As parents, it’s our job to protect our children from the anxiety and pain we face while raising them.
As I described in my post about surviving single motherhood, there are a number of reasons why it’s not socially acceptable nor healthy for us to burden our children with our own suffering and trauma when it comes to divorce, anger, financial upset, and other survival worries however, there is one sphere of life where this rule isn’t applied, the sphere of politics.
Our new president elect, Donald Trump, has aroused so much hatred, both as a symbol, and with his steady use of identity politics throughout his campaign, that it became impossible to protect my child from hearing harmful stereotypes.
What I didn’t expect was that I would have to protect him from the people I share a political ideology with.
No matter what side of the world or politics one was on during the presidential race, two things are undeniable… it showed how divided and hateful this country is and can be.
This election damaged relationships between friends, families and provided an excuse for people, on an interpersonal level, to act with the same blind anger that could be attributed to road rage.
If you didn’t listen to NPR’s How to Deal with Election Anxiety Report, I strongly recommend doing so.
In it, Stanford University psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor, Keith Humphreys, establishes and confirms the American Psychology Association study’s findings that this year’s election anxiety is real.
He expands on it by explaining, it’s this way because, this year, rather than being about opposing political views, the battle was waged on personal identity and otherness:
If you look at what people say […] or what most of the journalism has focused on, it really hasn’t been the nitty gritty of shall we expand this program or cut that program or modify this and that? It’s been about who is an American? Who gets to be an American? Do we value all Americans? Are Muslims a threat to us? Are Mexican-Americans a threat to us? Is everybody who lives in places like West Virginia where I’m from a racist? […] really deeply personal stuff tied to identity has made this much more bitter…
As I’ve written previously, otherness is something I have worked hard at teaching my son to celebrate; but, how do you explain to a four-year-old child how to do so with people that may not accept others because of the pigment in their skin, or the passport they do or do not hold?
Table Of Contents
These are the challenges I have prepared my son for.
However, the day after the election, his California based nursery school was filled with tearful faces.
I couldn’t help but feel like I was dropping him off at a funeral.
I was even hesitant about leaving him there.
When I picked him up a few hours later, he asked me why everyone was sad and I told him that, “the bad guy won.”
I had yet to prepare myself effectively for a thoughtful response, as I didn’t think that it would penetrate ‘his world’ yet.
I believed that my response would be sufficient until I could gradually come up with a better response within the forthcoming weeks.
That day however, I noticed he began to integrate the word, “stupid”, into his vocabulary.
This is a word he associated with the ‘bad guys’.
In our case, living in liberal California, ‘stupid’ has been a word we have heard very often when describing the voters of the Republican right and their candidate president elect, Donald Trump.
I recollected it being used so often among the teachers and other parents on the playground, on November 10th, that it began to annoy me.
It’s as if the adults were the children on the playground—needing to be consoled and responded to.
At some point, I even felt the need to slowly and gently ask, as if I was speaking with an injured child, a very puffy-eyed teacher, if she thought that identifying the other as ‘stupid’ might have contributed to the anti-Clinton sentiment.
I didn’t know what got into me; California was not a safe space for Democratic party criticism.
I felt devastated about the election, however I also felt the need to protect my child from any generalization or anger to and of the pseudo other’.
I am sure the most appropriate response, for them, was to be as angry and sad as they were—I was actually scared that I would be further alienated by admitting how I felt.
There’s many reasons my son and I should be scared about losing our rights, safety, and sanity.
In the eyes of a generalizer, I am ‘the other’—an immigrant, female, Queer and I’m often mistaken as Middle Eastern or Hispanic.
So much so, that my mother was warned not to allow my brother and I to go to school on 9/11, for fear we would be mistaken as an Arab in the Republican stronghold we lived in at the time.
I’ve lived in two countries in the last decade that succumbed to this kind of xenophobic scapegoating—Cyprus and the United Kingdom.
Because of how much damage this cause the economy and social psyche of the country, my most dominant motherly impulse, was to continue to teach my son about equality and ‘the other’ through teaching him about the benefits of asking simple questions, value kindness over power, and to come from a love based response rather than a fear based one.
In order to avoid the hypocrisy of values this election allowed and encouraged, I needed something more than the binary to explain Trump and his policies my son.
I’ve always surrounded my son with people with liberal values and, for more complex topics, allowed a space for him to come up with his own conclusions—which he’s been quite well at.
Last Christmas, for example, he decided we needed to dress like Santa and pass out toiletries to the homeless, instead of opening his own.
When he saw all the homeless people living in tents in downtown LA, he came home and asked me to help him learn how to build houses.
Therefore, it wasn’t surprising when he looked at me and announced:
“Donald Twump is a bad guy!”. I asked him how he knew his name and why he would say such a thing. He went on, “I heard my poppa talk about his name and I wemembered. He is a weally mean guy because he has weally bad pawents”
I had yet to figure out if he fully understood how profound his statement was, as his attention quickly turned into a more exciting topic, owls.
But I do understand how dangerous it can be to accept a negative view about someone or something without actually exploring the reasoning yourself.
Something about this regurgitation scared me despite its actual message.
Again, my son is four-years-old, so it was my instinct to pander to the ‘good-guy, bad-guy’ scenario.
However, when you try and do this with a figurehead; it doesn’t work so well.
In positioning Trump as devil and Hillary as saint, for example, we fail to address the complexity of hatred and oppression.
We are unable to discuss the issues that really face us—or the underlying issues they are a symptom of.
