How Do We Parent Our Kids During This Political Season?
More than a week ago, Donald J. Trump was elected president. Parents of all political stripes—Republicans, Democrats, and independents—are faced with the same question: How do we talk with our kids about the results of this particular election?
We asked 20 mothers to respond to one or more of the following questions:
As a parent, how are you thinking about the election of Donald J. Trump? What specific comments or concerns are you hearing from your kids, and how are you responding?
What specific Christian virtues do you want to model for and instill in your children as you parent during this political season?
The tone of this political season has been vitriolic and divisive. How, if at all, are you encouraging your kids to try to understand voters on both sides of the debate? In other words, how are you fostering sympathetic thinking?
Have you discussed some of the controversial aspects of the election season—racism, sexism, abortion, religious liberty, etc.? If so, how have you addressed these issues with your kids?
Finally, as a Christian parent rooted in the gospel, how are you offering your kids a hopeful, constructive way forward?
Responses are listed alphabetically.
Amy Julia Becker, speaker and author of Small Talk and A Good and Perfect Gift
“Love requires sacrifice, and love gives life in return.”
I’m not talking with my kids much about the election. They know Donald Trump won, and they know his election troubles me. But my response starts not with specifics about sexism, racism, or civil discourse but with helping my children recognize their own humanity—their own sin, their own belovedness—and then with extending that same humanity to everyone else. From there, we work to demonstrate love tangibly and locally—attending our Jewish friend’s Rosh Hashanah dinner, saying thank you to the person in the cafeteria who spoons out our food, bringing dinner to the family with the new baby, writing a condolence letter to the friend whose father died, praying for people in need. We talk a lot about what love looks like in action, and how love always costs something. It cost Jesus his life, and it costs our time and energy. Love requires sacrifice, and love gives life in return. I believe our greatest responsibility as Christian parents in the wake of this election is not to teach my children about politics but to teach them how to love God and love their neighbor.
Amy E. Black, professor of political science, Wheaton College
“Presidents, like the rest of us, are human beings—fallen and sinful, but also bearing the image of God.”
It is important to teach our children to value our political system and the stability it provides. We often take for granted peaceful transitions of power in the United States. Power shifts between the major parties, political leaders work with new players, policies change over time, and the nation holds. Thankfully, the presidency as an institution is much more resilient than the individuals who serve as president, and our system of checks and balances provides important safeguards.
Some presidents have been men of great character; others have been scoundrels. Good and upright presidents have made bad policy decisions, and presidents of less than impressive character have championed positive change. As we parent, we can help our children see that presidents, like the rest of us, are human beings—fallen and sinful, but also bearing the image of God.
In this election season, in particular, there are great risks of convincing ourselves we have the best of religious motives for our political views, when in reality that may not be true. We need to question our own motives, pray that God will show us our patterns of sin, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in truth as we talk with our families about politics.
Micha Boyett, author of Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer
“What does the Lord require of us? To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God on the path Jesus walks.”
Last November, after Donald Trump flapped his hands, mouth gaping, in mockery of a reporter with a disability, his candidacy began to feel like a personal affront to Ace, my kind, joyful, hard-working toddler. Ace is one of those Jesus spoke of in the Beatitudes, one of those closest to the kingdom of God. Ace has Down syndrome.
Last Tuesday, when it was clear that Trump would win the election, I wept. The morning after the election, my husband did his best to explain to our eight-year-old how the man who mocked his little brother and used hateful speech against his best friend of Mexican descent could be elected leader of his country. “You have a superpower,” my husband said. “It’s your loving heart, and your friends need you to use it.”
The Holy Spirit has given us all that superpower. Donald Trump will be our president, and what does the Lord require of us? To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God on the path Jesus walks: toward the weak, the marginalized, and the oppressed. I pray we will.
Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, author of Start, Love, Repeat: How To Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Startup World (2017)
“There shouldn't be any exceptions to the teaching that we can care for those who are different from us.”
For much of the past year, my husband and I lived in Kenya with our four-year-old son. A critical lesson we wanted to impart through the experience was that even those who are very different from us—in skin color, accent, or belief—can still be our friends. When my son overheard us lamenting the election of Donald Trump, he simply asked, "Why?" (as four-year-olds tend to do). His pointed question forced us to examine our own biases and to discuss our president-elect in truthful and respectful terms. After all, there shouldn't be any exceptions to the teaching that we can care for those who are different from us. The next four years will be formative for our nation and for my child, and I fully expect he will look to me during that time to model how to treat others, even those with whom we disagree, with respect and grace.
