Only three hours deep into my sleep after a night of watching election results, I awoke to my 4-year-old standing next to the bedside. “Mom, Donald Trump is the president” — my son was showing his angry face, a face usually reserved for when I try and feed him something other than meat or candy for dinner. But there he stood, in his fuzzy footie pajamas, waiting for me to react at 6 in the morning to the fact that the person we championed for the last year had lost the presidential election.
The truth was I already knew our candidate had lost, just hours before I knew the result. We closed our laptops and shut off the television after the acceptance speech. But we couldn’t sleep. My husband and I both laid on our backs staring at the ceiling, letting out restless breaths and I finally said it: “I don’t know how to tell the kids.”
My husband and I previously worked in partisan jobs, so the ups and downs of elections and their impact were not new to us. We had seen our jobs sustained and lost with the changing tide of political power. This election result felt different to us this time because for us it wasn’t just about a single issue or our own job retention.
This presidential election was what we believed in our heart to be an opportunity to be stronger together in a country invested in equity, women’s rights, inclusivity, and kindness. And our kids believed that too.
My eyes, swollen from sobbing, opened and I sat up, shaking off the sleep deprived hangover feeling in my belly and body. Truthfully, I didn’t know the best way to respond to my son. I found myself making statements about the election results and then retracting them — letting the parenting tips and advice from classes and books play in my head and offering myself the opportunity to rewind the conversation when I felt like I didn’t do it right.
I know the impact of the election and our sadness about our candidate not being the winner is not a one-time conversation with my children. Experiencing this loss has reiterated with me the important role that I play as a parent and the gift I’ve been given to get up and walk with my children through this experience. These are the 10 ways I’m having a conversation with my children about the election results.
1. You are loved and valued.
First and most importantly, our kids need to know that they are loved and valued. Our kids need to know that their parents, community, and country love and value them. We must start by telling and showing our children that they are loved and valued, that each child has something to offer, and they deserve and will receive love from us.
2. I will protect you.
The fear rhetoric has been high throughout the election. Our children have been held hostage by words and actions that rightfully scared them. We need to reassure our children that we will protect and keep them safe with both our words and actions.
3. We failed and we will get up.
We need to take ownership of an election outcome that didn’t go our way. Our kids need to see us move from failure and get up — because we are getting up, aren’t we? We shouldn’t dismiss the failure. We need to own it and show how we will take our next step forward.
4. I’m sad and I don’t know what’s next.
We need to be honest and vulnerable with our children. Share your fear, sadness, and anger about the election result. Your children need to see you in your moment of despair and how you step out of it. This isn’t the outcome you wanted, so say that. Sit with them in their sadness and answer their questions.
Adults struggle with the immense impact of a presidential election. Imagine the difficulty for children to see the potential issues and changes that may come after an election. It’s okay to tell them “I don’t know what’s next,” because that’s true.
5. Sexism and racism is a scary reality in our country.
Sexism and racism is a scary reality in our country, and we should be ashamed. It is scary for us to consider that people would blatantly disregard sexist and racist actions, policies, and messages and vote for the candidate anyway. Our kids are scared of this too. We need to talk about this, not pretend it doesn’t exist.
6. Girls are powerful and should dream big.
We believed that girls are powerful and should dream big even before this election, didn’t we? The fire inside us to show our daughters that they can be anything hasn’t burnt out, but has intensified. Surround girls with positive examples and opportunities to be powerful and dream big. When she asks you when a woman will be president, be honest that we don’t know but we are going to keep fighting for it.
7. Civic engagement isn’t just about the sticker.
Your kids were probably really excited about their voting sticker. Don’t let this be their only taste of civics until the next election. And don’t be quick to assure children that change will come in two or four years. Many children only understand time duration in terms of “how many sleeps until” scenarios, so you will likely need to spend time talking about how elections work.
8. We will speak up, act, and fight for human rights.
We will use both our voice and actions to speak up for human rights because we can be the good after this election. This means in our family, we use our voices and actions against injustice, sexual assault, bullying, sexism and racism. We will love and be inclusive to all people. The election result has not changed this value for our families, what we hold true in our hearts, and what we believe will hold our country together. We must do this harder and stronger as parents than ever before, and we must teach our kids to be new advocates for human rights.
9. We will show up in our community.
We can’t expect change without action, and the force behind it needs to be us working together right in own communities. We need to participate, engage, and help in our community, not just when asked. We need to show up. We will hold our hearts and minds open even when it is uncomfortable and difficult. We must teach our kids that we all move forward together when we show up for each other.
10. We will move forward, decide how we forgive, and find joy.
Elections are unpredictable. But what is predictable and stable is our love for our children. We must walk with our children in this next phase of our country. We are their best example of helping them move forward. We get to decide if we forgive and how we move forward with forgiveness. It is our job to teach our children that when we move forward, we will find joy again. We will find joy in what makes us feel like a family, community, and country. Our kids are counting on us.