Why You Should Talk To Your Children About This Election
By Top Contributor Alcy Leyva
The morning after I sat in amazement as our country map turned one red state after another, my wife and I called our nine year old son from his sleep to talk to him. We were not Trump supporters, not by a long shot. And while we were aware that he knew this, we wanted to make sure that he also knew our worries going into this new Presidency.
This is a practice I was never part of as a child. My mom and dad both approached politics differently. After braving the waters of the ocean for a better life, hoping to flee the reign of Castro, my father became a U.S. citizen shortly after I was born. Since that moment, and almost contrary to the typical narrative we hear from immigrant stories, my father’s love for his new country did not supersede the world he left behind. Like my father, my mom left Puerto Rico and came to New York for a better life. She worked towards that goal while raising two sons and working as a caseworker for the city of New York for almost thirty years. Unlike my father, my mom was always into local and national politics. But in a Hispanic household, it’s never open to discussion. During my lifetime, she’s voted more red than blue, and I was always expected just to follow suite.
This is important to note because we sometimes forget that just as we teach our children with words and actions, we can also teach them through our complacency. There were many times in my life in which my mother’s silence stunted a valuable lesson that I could have learned. My mom is a prideful woman, just like my father, and neither wanted to cloud my childhood with their concerns. And sure, I get that. But this election has made me lower that sturdy wall I felt I needed as a parent. As a writer, and a father of a mixed family of boys, Trump’s candidacy (and what it reveals about this country) scares me. Whether you agree with these concerns is not the point of this article. Instead, I feel that if you do have concerns, and if your children are mature enough to engage in discussions which directly impact your household, I believe it’s highly beneficial to talk to your children about them. It should not be put off. It should not happen on Inaugural Day or even the next Election Day. The time is now.
Trust me when I say that I understand if there are reservations about this. As parents, we never want to expose ourselves as nervous wrecks. We always want to be the cornerstones. We want to stand as pillars of security for the ones in our care. And yet, talking with your children about the concerns you have isn’t a moment of weakness. Instead, it is a reinforcement of family values. I want my son to feel comfortable enough to tell me whenever he is worried or doubtful in his life. In sharing that moment, I wanted to teach him that these feelings are natural and nothing to be ashamed of. I expressed my worries without losing my son’s faith that I can protect him.
Above all else, I’m trying to model the ability for a man to reveal his anxieties. The stigma of men being in tune with their insecurities and feeling comfortable enough to speak on them is real, especially in families of color. Men are supposed to be grizzled sea captains with ice in their veins, and maybe when it comes to opening cans and slaying spiders, there’s a viable necessity to fit the archetype. But I feel that in taking these specific times to connect with my son, I have planted a seed of confidence within him which will build his sense of agency within my family. I grew to be an adult who’s formulated his own opinions and political views, but I was only able to accomplish this by using my mother and fathers’ as a blueprint. Where I stand on economy, healthcare, and immigration are direct reflections of their influence in my life.
In fact, there's no need to limit this talk to merely the concerns you may be having. If you voted for Trump, have you taken the time to layout why you threw your support behind him? I never once questioned my parents’ political views, but if I would have learned how their vote connected to their ethics and morals-- completely aside from their opinions on character-- then I would have connected more to shaping the political landscape when I was tapped to vote. That’s why when it came to speaking to my son, I explained to him why I thought Trump was voted in. While his candidacy polished a soapbox for the xenophobic/racist/sexist conglomerate in this country, slapped it on a hat and t-shirt and sold it for ten bucks a pop, it’s vital that we recognize that actual people wore them.
This election should have taught us all that this country is made up of millions of narratives that are each vast and diverse. I made the mistake of living in my bubble-- as people in New York tend to do-- and my ignorance of other lifestyles played out on election night. My son needed to know of the struggles in the Rust Belt. I had to remind him that calling these people “crazy” or “dumb” (the default setting for most children and yes even some adults who don't understand why someone would disagree with them) is the reason we have Trump being sworn into office in January.
We tried to fight his negativity with our own and, in doing so, we underestimated-- or just flat-out ignored-- that the people voting for their candidate were tired of the status quo and based their decision by their belief in seeing change in this country. My son needed to understand that many of these people were simply scared about the future of their families under the leadership of Hillary, just as I am now with the President Elect. As a young boy of color, he needs to be aware of the imbalance of voices, the struggles of people of color in this country, and how politics has patterned its cadence on the backs of minorities. But it is also vital that my son be aware of the humanity and the stories on either side of the line. While he needs to be aware that come January, our U.S. President seems directly opposed to the ideals my wife and I have set out for my family, being quick to villainize those who voted for him will lead this country to ruin. This, by no means, should be complacency. I have let my son know that he should never sit back and allow for injustices to continue, especially now. But I have made it known to him that while I disagree with the person they elected into office, I actually understand why they did.
And herein lies the greatest benefit for engaging your children in this discussion. The future of this country is not set in stone. We have just lived through one of the most divisive elections I can recall and we should, as a community which is reinforced by the millions of families which make up the rich tapestry of this country, ensure the education and safety of our children during this time. This election has only proven that there will be even more challenges set before us for the next few years and it is our responsibility, as parents and citizens, to lay the foundation for our future.
I was greatly disappointed by the direction this country chose to go on election night, but I am channeling my disappointment into informing my son of its significance. We must all realize that, like Barack Obama, this election is a specific moment in history. How this history will be written and what sacrifices will we have to endure for it to be penned, has yet to happen. But that only means that I must ensure that my son is prepared. So that when he steps into a voting booth to elect our 45th President, I want him to remember the night that his mother and father wore their hearts out on their sleeves. I want him to remember this moment and to lock in his vote, not based on one sole decision that I created for him, but one that genuinely reflects the values he believes in.
Alcy Leyva is a Bronx-born writer who enjoys fiction and likes to prod at its dark corners for strange interlopers. He taps into elements of fantasy and dark humor, but tends to roam around tirelessly for the next great project. He enjoys movies, gummi bears, and the word “schadenfreude”. You can find more of his work at AlcyLeyva.Weebly.com.
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