*Originally appeared on Huffington Post
As a political junkie, every four years I’m giddy with excitement. I like to think the daily emails coming from my political party’s nominee are personal messages written just for me. I scour the internet looking for opportunities to volunteer my time for my candidate. And then I actually show up to make phone calls, stuff envelopes and stand outside polling locations on election day with signs. (Yes, I’m one of those people. Feel free to wave back).
Throughout my childhood, my mom never shied away from talking about the touchy subjects including politics. My three siblings and I would listen as my mom would talk politics with her parents, extended family members, even family friends. Many a Thanksgiving dinner would end early with someone walking away angrily, as different views were shared and topics debated. Today, CNN could set up shop at our family get-togethers as there is a balanced cross-section of political views, and all of us are well-versed on current events.
Even today, I cherish these moments, much to the chagrin of those who have married into this family who recoil at our debates. You had to grow up in our house to fully understand why a good debate is more fun than board games after eating your weight in turkey and stuffing.
That being said, now that I’m a mother myself, I make sure not to get involved in these debates if my kids are in the room. Not because I’m one of those moms that doesn’t want to talk to my kids about important issues such as politics, but because I don’t want my views to sway them on way or another.
By the time I was their age (my son is three, daughter is four), I knew who everyone in my family was voting for, and what political party they supported. It skewed my beliefs for a while, how could it not? Obviously little ones are going to emulate what their family says is right or wrong. But really in politics, there is no right or wrong, it’s just a belief system that aligns with your values.
I would rather instill values in my children than a political belief system. It’s important to me that my kids think for themselves, not just vote (R) or (D) someday. I shudder when I talk to family and friends who tell me that when they walk into a voting booth they just pick however ‘so and so’ told them to. Especially when ‘so and so’ could be a crazed radio personality, or worse a crazier husband/wife.
Our job as parents is to teach our children right from wrong, to give them the tools to grow up to be independent and self-reliant adults. It’s not to recruit the next generation for our own political party. We do a disservice to our children when we don’t give them the freedom to search within themselves, and decide which party truly represents their values and beliefs.
That is not to say I’m against discussing politics with your children, quite the opposite. I encourage parents to discuss the political process, our freedom to vote, democracy and even what each political party believes in and represents. However, I strongly believe this can be done without a parent naming names, or revealing which party they lean towards.
Some will argue that it is a parent’s job to steer children in the right direction by telling them why mommy or daddy vote for one person and not another. It’s a ‘teachable moment’ to explain why a parent supports or believes in a certain political party. My response to this argument is simple. If you as a parent are instilling the values you hold dear in your children, are ‘walking the walk’ of your political party, and have an open-mind to discuss all views; chances are your children will grow to follow you without you ever needing to tell them who you voted for or against.
This is not to say that your children will end up voting for the same political party as you, but if at their core they are decent human beings who are contributing members of society, haven’t you done your job? Wouldn’t you rather have a child grow up to be an adult who can think for themselves, and hold their own in a debate, than someone who shrugs their shoulders and says, “I vote this way because it’s how my parents vote?”
When my children are adults, many years from now, when they are independent, free-thinking souls, I will share my political views with them. After they have shared theirs with me. I look forward to having lively debates, and even welcome differing views from my own. It will make Thanksgiving much more festive, and their significant others much more uncomfortable. But that is the future, and we aren’t there yet, not even close.
When I walk out the door to volunteer my time for my candidate, and my kids ask me where I’m going, I simply reply, “to work on your future.” That’s all they need to know right now. When you vote this election, and your children ask you who you voted for, I encourage you to not name names. Free thinking is an incredible gift to give your children this election season.