantly, we listen more frequently and earnestly than we have in the past – not just in preparation for future elections but every day.