Shannon Dingle, writer, speaker, and advocate
“We are struggling, but we are not without hope.”
The morning after the election, my heart was broken. Classmates had been telling our six children that they or their siblings would be sent back to Uganda and Taiwan—their native countries—if Trump were elected. We assured them again that their standing by law and within our family didn’t change with any election. Then we explained, "Mommy and Daddy hold privileges in almost every area, so we'll be okay. But we want to help make sure others will be okay too. Philippians 2:4 tells us to look to the interests of others and not just ourselves, and Jesus says what we do for the least of these—those who don't have the privileges we do—is like doing it for him. That’s what we’re going to do.”
I walked them in to the elementary school, and I spoke with key folks there about safety. Then I cried, spent time in prayer and the Word, saw my therapist, and eventually stepped away from social media after racist threats from the alt-right movement. We are struggling, but we are not without hope.
Marlena Graves, author of A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness
“It’s up to us to act like Jesus, love others, and stick up for those who are mistreated.”
The morning after the election, our nine-year-old daughter woke up and sprinted down the stairs. It was around 6:30 a.m. I was sitting on the couch writing, and she was at the foot of the stairs when she excitedly asked, “Mommy, who won the election?” “Honey, Donald Trump won.” I replied. Immediately, she burst into tears and in between sobs asked “How could someone who made fun of disabled people and acted so hurtful to others be president?” I found myself with a lump in my throat and an inability to answer. I was at a loss for words. What could I say? A few moments passed before I could eke out a response: “Honey, I really don’t know. But what I do know is that we all belong to one another and it’s up to us to act like Jesus, love others, and stick up for those who are mistreated.” It’s all I could manage at the time and all I can still manage even now.
Dale Hanson Bourke, consultant and author of Embracing Your Second Calling
“As a mother, I am both proud of the men [my sons] are and heartbroken over the world they are entering as young adults.”
I am the mother of two adult sons. They are both good men who know and care about vulnerable people. My oldest son just moved to a new city and is looking for a church. He doesn't really know what a congregation identified as 'evangelical' might mean. In some cases it seems to carry a great deal of political baggage. My other son is a lawyer who is joining the JAG corps and will prosecute or defend soldiers, including those accused of sexual harassment. His new commander in chief will be a man who has made disparaging remarks about women.
As a mother, I am both proud of the men they are and heartbroken over the world they are entering as young adults. I'm sorry that they look at evangelicals with suspicion. I'm sorry that my son, who is determined to serve and honor his country, has a commander in chief with less than honorable tendencies. In many ways, my sons have given me the most hope this week, but I'm also a little ashamed that I haven't worked harder to make this a better world for them.
Kim Harms, freelance writer and women's Bible study leader
“I must not become lazy in my striving to love as Christ calls me to love.”
My children know I am grieved by this election. They know the candidate I voted for won, but they also know that it was with a heavy heart that I filled in my ballot card. They observed me wrestling with this decision for weeks. They heard my conversations with their father. They saw me reading articles and praying.
It is no easy thing when the candidate of the political party that most closely aligns with your ideals has said divisive things that you find repulsive and hurtful. And I have, for the first time in my life, been labeled by some as a bigot because of my vote. I could now spend my time using words to try to convince others I’m not, but lip service is empty. What I must do is act. I must not become lazy in my striving to love as Christ calls me to love. I must put undeniable feet to my words. This is how my children are going to see hope. They would not have found hope in Hillary Clinton, and they will not find hope in Donald Trump, but they will find hope in the person of Jesus as they see their mama reach out in friendship to the Hispanic woman who lives next door.
Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest and author of Liturgy of the Ordinary
“What’s happening in the world is truly frightening. But, just as truly, we have hope.”
I am deeply troubled by what I’m seeing on the right, Trump’s policies on immigration, the abject horror of the Alt-Right, and a rise in hate crimes. On the left, I am seeing smugness, shaming, and a refusal to ask hard questions about how we got here. The level of epistemic closure on both sides leads to more conflict, anger, and polarization. Teaching kids to be peacemakers in this culture is hard—almost all of our cultural practices push the other way. But I want to tell my girls, “What’s happening in the world is truly frightening. But, just as truly, we have hope. Jesus has overcome. The church has faced far worse than this and proclaimed him as King. His kingship is a political reality and it demands action from us. We have a lot of work to do to seek justice and help those who are most vulnerable in our society and that will take the ability to listen and act with discernment.”
