No doubt about it, the tough job of responsible parenting was made all the more daunting recently as many here in Hillary Clinton’s hometown grappled with the shock of an unexpected election outcome. Our nation voted in a way that surprised most political analysts, advance polls and, certainly, the numerous loyal local supporters who gathered early on Election Day to perform an exuberant flash-mob pant-suit dance at the train station. As schools were closed, many of these celebrants had their children with them as well. The weather was brilliant, the mood was buoyant and all seemed lined up for voters to elect a first female president.
Then the numbers started coming in. People shook their heads and refreshed their browsers; what??? how??? And so it went. After a long night–following what felt like an over-long election year–many were stunned and deeply saddened, but they also knew they would need to gather themselves and move on. In fact, for many in our community and across the nation, the need to process and regroup was driven most by that which is primal to all parents–how to talk to our children.
According to Chappaqua Child Psychologist, Dr. Sheri Baron, the first thing parents need to do is check in with themselves because, regardless of what the issue is, “a child will pick up anxiety from the parent.” With parents emotionally invested in the election outcome, children may well end up feeling worried and fearful. Some may be able to verbally express their concerns, which will help parents begin a reassuring conversation.
However, others may not express their feelings directly; young children may exhibit stress physically, perhaps with a stomach ache or wetting the bed, while older children may become defiant. The critical thing is to ask questions, and try to figure out what’s upsetting your child. It could be election-related, but, then again, it may be something else. Baron cautions not to assume and remember that “if parents feel fairly centered, kids feel safe.”
Dr. Stephanie O’Leary, clinical psychologist and recent parenting lecturer at Seven Bridges Middle School, concurs that it’s of paramount importance to ask children what they think before offering an opinion, explaining “this will help you stick to the facts and issues that are on your child’s mind without introducing items that may not be relevant.”
She reminds us that younger children (eight and under) take things more literally than do adults and older children, so, for example, “moving to Canada” may loom larger and more realistic than its intended metaphor; speak carefully, explain fully.
Speaking of explanations, O’Leary suggests we make sure children understand our country’s system of checks and balances and that no one person, even the President, is all-powerful.
Last but not least, she reminds us to send a clear message that we are here for our children whatever their fears and concerns –about this or any other matter.
Founding director of Sinai and Synapses, rabbi and parent Geoffrey Mitelman remembers that when he kissed his children good night on the eve of the election, he also shared his wish that they would all wake up to a Clinton presidency. As adults, we know that wishes don’t always come true. Mitelman ended up processing the evening’s events with deep sadness but also an attempt to understand the alternate perspective, “And then I watched, in slow-motion, the unraveling and potential undoing of everything that I hold dear.
But I also have to believe that Trump supporters were voting from a place of their own pain and fear, and how they believed everything they held dear had already unraveled. Even as I deeply, deeply disagree with them on nearly everything, I need to at least try to understand the source of their pain. All I can think of is how the opening chapter of Genesis matches with what science teaches: the universe’s natural state is towards chaos. It’s on us to create order. And even more importantly, it’s on us to create goodness.”
How do we “create” order and goodness? For many, it’s not just talking the values and respect talk, it’s walking the walk; in other words, modeling behavior for our children.
One out-of-state, African American friend-of-friend (who spoke on condition of anonymity) explained that she sat and watched the election results coming in and felt heartbroken and distraught.
She started thinking about what she’d do after waking up and telling her kids who’d won, and reassuring them that things would continue to be ok. She wondered how to spread love and acceptance, and decided to find ways to make a difference by embracing marginalized groups that are feeling even more hopeless. She planned that she and her children would reach out to a nonprofit emergency shelter in her area for LGBTQ teens to see what supplies were needed that they could help collect. The next day, they’d find another group to help. As she put it, “we can stop hate from winning one small act at a time. Love can still trump hate.”
Action is also of paramount importance to Los Angeles mom and Pomona College Gender Studies Professor Kyla Wazana Tompkins. Tompkins, a Canadian citizen, has the unique perspective of one who watched the election closely while not being able to cast a vote. She allowed that she’d been ambivalent about becoming a citizen but now feels more strongly than ever that she must.
In fact, when asked if she’d consider moving (with her husband and 8-year-old-son) to Canada, her response was the essence of quiet conviction, “Now is not the moment to abandon your agency.” She then recounted a story from years past when, hearing that Bush won his second election and joking about moving home to Canada, she was brought up short by a student who pointed out that running away is not ok. So, in the aftermath of our 2016 election, Tompkins plans to “double down” on America and put herself on the line because “you don’t get to leave because it’s bad; you’ve got to fix it. My job is to fight for my kid.”
Moving from LA to right around the corner, local mom and Chappaqua Moms Facebook facilitator Georgia Frasch echoed the same fighting spirit when she spoke to her 12-year-old twins and nine year old daughter, “This is our home, our country. We don’t abandon it when the going gets tough. Instead, we work even harder We are really lucky that we have a vote. It doesn’t always go our way, but it’s our obligation to support our government and even more important to uphold our family’s values: kindness, compassion, respect. It has to start with us. Acts of kindness start with us and get paid forward.”
Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe’s immediate thought for his Temple Beth El congregation was to create a healing Shabbat service, one co-led by the 7th grade B’nei Mitzvah class, offering a “safe place for individuals of all political persuasions to gather, connect and be present for one another.” On a more personal note, as a father, he too had to give careful consideration to the narrative he’d use to reassure his two young daughters. He carefully explained to them that though Donald Trump’s win would not immediately impact their lives, it might very well mean others’ lives would be made harder, and that they should consider themselves both fortunate and obligated to fight for the rights of vulnerable citizens.
Asked whether he’d considered the prospect of moving to Israel, Jaffe responded, “We’re American Jews, committed to our country. I don’t glorify leaving when times get tough. If people do choose to make Aliyah, it should be for the love of Israel and not the fear of America.” If his girls want to become dual American Israeli citizens, there is time for that later. For now, life moves on here in Chappaqua.
Chappaqua’s Beth Besen is a writer and editor, a parent and a concerned citizen who hopes that together with our children, we can create a better world.