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On November 9, my 7-year-old bounced into our bedroom wide-eyed wondering who won the election. For the past 2 years, I’ve been hosting a children’s news segment on SiriusXM called the Breakfast Blast Newscast so my kids (and kids who listen across the country) have had some exposure to the dynamics of this presidential election. But like many parents, I’ve struggled with how much to expose them.
Like most (hopefully all?) fathers, I work to teach my boys values like kindness and respect. I’ve been challenged by the anger, vitriol, cruelty, and bullying on the campaign trail this past year. My wife and I thought we did a pretty good job at insulating our boys from the nastier aspects of the presidential race. We talked a lot about process (how nominations work, party conventions, primaries) but not much about the policies or views of the candidates.
So it was with great surprise when after asking “who won?” our reply sent our older son into inconsolable sobbing. “Why are you so upset?” I asked. “Because the kids at school said that if Donald Trump wins, he’s gonna start World War 3,” he replied through his tears. “He’s gonna make my friends leave the country.” We were floored. My wife and I had no idea these conversations were happening on the playground. “Don’t worry,” we insisted. “That is not going to happen,” we tried to reassure him.
As parents, we work hard to protect our children. At a certain point, of course, we can’t. Our kids have to experience the world as it is and figure out how to navigate its many challenges.
If I do my job well, they’ll become independent adults who make a contribution to their community and country.
Over the past days, many Americans have asked how they can contribute to making sure that we never lose sight of our core values — whatever our political differences. I see this challenge through the prism of fatherhood. I want my elected leaders to model positive behavior. I want men and women of character to set an example for my kids. I want them to embody our civic virtues and to demonstrate the virtues of public service.
But we live in interesting times. Today our leaders are more openly-partisan, more willing to engage in the politics of personal destruction, less restrained in the language they use to describe their political and ideological opponents.
So what to do? Well the first thing (at least for me) is to recognize my many many flaws and work to model good behavior for my children. It means working very hard to be the best version of myself.
And it starts with a few short rules that I’ve posted on my fridge as a reminder. And a caveat: I don’t always follow my own rules which is why I post them on the fridge as a reminder. So Dads … here goes nothing:
Nurture Their Imagination
Whether its Santa or the Tooth Fairy or Magic or kind spirits, I’m gonna let my kids hold on as long as possible. I’m going to unapologetically indulge their innocence and imaginations. I want them to believe there are beautiful and powerful forces for good in the world. And if they ask me the truth about any of these characters, I’ll figure out a way to make sure they understand that there truly is magic in the world.
I want my elected leaders to model positive behavior. I want men and women of character to set an example for my kids.
Continue To Nurture A Diverse Group Of Playmates
I want my kids to see and feel the beauty of our diverse country. It means that I will work even harder to make sure they forge bonds and ties with boys and girls from all kinds of backgrounds — racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and political — from around the country and around the world.
Continue To Model A Diverse Group Of Adult Friends
It’s not enough to build a diverse community for my kids. I have to redouble my commitment to building an even stronger group of friends with different points of view, different experiences, who look different and talk different.
Raise Good Citizens Committed To Making The World Better
As a parent, my number one job is to raise kind, honest and empathetic humans. If I do my job well, they’ll become independent adults who make a contribution to their community and country. I will show them that it’s patriotic not just to love their country but also to constructively criticize the policies we don’t agree with, the leaders enacting those policies, and to work to make those policies work better for everyone.
Practice Kindness. Give Lots Of Hugs.
Like most people, I can get angry more than I would like — especially in traffic and especially when someone honks. And also: when my boys refuse to brush teeth or take a bath. When they whine. When they are defiant and it’s been a long day at work. We all have a fuse. Sometimes mine burns to the end. But I try hard to keep that from happening (long runs help!) I have taken to actually writing “kindness” on my hand to remind me. (I’m thinking of getting it tattooed on my wrist!) If I’m modeling kindness and patience, there’s a better chance my kids will adopt that behavior. If I let my fuse burn and get angry, I won’t be able to blame my kids for lashing out or being reactive. So “Yo Guy! Practice Kindness. Always! And stop being so introverted! Give more hugs.”
As a parent, my number one job is to raise kind, honest and empathetic humans.
Model A Loving And Equitable Partnership
My wife and I were smugly musing about how we model a great marriage for our children. We are committed and loving partners and share the household chores. But when I innocently asked my kids whether they realize how good Mommy and Daddy’s marriage is, I was crushed when my older son said, “you guys fight ALL THE TIME!” Wait, what? Well the lesson learned was that we need to be better about taking our (almost always minor) bickering behind closed doors and out of earshot. Even benign bickering sends a message to kids. I also think it’s important for kids to see their caregivers share the burdens of household work. It means I cook and (usually!) wash dishes. My partner does laundry and tidying.
Make A Thoughtful Choice About What Media To Expose Your Kids To
Our kids don’t watch or listen to grown-up news. Okay, so this is super-hypocritical. I know. Especially given what I do. But I don’t want my kids to hear about hatred and terrorism and war and violence — at least not now. They are still young and I want them to see the world as a place of possibility and hope. Obviously, life has a way of intruding. They will learn about things on the playground. They will ask questions. And I will do my best to explain in a careful way. Now this doesn’t mean my kids can’t be engaged or can’t have some agency in this crazy world! And I know other parents are making different choices and argue that it’s actually important for their kids to hear these news stories. All I am saying is this: think about what media you expose your children to and make a thoughtful choice. So I will continue to seek out (and share) great media options for them to explore independently — KidsPlace Live on SiriusXM is a great option. Sports Illustrated for Kids is a winner. Spider, Highlights, Click, Ask, Cobblestone and Ladybug are all great magazines. And of course, my weekly Breakfast Blast Newscast that airs Fridays at 8AM, 9AM and 10AM on Sirius XM Channel 78.
In the end, I know that my influence is limited. I know that my kids will come to understand that the world is complicated. And that there are things that happen beyond our control. But there are still small things we can control: being kind, being a good friend, having empathy and showing compassion for others.
Guy Raz is the Host and Editorial Director for TED Radio Hour & How I Built This.