Leslie Leyland Fields, author of Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas
“My goal is to encourage biblical discernment and critical thinking, which can include righteous anger and disgust as well.”
My two teens are busy with their own lives, so I worked hard to get them involved. We watched the debates together, and every night we discussed the day's events over dinner. I didn't shield them from anything. Nor did I mask my own emotions. My goal is to encourage biblical discernment and critical thinking, which can include righteous anger and disgust as well. The last thing I want is for any of my six kids to accommodate prejudice and degradation, no matter how normalized it becomes. But anger is never enough. My husband ran for office during this same time to help address our state's crisis (Alaska will be bankrupt in a year). We were all involved. So my kids have been a part of both righteous anger and righteous action this season as we traveled, campaigned, and sacrificed together for the common good.
Nicole Massie Martin, author of Made to Lead: Empowering Women for Ministry
“Our ancestors survived much worse than we could imagine, but they kept their eyes on Jesus.”
I am a black minister, and my husband and I have two beautiful black daughters, both under four. I've never talked to them about politics, and we don’t let them watch the news. Yet, the other day, my three-year old told me that she decided to be Hillary Clinton during playtime in preschool while her friend played Donald Trump. I was in shock that she even knew their names! My thoughts shifted from pride to protection. I wanted to know what pretend-Trump said to her, how he treated her, and whether or not she was ok. I realized that I feared for my babies and for what the world would be like for them and for us.
After a bit of processing, I kissed my baby girls and reminded them of the most important thing: No matter who's president, God is still God. Now, more than ever, I need them to know that their identity does not come from the systems around them, but from the strength that lies within them; a strength given to them by God. As my own mother has said, "We've been here before and God will take us through it again." Our ancestors survived much worse than we could imagine, but they kept their eyes on Jesus. It is my duty to teach my daughters to do the same.
Trillia Newbell, author of Enjoy, Fear and Faith, and United
“Jesus is coming back, and nations will not stand in his way.”
Throughout this election season, we have talked about two topics in our home: racism and abortion. I am black and my husband is white, so we’ve made it our aim to talk about race in such a way that our kids see God’s beautiful design in creating unique people with distinct cultures. Our kids saw Trump’s desire to build a wall as appalling and racist. As a result, we have had to teach our kids about stereotypes, racial bias, and the sin of partiality referred to in James 2. Along with racism, my kids were devastated to learn about abortion [during the election]. Abortion is an unimaginable act to a child, as it should be to an adult. My kids can’t fully wrap their heads around the idea of someone willfully taking the life of a baby. That said, our hope is that they would also grow to be compassionate and gracious to those who have made this choice.
Our government will never live up to what it should be. And, likewise, our presidents will never be completely who they should be. But we can rest and trust in God now—there’s an eternal future awaiting us. Jesus is coming back, and nations will not stand in his way (Rev. 19:11, 15–16).
Jen Pollock Michel, author of Teach Us to Want and Keeping Place
“No political leader or party can bear the weight of human hope.”
Our American children attend a culturally and ethnically diverse international school in Canada. When Donald Trump has spoken of banning Muslims at American borders, they have thought of dark-skinned friends with names. As one might expect, they are outraged over the outcome of the presidential election. And though my husband and I voted for Hillary Clinton, we have warned our children against unfairly caricaturing Trump supporters (including their own grandparents) as “racist” and “xenophobic” and tried to sketch the moral objections Christians have legitimately raised against a Clinton presidency. In our dinnertime and carpool conversations, we have tried to model the practice of good listening, humbly asking good questions and seeking sympathetic understanding of those with whom we disagree. Most of all, we have reminded them of the story of the gospel: No political leader or party can bear the weight of human hope. Jesus Christ must return to set the world to rights.
Andrea Ramirez, PhD, executive director of the faith and education coalition of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition
“It is God who wrestles with human hearts.”
This election season afforded Christian parents many discipleship opportunities. Personally, I was reminded of how vital it is to share with my daughters that all people are flawed and that there is only one antidote: Jesus. It is while we are in this flawed state that God loves and values us to the point of passionately pursuing us. It is God who wrestles with human hearts. The issues devaluing human life, from womb to tomb, discussed by both parties in this election season renewed my parenting focus to instill the value of one another, just as we have been valued.
Patricia Raybon, author of I Told the Mountain to Move, Undivided, and My First White Friend
“Sexual and racial healing in American Christianity won’t take priority because of my human effort alone.”
