Parenting and the Political Divide

Parenting through tough topics ain’t for the faint of heart. And partisan politics is no exception. But shying away from this uncomfortable issue hurts our kids and leaves them ill-equipped to navigate their world in a meaningful way.

Over the past couple of years, I have found myself drowning in frustration and sorrow at the political climate in our nation. Raising kids in a culture that looks to “other” groups of people for differing beliefs and use emotional manipulation in an effort to pull a person from one side to the other is exhausting.

I don’t want my children to grow into partisan men who elevate their political allegiances above loving and serving their neighbors.

I don’t want my children to grow into partisan men who elevate their political allegiances above loving and serving their neighbors. I don’t want my sons to equate their political beliefs with their religious beliefs. I don’t want my sons to demonize others because their political stances don’t perfectly align.

I want my sons to be known for their lovingkindness, for their servant hearts, for their ability to see needs in others and meet them where they are. Yes, I want my children to be grounded in truth, but I also want them to live as Jesus did, looking for those who are most in need of empathy and grace.

If I want these things for my kids, then it’s my job to do what I can while they’re in my nest to build those values into their lives. That’s a pretty tall order, but it’s not impossible.

Here are a couple ways you can help your children steer clear of the partisan path and empower them to love others – all others – well.

Model Empathy

One way to help our children fight against societal norms of stereotyping and negatively labeling others based on their actions or beliefs is by teaching them how to empathize. If our kids can place themselves in someone else’s shoes and picture life from a different perspective, they will be that much more open-hearted and accepting of people who are seemingly different from them.

One way to help our children fight against stereotyping and negatively labeling others is by teaching them how to empathize.

In my teacher training, I learned that if I want my students to do something well, I need to walk them through the process of how to get there. That starts with modeling my thinking out loud for my students before I even give them the task they are to complete.

The same process works with our kids. As I am living a life of empathy for people around me, I walk my kids through what that looks like. The conversation might go something like this:

Boys, I had an interesting experience today. One of my friends snapped at me when I asked her a question about her plans for this weekend. It caught me by surprise because she’s usually not like that. At first, I was hurt. And then I was angry. But before I responded to her, I tried to think about what she might be going through that could make her react that way to me. And then I remembered her husband has been sick all week. I figured she was probably pretty stressed out and not upset with me at all. So instead of responding back with a bad attitude, I asked her if everything was okay and let her know I was there for her if she needed anything. 

Even though my kids weren’t present when my friend lost her cool, they can still benefit from that experience. All it takes is me being vulnerable and bringing them in to see the situation up close. Letting our kids in on how we handle situations like the one I had with my friend empowers them to take a deeper look in their relationships when conflict or differences arise. It gives them tools to use in order to be more empathetic people. And it helps them prepare for when someone might respond inappropriately to them, too.

PROTIP: Watch how you criticize others around your children. If you speak critically of other people, then your kids will pick up on that and it will become a part of their behavior as well. I can’t ask my children to be empathetic and look for the good in others while also making negative comments about people’s appearances or judging them for their choices. Your words matter.

Talk About the Tough Stuff

A couple of years ago, Luke said, “Mama, what’s abortion?” as he was getting into the car after school. His question took me by surprise, and I must admit I hemmed and hawed for a minute. I didn’t know what to say.

How do I discuss this topic with my nine-year-old? How do I do so without my emotions and feelings about abortion dictating how we communicate with each other?

I could have shut the conversation down by telling him that it’s something he shouldn’t worry about until he’s older (my natural response). But that would have been avoiding. And we work hard at not running from tough stuff in our family.

So I took a deep breath and carefully waded into the water, so to speak. For the next thirty minutes, we spoke thoughtfully about what abortion was, why some women choose abortion, and how different groups of people feel about the issue. We talked about the struggle women face when they find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy. We discussed how Jesus might view a woman in that situation and how he might treat a woman who has had an abortion. It was a gut-wrenching, beautiful, tear-filled discussion.

If we avoid tough topics with our children, we are doing them a disservice.

If we avoid topics like these with our children, we are doing them a disservice because they will be left to find someone else to answer their questions. By keeping lines of communication open about difficult issues, we are helping our children find a safe place in us as their parents. We are giving them space to wrestle with difficult things and taking opportunities to guide them in their thinking. This is powerful!

I want my sons to be critical thinkers, to soak in the world around them and, based on their love for God and their understanding of who He is, make decisions about their lives. All of that starts with educating our children with age-appropriate language about things that happen in life. Shying away from tough stuff won’t make any of it go away. But it will stifle your child’s perspective of the world and will rob you of opportunities to help them find their way into adulthood.

Check Your Own Biases

If you think you don’t have bias, you’re wrong. Each of us has implicit attitudes towards people in society that affect how we view and treat people around us. According to this article, these biases cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on a person’s ethnicity, race, appearance, or age. We develop these pervasive perspectives over time starting from a very early age.

Making judgments about someone’s value as a person based on how they look or what race they are inadvertently teaches our children to do the same.

Not seeing or understanding our hidden bias is dangerous, because these attitudes can lead us to act in discriminatory ways. Making judgments about someone’s value as a person based on how they look or what race they are or what political beliefs they have inadvertently teaches our children to do the same.

You cannot help your child love and serve all people around them if you are teaching them to see groups of people favorably or unfavorably based on your own bias.

Growing our children into empathetic, critical thinkers is not an easy task. It requires effort that many parents aren’t willing to invest. But I can promise you from my own experience over the past ten years that the work is worth it.

My sons are now 11 and 12 years old, and perfect strangers tell me on a regular basis how caring and thoughtful they are. I have watched them stand up for others who were being mistreated. I have seen them seek out the marginalized. I have heard them call friends out for speaking disrespectfully about someone who was not in their close friend group.

And as they grow into men, I see them walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Loving those cast out in society, seeking the lost and broken, giving of themselves to meet the needs of others, embracing people who live or believe differently than they do. What a gift my sons are and will continue to be to this world. I hope your child is right by their side doing the same holy work.