Of Politics and Parenting

Sometimes when I’m watching sports on television one of my daughters will plop down beside me and ask, “Who are you rootin’ for?” I tell them the “blue team” and return serve asking, “How bout’ you?” Without fail it’s, “I want the blue team too.”Recently, standing in our kitchen, I asked J, “Who are you voting for?” even though she’s a senate term too young to cast an official ballot. While seeing exactly how much ice cream she could pack into her bowl, she replied, “Barack Obama I think.”

That makes two of us.

Obama’s Iowa victory speech was the most moving and inspiring I’ve heard in a long, long time. Among other parts, I liked his “there are no red states, blue states, only the United States” idealism and his admonition that 9/11 shouldn’t be used to “scare up votes.” Instead he talked about terrorism as one of several important 21st century challenges including global warming, poverty, oil dependence, and nuclear proliferation.

I was less impressed with his simplistic criticism of outsourcing and economic globalization, which I assume was a nod towards Midwest manufacturers. Go ahead and join the drumbeat against outsourcing, but first convince the American consumer to pay quite a bit more for consumer goods. People want Wal-Mart prices and protectionist trade policies, but seem unwilling to connect the dots.

I wondered how can someone be so incredibly comfortable on the national stage when he hasn’t been on it all that long?

I’m admittedly conflicted about J’s voting intentions. On the one hand, I’m glad she didn’t say “I’m really upset that Tom Tancredo withdrew because like him I dream of living in a country surrounded by an insurmountable wall.” But on the other hand, I want her to become a self-confident, creative thinker willing to take positions different than my own. On one level it’s flattering that she wants the blue team and Barack Obama, but I’d rather she become an independent thinker rather than a carbon copy of me.

I want to guide her development while simultaneously remembering she’s an autonomous, unique person whose life will take unknown twists and turns.

It’s an interesting dance, hoping she adopts the values I’m attempting to model while simultaneously encouraging independent thinking.

It may be like promoting democracy in the Middle East and then saying “Oh shit, look who they voted into office.” In cultivating an independent thinker, how much control am I prepared to give up? What if she applies to USC, votes for a Tom Tancredo, and drives a Hummer?

Cultivating independent thinking is messier, takes more time, and is less efficient than more traditional and authoritarian models of parenting. Sometimes the dishwasher needs emptying, the lawn needs mowing, and bills need to be paid. To develop self-confident, independent young adults we have to guard against saying “because I said so” too often. We need to respect their ability to reason.

Also, children need to see the adults in their lives respectfully disagree and constructively resolve conflicts. And as children age, we need to draw them into more and more substantive conversations consisting of topics upon which reasonable people disagree.*

Ideally, teachers will help model these skills and sensibilities and provide our children with opportunities to practice and develop them. Unfortunately though, the educational pendulum has swung so far towards easy to test content (mostly of the math and science variety) that in-depth, critical classroom conversations are far and few between.

How do you test respect for contending viewpoints, tact and diplomacy, an appreciation for ambiguity, active listening skills, and the boldness and creativity of someone’s thinking? It’s tough to assess those skills and sensibilities, but it’s difficult to understate the importance of them in our homes, communities, and world.

* Postscript: I wrote this post a week ago. Last night, L and I attended a great dinner party. Without prompting, one couple explained how they do exactly what I’m proposing here. On the way home, L was deep in thought about their example, and said, “Our dinner conversations are more John Belushi Animal House than anything else.” At which point J and her both blamed me. I admit, there are times at dinner that I don’t act very professorial and my table manners could use some work. At the same time, they say they don’t laugh nearly as much when I’m not there, so there are trade-offs. My point in sharing this to admit to a gap between theory and current practice.

5 thoughts on “Of Politics and Parenting

  1. Ron. I’m already enjoying your first stab at blogging. Thought-provoking…

    While I am an aunt and also have been blessed with many opportunites to influence those younger than me (and even my peers), I am not by any means a parent. I lie on the kid-side of this conundrum that you are exploring, and therefore I challenge you to also think what it is like for your daughter: as children, how much can we completely challenge the fundamental moral belief system of the person or people responsible for bringing us into the world, for feeding us and for kissing our boo-boos?