My Muslim daughter, a millennial who left the church, lives in the American South where her suburb boasts a church on almost every corner. As an African American, when I visit her family there and drive down the wide boulevards past massive structures on acres of rolling lawns, I often wonder: What are they teaching in there? After Donald Trump’s election, in which four out of five white evangelicals voted for him, I reflect on those churches and think: What are they not teaching? The question compels me because my husband and I have been praying for our daughter to return to the church. But why would she? I must pray instead that she returns to Christ. I find I’m praying that same thing for all of us, especially his church.
Finally, I see that sexual and racial healing in American Christianity won’t take priority because of my human effort alone. In a Christianity Today editorial, Mark Galli quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer as saying: “It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. … We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build.” In the meantime, God help us to believe he will build it upright. Starting in me.
Courtney Reissig, wife, mom, and writer
“Ultimately all leaders are in the hands of the Lord.”
I have three children ages three and under, so their first memories of a president will be of President-elect Trump. We want to help them think biblically and faithfully about politics and the leaders who are over us. Because they are young, we talked very little about the election cycle with them. But during the primary season, our twins overheard my husband and me talking about the hateful language of Donald Trump and began saying "Donald Trump is not nice" whenever they heard someone talk about him or saw him on TV. This allowed us to change the conversation towards a more prayerful tone the morning after he was elected president. We were able to tell them that while we did not vote for him, we still wanted to honor him and pray for him as our next president, because ultimately all leaders are in the hands of the Lord (Prov. 21:1).
Vaneetha Rendall Risner, author of The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering
“We worship a Savior who will never disappoint, who is far above all earthly authority and who alone can give us true freedom and joy.”
Here is what I have told my daughters, in so many words: Don’t let hate, or fear, or the assumption that your motives are pure (while the motives of others are tainted) drive you. That attitude only leads to strife and unrest. Try to understand other people’s perspectives. Listen lovingly. Be humble and respectful. At the same time, point everyone to the only hope that we have, which is in Jesus. We worship a Savior who will never disappoint, who is far above all earthly authority and who alone can give us true freedom and joy. Our hope is not in our leaders; our hope is in God who is sovereign over all things.
Deidra Riggs, author of ONE: Unity in a Divided World (2017)
“Our children can be our best teachers in a world that seems to be loosed and unmoored from its foundation.”
My youngest child is 25 years old, and that means I’ve got the benefit of parental hindsight as I navigate this election season. Looking back, I wish I’d been vigilant about asking my children more questions when they were younger, rather than presuming to tell them how or what to think about our current climate. Asking good questions of our children helps us better gauge their interpretation of people and gives us better footing to participate with our children in formulating loving responses to the world. For example, we can ask our children, “Do you know who this person is? What do you think of this person?” and wait for their answers which, to be quite honest, may astound us with their wisdom and insight.
Jesus’ admonition to us to become like children is not an empty illustration, tossed out without deliberation on the part of our Savior. Our children can be our best teachers in a world that seems to be loosed and unmoored from its foundation. Similarly, their perspective can be a compass that points us back to love, even—and especially—when we’ve lost sight of love in the darkness of pain, fear, disappointment, and hopelessness.
Erin Wyble Newcomb, PhD, Christ and Pop Culture contributor
“I see the ways that God’s virtues call upon us to act.”
My husband and I had Micah 6:8 printed on our wedding invitations. That verse has been stuck to our fridge for our entire marriage, and both our children know it by heart. In the wake of an election where so many Americans feel disenfranchised and threatened, I keep returning to the words that my family set as our guiding principle nearly a decade ago: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly. I see the ways that God’s virtues call upon us to act. As a mother, I am redoubling my efforts to do what the Lord requires—acting upon his virtues.
Rachel Marie Stone, author of Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food
My eight-year-old son came downstairs last night with a safety pin fastened squarely in the middle of his shirt.
“Where’d you get that?”
I’ve been wearing a pin since last Wednesday, when Donald Trump was elected to the presidency.
“I see that Hillary Clinton pin,” a friend teased.
But a safety pin is not a Hillary Clinton pin. It’s not, strictly speaking, partisan at all. It says to those who are fearful and those who feel forgotten in the wake of this election—immigrants, minorities, women, people with disabilities—“I am with you.”
My children were upset when they heard the election results. They were even a little angry.
“Let’s not be angry,” I said, though I’ve been angry myself. “Let’s do this: Let’s make sure we are on the side of those who feel most afraid. Remember, hate can’t drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
I was preaching to myself, too.