EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Shayna Howell, member of the League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area, SC
I’m hesitant to dole out unsolicited parenting advice – especially around Mother’s Day! The amount of child-rearing advice floating around out there is daunting, and I generally consider it an accomplishment to get through the day without dislocated elbows or getting shamed out of the grocery store without groceries. I’m content when I’ve thrown in some books and vegetables and snuggles and maybe some swim lessons for good measure.
But here’s the thing: I am really worried about my kids, your kids, OUR kids (it takes a village, no doubt) and the propensity to be so disconnected with the political process.
If you ask our kids, (or most anyone, for that matter) “Do you like government and politics?” you’ll likely get a smirk at best. But if you ask them, “Do you like parks? Libraries? Getting letters in the mail? Firefighters?” the answer tends to change. But all of these are government programs that we love and rely on. Good athletics and arts programs in schools? Clean rivers? Safe roads? Yes, yes and yes... but government and politics? Not so much.
There’s this disconnect between everything we want our government to be and our willingness to work for it. And I’m worried we’re passing on this disconnect to our children. We teach them to work hard, to be kind and generous; but we must also teach them how America is supposed to work. They should learn to be a reasoned and effective voice for the things they value. Advocacy and voting aren't additional chores for our lists, they're extensions of all the things we already care about.
We must teach our children that democracy is not a spectator sport.
The brave Sarah Schimmer, a fellow young Mom and League member in Houston, takes her young ones to government meetings to observe them in action. But if my six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter can’t make it through the grocery store, I’m not ready to try a school board meeting...
What does work for my family is to talk about how we can impact all the things we care about in our lives. If we’re stewing about the traffic we’re sitting in, we talk about how some towns prioritize public transportation, and how folks are working to make it more accessible in our town. When they notice that one library is nicer than another, we talk about how our tax dollars play a role in that, and how we can support our local libraries. Almost no topic is completely off limits… we’ve discussed everything from gun rights to civil rights, and my kids listen, and even better, they get it.
How do I know they get it? My oldest asks the right questions, including the ubiquitous “Why?” and I have learned not to underestimate his ability to understand my answers. I know my daughter is listening, too, because she looks at me intently and quietly — which I assure you doesn’t happen that often!
Actually, I’m afraid that type of listening doesn’t happen often enough with us adults either, especially when politics are involved. We spend so much time defensively protecting partisan stances that we miss opportunities to educate ourselves or make new alliances that will strengthen and better our communities.
Despite having less free time now that I have kids, my allegiance to the League of Women Voters has grown since I joined a decade ago. Their commitment to ensuring that people have non-biased, factual information on issues and candidates has strengthened my community. It’s refreshing to be around so many lovely women and men who see government and politics for what it really is: an opportunity to collectively shape almost every aspect of our lives. Following their lead, we can help connect the dots from passions to problems to solutions to actions, and teach the next generation all about Making Democracy Work®.