    While as a parent you struggle with how to balance this act with your daughters, know that your daughters are also walking a sort of tight rope. Finding out that your Dad roots for the blue team when maybe you’re leaning red, or are considering it, is a lot like finding out your favorite sports hero has been popping pills or maybe even it is comparable to the devastation that thousands of witches felt when Harry and co. unearthed Prof. Gilderoy’s secret; your reality is at the very least shaken up a bit, and you begin to question your own personal truths. As you are developing as a young person the idea that the beliefs of someone you trust completely differ from yours strikes a child as strange. I can tell you that even to this day when I understand in my gut that I am making a decision that is best for me, that if my parents don’t agree it still sends me for a whirl.

    And maybe Ron, you truly have inspired your daughters with your intellectual and moral standards, and instead of being worried about them copying you, you should just be pleased that the apples haven’t fallen that far from the tree (with the exception of maybe, table manners for example).

    I do not pretend to have an answer to this sticky balance of molding and letting be…it is something that I struggle with as well from the other end in my work as a Resident Assistant, or in athletics. Maybe there isn’t a specific set of answers. I assume that you will continuing worrying, and that the Girls Club will only benefit from your concern. Maybe the fact that you are conscious of this balance will be enough. Or maybe there is a concrete “right” answer out there somewhere. For that, I suggest you get in contact with my mom. (:

  2. wow.

    the fact that you are even struggling with this idea or willing to exercise it with your kids is great. too many parents don’t allow for their children to be free thinkers.

    as a child, i grew up in two homes, my father’s and then my mom’s. both were world’s apart in terms of the way the households were run. at my father’s house, unlike your house, i was not allowed to think for myself, but instead was forced to pretend i agreed with everything he said, did, and thought. there was no room for me to try and grow into my own personal being, but instead was forced to grow into his mold. at my mom’s home, however, things were different. aside from religion, i was brought up knowing that i could think or do or be whatever i wanted, even if it wasn’t what my mom or step-dad did. as an elementary and middle school student, i never really exercised that freedom because, as lisa suggests, it is pretty scary/shocking to find out that you don’t think the same things your parents do, seeing as how you look up to them. but as i grew older during my high school years and now into my first year of college, i have found that i really treasure that gift my mom and step-dad have given me, that freedom to choose, that freedom to be what i want. i’ve come to find the parts of my mother that i do want to be. maybe i no longer like the blue team that she does, and we surely do not agree on presidential candidates, but we do agree that being selfless, helping others, being kind, and being good educator’s are things necessary to our lives.

    i tell you this story for several reasons (none of which were to bore you, although that may have happened :) ha). one reason was to explain that as a person with the unique opportunity to have grown up in a household you’re describing as well one like my father’s, i was able to recognize which one i appreciated, and which parent i ended up admiring and wanted to strive to be like in certain aspects. another reason was to show that it may take a while before your children actually realize how precious the gift is that you’re giving them. only now as a college student am i really able to reflect on the parenting i received growing up and am able to really appreciate it. thirdly, it was to let you know that indeed, your children might freely choose to agree with you and the things you stand for, as i have with my mom. so, if your kids do end up like you, don’t think it’s because you forced them to be that way. indeed, they will have ended up that way because they were able to recognize the good qualities you have and recognized that they wanted to share those qualities with you.

    it is both reassuring and comforting to know that there are parents out there who actually practice critical thinking and analyze the way in which they are parenting, and worry this much about how they are raising their children. i have seen too many peers and friends of mine whose parents have not done so, and i have seen their lives waste away. know that you are doing something your children will learn to be grateful for, if they are not already.

    sorry for the length, your blog just really got me going! i’m glad you’re writing this blog, it looks very promising!

    ~anneliese

  3. On the one hand, I’m glad she didn’t say “I’m really upset that Tom Tancredo withdrew because like him I dream of living in a country surrounded by an insurmountable wall.”

    ^ Funniest thing I have read on a blog in a long, long time.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Kris Norelius sent me to your blog, Ron, and I like it!

    But about Obama:
    You said that you were troubled that he didn’t talk about the nuances of outsourcing. I’m troubled by this too, but I think it extends much further than outsourcing. I think that he tends to simplify too many issues, and that instead of offering concrete plans for issues he relies on rhetoric to impress people. (Ask your A daughter about Brutus v. Marc Antony…)

    Hillary has the plans to solve our country’s problems, and she’s laid them out concretely for the world to view.

    Hillary 08!

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