The Case for Talking Politics at the Family Dinner Table
(Or While Shuttling the Kids Around)
One evening in late April, my teenage daughter asked: “Mommy, who do you like less: Ivanka or Melania?” (Ivanka, because I feel sorry for Melania who is now stuck in this life.) She then asked, “Do you dislike Ivanka as much as you dislike Donald?” (no), followed by “Do you think Ivanka is pro-choice?” (yes, she grew up in New York)
After watching me quit my government career after two decades to launch a national grassroots group for Hillary called Moms4HRC (now Yes Moms Can), I have little doubt that two feminist, Democrat teenage daughters live in my house. We often talk about politics at the dinner table. And in the car. And on vacation.
My daughters and I talk about the difference between Democrats and Republicans. We discuss why I feel so strongly about their ability to make decisions regarding their own bodies; why they deserve equal pay for the same work as men; why we need to take care of the environment; why common sense gun control would work; and why LGBT rights are human rights. We discuss how my CPA father, whom they love and respect, could identify as and vote Republican (though he did vote for Hillary).
They show me memes of Donald, and ask me if I have heard the latest crazy thing he has said or tweeted. When news breaks on Buzzfeed, they send me the links to the articles.
Whether at the dinner table or in the car, I am using my Mom platform to weave Democratic values into our family conversations. Truth be told, those discussions and comments occur between nudging my kids to clear their plates, put their napkins in their laps, stow their phones away, make eye contact with adults, turn off the lights in their rooms, call their grandparents, and write their thank you notes. As their parent, I have their attention for a few more years, and I plan to use that enormous influence I yield.
For most of my career, I helped recruit and hire the talent for my employers, and we talked often about “building a pipeline of diverse applicants.” As parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, it falls upon us, collectively, to use our influence to build a pipeline of Democrats by teaching good political values alongside good manners.
How do we do that, in between the myriad other parenting and familial responsibilities we hold?
1. Spend time talking about political values. Spend less time on you-know-who, and more time on the whats and whys. Within my family, we share not what we disdain, but what we hold dear. For me, high on the list are women’s reproductive rights. For you, it may be common sense gun control or ensuring clean water and air for future generations.
2. Set an Example. Show your kids how to be a good friend, how to have a good work ethic, how to be a good Christian, Jew or Muslim, and teach these traits alongside how to contribute to society in a meaningful way. I live in the metropolitan D.C. area, where it is easy to work in public service, which is how I have preferred to contribute. Others may volunteer at a homeless shelter or a nursing home, or help a family in need at church. Finding time to give back — with your children — offers them a window into the responsibility of caring for others’ well-being.
3. Attempt to walk in others’ shoes. Discuss how all people face challenges in their lives. In our house, we talk about how it must feel to a transgender teen to be told he or she cannot use the bathroom they gender-identify with. We consider how daunting it must be for a convicted felon to know his release means he is re-entering a world with the no real job skills, something called an iPhone, and a record that he may have earned at age 19. We talk about why so many people around the world are forced from their homes, and why many relocate to the United States.
4. Discuss the role of government. Articulate your views on government’s role in society. Having spent two decades working for the government, I largely view government as a positive part of our existence. My girls should know that government does so much good to help us through providing education, libraries, paved roads, and firehouses. They know we do not enjoy paying taxes, but we understand that it helps Americans as a whole for us to contribute our part. That said, I want my girls to know they — not the government — should control decisions about their bodies.
5. Consume news together. If your kids send you links to read, send some back from time to time. Listen to the news together in the car or in the family room. I find that curious children are more empathetic. They want to better know and understand the world around them, especially the scary and confusing parts.
6. Be a do-er. Step out of your home and your comfort zone. My girls saw me drop everything to help Hillary get elected. They watched and listened to me build a national network of Moms willing to add “Help Elect Hillary” to their busy to-do lists as Moms. Many parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents marched post-inauguration to stand up for women’s rights, science, the climate, the Muslim ban. Others joined inter-faith working groups to meet and learn from other Democrats with diverse religious backgrounds. Still others called their Members of Congress to register their opposition to Trumpcare. Show your kids that you are willing to speak up for your beliefs, and bring them along for the ride.
7. Vote, and make a big deal out of it. Bring your kids with you to the polls. Let them watch you make your voice heard through your vote. Talk up Election Day beforehand, make a plan, and explain afterward what was happening at the polls. If you emphasize the import of this civic duty, your kids are more likely later in life to fit time to vote into their busy college lives and their young adult existences.
Home is where all of our values begin to form. Our kids, our captive audiences, are listening and learning from everything we do. As parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, we are lucky — as well as uniquely positioned — to be able to bring politics home, talk candidly about our political values, and build a pipeline of Democrats.
Brush your teeth, clean your room, say please and thank you, and “women’s rights are human rights” can all be part of our parenting repertoires.
Just please don’t tell my kids that I am deliberately indoctrinating them. And I promise, I won’t tell yours.