In this model we are left with the great American way of believing that we only have two choices—Republican or Democrat–or one step further–Maybelline or Covergirl, Coca-Cola or Pepsi etc.
We are thus presented with a false illusion of choice rather than possibility which would allow us to believe that we have less options than we actually do as people, citizens, and protectors of our planet.
This is not the message I would like to give to my child, despite how great of a storyline this is for superhero films.
This approach would block creativity and motivation to seek meaningful change which I would like my son to cultivate.
A few hours after our first conversation about Trump, I asked my son to tell me what Trump looked like. He described a profile of an ugly, monster looking kid, a mixture of mean-kid stereotypes, that sounded nothing like our super-tanned reddish president-elect. In fact, it sounded quite harsh and mean.
I then asked him if he would like to see a photograph of him.
When I showed him a picture, he was silent. “Is this what you expected Trump to look like?” I asked.
“No, not at all, I thought he was a little naughty boy”, he explained. I continued with the questioning.
I asked him about many of the traits he committed to describing Trump and his parents and it seemed he had seen such traits in himself and us, at times.
“What if people talked about you, or me, like that and you didn’t do any of those things and they didn’t even know who you were?”, I finally asked my little boy.
“Then I would be very angwy and I would be sad and I would cwy,” he expressed, with a lamented look on his face.
Learn And Grow
We agreed that, from now on, we would no longer talk about people in that way.
If we say something negative about another person, we have to of seen it ourselves and provide an creative idea of how to change or heal it or not repeat it at all.
Overall, we talked about the concept of rejection and how bad it feels and how it doesn’t do anything to change the bad thing but only causes more anger.
In this way, I am teaching my son, not to reject another’s identity which is seen as something difficult to change, but to change ideas.
Hopefully I can expand on this to incorporate ideas of local and national policy.
As a politics major, non-profit worker, activist and filmmaker, I have worked extensively on fighting inequality and reporting current affairs behind the scenes and on films about marginalized groups.
My worst fear, prior to seeing Trump get the Republican nomination was that the status quo would be left intact.
The country is a powder keg of injustice–with it’s Hispanic, African American, indigenous populations, single mothers, and middle to lower class workers, taking the worst palpable hits for the corporate electoral financing that truly operates this government and maintains oppression.
For many, Trump represents the vocalized acceptance and promotion of the conscious and unconscious racism, misogyny, xenophobia, corporate greed, and violence that truly riddles this country.
What I Would Like To Do
I would like my son to grow up respecting women, being curious about what he doesn’t know, and being motivated for change when he sees inequality.
As I mentioned previously, part of that is about asking simple questions, and that’s where our politics failed us because it took us to our belligerent child-like emotions, over anything that could’ve looked like policy.
What I would like to pass down to my son isn’t going to passed on, at this stage, through a simplistic view of who the other is.
We have plenty of views of racism, xenophobia, and corporate greed to react to locally.
What we lack are views that help us overcome our fears of being different or feeling rejected that we set ourselves up for by pandering to identity politics.
Views that incorporate the true nature of humanity, where we have both the potential for great good and great bad, in every action we take.
My hope is that my son will question everything and be able to see the bigger picture of division, understand the complexity of human fear and how it plays out in power games (the most obvious space being politics), and value love and kindness over fear and oppression.
What Has Inspired My Parenting Style
Fortunately, indigenous cultures have always been a source of inspiration for me and parenting.
In this occasion, the Cahuilla tribal band of Southern California, have hundreds of what they call “bird songs” to teach younger generations about their language, the earth, and the complexity of human interaction.
They are called bird songs because they are told from the perspective of birds.
I believe these ‘songs’ or stories provide a powerful learning tool for parents to discuss complex topics of power, dominance, misogyny, and otherness with their children. I have yet to read/sing them to my son, but shall in the next few weeks.
I’ve read all 3 Cahuilla Origin Stories, and find them great resource of several different versions of the origin story (see summary below)
It’s a timeless group of lessons that refrains from digging into the simplified bad and good scenario and explains the polarization inherent in the earth, without dominating and suppressing our ability to have agency, or choice.
From the eyes of birds, we can look down to see the bigger picture in it all and see the possibilities we can’t see when we are made to live so low. It’s our job to teach our children how to heal, feel, and discuss and I hope that we can all take it upon ourselves to do so.
Can add this as a side note: The creation story of the Cahuilla is an incredible way to explain the complexity of leadership and ourselves to our children.
I’ve created a little summary of the story that you can use to try and identify real-world identity struggles:
The (very simplified/summarized) story begins with a woman and a man coming into form, but it never seems to be enough to motivate another life, until lightning strikes in a sphere of pregnant darkness (femininity, possibility) that cannot be seen nor touched (non-identity) and two male twins are made born (Patriarchy).
They constantly fight about who heard their mother’s song first, because, in their foolishness, they believed that a hierarchy could be established which would give one of them more respect and honor among all things they created.
(Eternal masculine struggle) One brother, bore all in the world, humans, animals, and plants that were light and white, whilst the other bore all that was dark. After a series of attempts to outwit one another the lighter brother went underground into the darker world and took many of his creations with him.
The other brother remained in the world they created.
Both would demonize the other’s people as being evil and bad.
The brother that remained on earth broke his promise to the people to always protect them and became more vicious with his power hunger and created snake’s poison, that could kill man, and arrows, which allowed them to kill each other, and lastly, at night, when the rest were sleeping, he tarnished female moon.
When his people found out, they killed him and immediately regretted their actions because they failed to learn what was necessary from him first. To Download the stories: 3 Cahuilla Origin Stories.