Politics is messy, just like motherhood. It’s like a wreck on the side of the highway sometimes…you want to stay away from it, but you have to look. The sensationalized media doesn’t help matters, either. Something that shouldn’t be a big deal is made out to be the BREAKING NEWS story of the day. So what’s a mom supposed to do when you feel like you should be informed and be able to talk to your kids about the current issues of the day but you just don’t know where to start?
This time of year, as a presidential election is picking up steam and political ads are taking up more and more space on your screen, it’s important to pay attention and know why politics are important and worth your time.
It’s what bonds us as Americans
I’ve always been in love with American History. When I was younger, it was my dream to be a high school civics teacher. Learning our country’s story – the good and the bad – helps define us as Americans. This love of history is being lost in our schools today. Kids are not being taught American History for fear of seeming racist, sexist, feminist, or some other word that ends in -ist. We can’t change the choices others made, but we can learn from their mistakes to build a better future.
If you’re not sure how to teach your kids American History when you don’t know it yourself, I highly recommend the Children’s Encyclopedia of American History. Even for older kids or adults, it’s easy to read while being thorough enough to understand major moments in our nation’s history. I also recommend the Usborne World Wars book for an understanding of two of the most impactful events in the world. These two books aren’t the end all, be all, for teaching your kids (and yourself) history, but they’re a start. For adults or older kids, I recommend American History in Bite-Sized Chunks. In only one page or two, you can refresh your memory about something learned in school long ago, or learn an overview of something you may have missed in your education.
You can also find some good programs on tv. We enjoy historical documentaries on the History Channel. Some of them are boring, but a lot are not. There is a series on several streaming services called America’s Book of Secrets that my twelve-year-old loves to watch. It breaks down things like Fort Knox or the CIA into something interesting to learn about.
The next time your kids as to watch a show, maybe make it something educational. You never know, it might lead them to their calling.
It affects you IRL
If you have no idea what IRL means, it’s kid speak for “in real life.” These days, most kids live in a life of virtual reality. They’re either in their head so much imagining what so-and-so is going to do or say, they live on social media where things seem real but are manufactured, or they play virtual reality video games whenever they can.
Politics affects our children’s real life. Their options for schooling and the quality of those schools are determined by the officials we elect. The quality of the roads in the neighborhood, the cost of college, the parks near where we live, the prices of gas, the hours of the library, the amount of their paycheck they get to keep are all determined by the choices we make at the ballot box. By not paying attention, you may inadvertently be allowing people to be elected who don’t represent what you want your community to look like.
The same goes for adults, too. Have a dream of starting your own business? Maybe you want to have an Etsy shop or something part-time you run from home? The headaches (or lack thereof) filling out paperwork, tax forms, collecting and paying sales tax, hiring employees, these are all primarily determined by the state legislature.
It might be your calling (or your kids’)
I have spent a large part of my life in politics. My dad volunteered at the local level when I was growing up, and he became heavily involved as I got older, serving two terms in Congress and nearly became Governor. By default or God’s master plan, I ended up involved in politics myself. I worked on a Congressional campaign after college and later went to Washington, D.C. where I worked on Capitol Hill for a U.S. Senator. My husband and I dated and got married in the D.C. area and it was a time in my life that will forever define who I am.
While I get just as annoyed as the next person with the language politicians use, the hypocrisy sometimes with what they say and do, and the lack of (or abusive) action, I am forever grateful for the education I gained while working in the United States Senate. For a 20-something, walking around the Capitol building at night when it’s quiet and the tourists are gone, helping draft legislation that may become a law, or sitting behind the dais during a committee hearing listening to my boss read the words I wrote are incredibly special moments I wouldn’t trade for anything.
While my job now is homeschooling my kids and taking care of our house, the education I gained working in politics serves me in my real life. I’m able to educate my kids on why we vote the way we vote, how government works and why it’s important to pay attention to, and answer thrilling questions like, “Mom, what’s a caucus?” Exciting, I know. 🙂
I mention all of this to say that had my dad not been involved in politics when I was growing up, I likely would have chosen a different career path and would have had a pretty tough time meeting my husband. My life would look incredibly different. You never know how your interests can impact your kids’ future. So maybe you’re not a legislative aide on Capitol Hill like I was, but perhaps exposing your kids to government and politics can steer them in their own path one way or another.
It helps you know when to (or not to) freak out
If you watch the news for three minutes, you’ll feel like you should be freaking out about any number of things. Today, it’s one thing. Yesterday, it was something else, Next week, it will be another BREAKING NEWS STORY!!! It’s all urgent. It’s all important. And it’s all worthy of our immediate and long-lasting attention.
In reality, it’s probably not that big of a deal. Let’s be honest, how many of us can remember what was in the news a year ago? Or even last month? Time fades and our lives continue, regardless of what our news channel or news app might tell us.
If you’re paying attention to things at the local level, then you’ll be better prepared to know if the news story of the day really does affect you and warrants your attention. Want to know what really is important in your town or county? Attend a City Council meeting, a Library Board meeting, or your local Board of Education meeting. What is discussed and voted on at these meetings play a huge role in your life. These elected officials are the ones deciding what your kids learn in school, which stop lights get tweaked so your commute is smoother, and what taxes come out of your paycheck. In other words, they’re what you should be paying attention to.
Where to go from here
Still not sure how to get started paying attention to politics? Keep watching Mom + Life throughout the political election season. I’ll be helping you understand parts of the system we call government. And maybe grab one of the books mentioned above. Read it with your kids so you can all learn together. Then find a podcast on a topic you have a natural interest in. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn in 30 minutes.
Most of all, remember that it’s okay to be honest with your kids about your level of knowledge on an issue or process of government. Then start Googling and learning! You got this. 🙂