“Oh my God. The fish won!”
That was my reaction to the presidential election results last Wednesday morning.
You see, my daughter’s preschool had a mock election recently—for best pet. On one day, a teacher brought in her dog and shared all the things a dog can do. The next day a different teacher brought in her fish. When my daughter came home, she told me she would vote for the dog. “Mom, he can do tricks. The fish just swims around.” My older two children determined this wasn’t even a fair match-up. “Who would vote for a fish?” they wondered. Indeed, it became a running joke for a week that no one my daughter knew was voting for the fish.
But when I went to pick her up from preschool on Tuesday, and I asked how school was, she looked at me wide-eyed: “Mom, the fish won.” No way. It turns out that even the “dogs class” (each classroom has a kind of fake mascot) voted for the fish.
I tell this story not because I think that we should be able to discern the outcome of future elections based on the toddler-vote—though certainly that would have worked better than the professional pollsters—but because I think that it suggests how easy it is for our children and for us as parents to cocoon ourselves with people who think just like us, and how we actually encourage this.
The reaction to the real election results by some parents has been exactly wrong. Social media has been full of parents this week talking about how they don’t know how to explain the results of the presidential election to their children. They can’t bear to look into the disappointed eyes of their sons and daughters. Here was Van Jones the other day on CNN:
It is hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us. You tell your kids, ‘don’t be a bully.’ You tell your kids ‘don’t be a bigot.’ You tell your kids ‘do your homework, be prepared.’ And then you have this outcome, and you have people putting children to bed tonight, and they are afraid of breakfast.
For one thing, this fear of disappointing our kids suggests how seldom our kids are ever disappointed. But it also suggests that we don’t know how to talk to our kids about losing and keeping things in perspective. In the course of telling your kids not to be a bully, did it ever occur to you to tell them that there are bullies out there and part of life is dealing with them—ignoring them, standing up to them, or whatever? Or that there are bigots—there always have been and always will be, even if your school has a “zero-tolerance” policy. And as long as they are not threatening your physical safety, they can say whatever the heck they want.
Obviously, there’s no reason to scare small children about what will happen under a Trump presidency because the truth is we have no idea (which is one reason I couldn’t bring myself to support him). But for our older children, it’s time that we tell them there are good, reasonable people in the world who disagree with us. This is a big country, and your class (however “diverse” it may purport to be) does not actually represent much of it. And also there are bullies and bigots and even misogynists in the world. And at a certain point, it’s not your parents’ job or your teachers’ job to shield you from them either.
The fact that colleges across the country have been offering safe spaces in the wake of the election is perhaps not surprising. But how old do kids need to be before we stop protecting them from reality? Some have even asked for extensions on assignments to deal with their “trauma.” As one student told the Yale Daily News about her difficulties with biology class, “It was really hard to be there learning about membranes when Trump was winning the election.”
Yep. Life’s tough. A presidential election is as good a time as any to get used to it.