It’s that time of year again. You know, when it’s all over the place, in your face out in public, on social media. You look at it all and think, already? We’re going to be subjected to this for how much longer?
I’m not referring to the Christmas catalogs, or to the fact that there is already eggnog and Christmas cookies at the end of the grocery aisle, and we still haven’t had a chance to stow away all the Halloween paraphernalia.
I’m talking presidential elections. Which aren’t for another year, and yet much of my social media feeds, the information coming from news outlets such as NPR during my morning drives, or the TV news the few times I bother to turn it on, is all about which candidate did or didn’t do or said or didn’t say the latest out-of-context-sound bite.
My dad always says, it’s just part of the entertainment industry.
A few years ago, 2008 to be exact, this entertainment industry knocked me off my Mindful Parenting Pedestal. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but the four of us were sitting at the dinner table and one of my kids (then ages 4 and 7) proudly and laughingly said that when his/her classmates were all talking about the upcoming presidential elections, and they were talking about how they would totally vote for McCain/Palin if they were old enough, my child said to them, “What?! Palin is nuts! I’d never vote for her!”
When my child said that, my initial reaction was to laugh, and perhaps I felt a bit of pride that my child would speak/her voice when in a clear minority, and would not be swayed by political peer pressure. But then I looked at Bill (my husband) and he looked horrified. Not because he necessarily disagreed with what my child had said to his/her classmates, but because of what this statement, by a young, impressionable child, showed.
In that one glance at Bill, I felt a huge surge of shame. It hit me – I do my best to try to teach my kids, through words but also actions, to be kind. To be compassionate. To be tolerant and open-minded. To respect others, recognizing that we are all humans with our imperfections, our complexities, and for the most part, we all just want to be happy. And yet, here I was, teaching my children to believe the media’s one-dimensional messages, to be humorous at the expense of someone else, to be selective in our tolerance. That, to me, is the easy, mindless way to parent.
As with any crisis, this was also an opportunity. I immediately, after I caught my breath and while my face was still red with shame, said, “You know what? I’m proud of you for speaking up. That took courage. And you just made me realize that I need to be less judgmental. Yes, I do have some strong opinions about the different candidates, but the truth is that no matter how much I may disagree with them, each of them works really hard. They really believe they can best serve our country. It’s really hard to run for office – it takes a lot of sacrifice. And when I say stuff that makes fun of them, or insults them, I am being very disrespectful. These people have moms, dads, they’re married, they have kids. It must be painful to hear people mocking your friend or family member. I am going to try to make any opinions I have be based on facts, and not be mean. Can you guys do the same thing?”
It’s easy to brush it all off as entertainment. And in certain situations, completely appropriate. But when it comes to our impressionable kids – I believe we have a responsibility to them to do better. Skinheads, anti-Semitics, gay-bashers, boys who mistreat girls - they don’t learn these attitudes in a vacuum. Most of it is learned at home. When my child comes home telling me that so-and-so put down Mexicans, Jews, gays, I get upset because I know they didn’t come up with this on their own. But I also get upset when I hear that children are mocking less endearing individuals and populations. I don’t believe that compassion and tolerance and thoughtfulness is something to be compartmentalized. And yet that’s what we do. It’s funny, it bonds us with others, it makes us feel better about ourselves. But is selective compassion true compassion?
So what does this mean to me, in my parenting? I believe the home is a safe place to talk about stuff. It is impossible and unrealistic to go around loving and forgiving everyone. ISIS? Yeah, no. For me, what this phase of my mindful parenting looks like, is talking about the different layers, to which most people aren’t privy, of a person’s life and personality. Specifically in politics, I challenge myself and my kids to refrain from the easy tendency to mock and put down someone based on their beliefs and sound bites, and to instead try to figure out the true intention or context. Don’t get me wrong – I am very much a work in progress in this area. But I guess, just like with mindfulness in general, it’s all a process, and as long as I’m paying attention, I’m moving forward.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.