On a recent trip to Washington DC, I spent an afternoon taking in the sights of our nation’s capital. As I walked the streets, I thought about the power players at work all around me. Congressional leaders hashing out legislative deals. Lobbyists strategizing their agendas. Countless bureaucrats working in the federal agencies that keep our government machinery running.
I wonder how many classified documents are sitting on desktops within a mile of where I’m walking, I mused.
As if to punctuate my thoughts, a young woman turned onto the sidewalk beside me. She wore a navy pencil skirt and matching blouse, a lovely handbag tossed over her shoulder, and a pair of gold-hued heels. One of her hands clutched a file folder, the other held a cell phone. I surmised that she was probably one of the important and powerful people I’d been reflecting on, headed to a meeting that would somehow save the world.
It kinda made me feel small in my skinny jeans and new blouse from Target. Just a simple mom.
That moment made me wonder: What if? I’d majored in political science at college—even interned for a local congressman’s office once upon a time. What if I’d stayed in that world and pursued a career? Would I be the powerful woman in the pencil skirt, striding with purpose down the street?
Instead of politics, I ended up focusing on family and ministry. That makes me a denim and cotton kind of girl—insignificant compared to the deal brokers of our nation’s capital.
But as I watched the “important” woman hurry away (and how do women walk so fast in such high heels?) another What if? popped into my heart: What if I hadn’t had my kids? What if I hadn’t poured so much time and energy into building a family?
What if all the other hardworking moms across the country just stopped our efforts to build healthy, loving kids?
Suddenly, I walked a bit taller. Because truth be told, we moms have far more power than people give us credit for. We may not write legislation or take meetings with foreign dignataries, but we are not “just moms.” We are having a profound impact on the next generation of citizens.
We can raise kids who can carry truth and justice into this horribly divided world. We can teach kids to fight the hate by devoting themselves to Love. We can–one little heart at a time–make our own little stand against the violence we all fear.
Teaching Love in a Climate of Hate
In this current season of divisive politics and morally-bankrupt leaders, many wonder: Will we ever see a spirit of true cooperation and integrity in this country again?
The answer to that question, I think, has far more to do with our work as mothers than the work of powerful elites. What parents teach their kids about justice, love, and good citizenship may have far more impact on the health of our democracy than all the talking heads and political rhetoric combined.
So to all the other jean-clad moms who just wiped breakfast crumbs off the counter, I want to say this: Your work matters. You may not get attention in the headlines or win awards, but the quiet, day-to-day effort you put into raising good citizens is worthy and valuable work.
As you carry out this important task, I want to offer a few qualities that will help you raise good citizens. These qualities, first and foremost, are values God calls us to live as citizens of His kingdom–ways that helps us love our neighbor as ourselves. And like all godly qualities, they will help our earthly countries flourish too. Let’s raise our kids to fight against the hate and bring these desperately needed values back to the public square.
1. Teach Your Kids to Be Aware
Not so long ago, I heard a fellow mom lamenting the news: “It’s all so depressing when I watch it. I don’t even pay attention to the news anymore!” I understand this impulse: In the face of contradictory and alarming news stories, we can feel powerless and confused. It’s so much easier to grab a cup of coffee and just focus on the issues of my everyday life. Ignorance is bliss, right?
Until it isn’t.
When citizens ignore the news and get caught up in their personal dramas, injustice finds plenty of dark corners where it can thrive. One simple and sobering example: There were 4,743 people lynched in our country between 1882 and 1968. And these murders went unchecked and unpunished while the vast majority of Americans said and did nothing in response.
When people grow more ignorant about current events, evil will grow more bold.
So let’s teach our children to be aware. To care about current events. To value history. To know their elected representatives and keep them in their prayers. It’s not always easy or fun. But it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task either: It might be as simple as watching ten minutes of a news program each morning while you eat breakfast or giving one evening every quarter to watch a documentary
Put It Into Practice:
Subscribe to an email news service so you can have top news stories dropped in your inbox. Here’s one simple options are http://theweek.com/10things/776676/10-things-need-know-today .
2. Teach Your Kids to Practice Empathy Rather Than “Othering”
Our country holds such incredible diversity: We have bankers and bus drivers. Christians and Buddhist. Liberals, conservatives, and everything in between. And since we can’t encounter every cultural niche through personal experience, stereotypes naturally fill in the blanks.
These stereotypes cause great harm when they turn people into “others.” It’s a subtle shift, but sometimes people start looking at certain groups as “less” than themselves—less intelligent, less worthy, less deserving of compassion. It’s an easy trap to fall into; assuming things about people based on their “group” rather than recognizing them as fellow humans on the journey of life.
But consider how Jesus spent his ministry. Time and again, he connected with people who were very different himself. Samaritans. Non-Jewish “pagans.” Tax collectors. Sinners. Many of these groups had been “othered” by the religious leaders of his day; they were derided and ignored. But Jesus would have none of it. And on the day he died, he looked upon the most extreme “other”—a criminal being punished for a terrible crime—and made room for him in his kingdom.
Let’s follow his example and seek to understand groups that are often “othered,” whether that be the poor or the incarcerated, the religious minority or the illegal immigrant. Let’s trade our stereotypes for empathy. And teach our kids the most profound empathy of all: To recognize that every fellow human being bears the image of God.
Put Into Practice:
Look for an opportunity to take your family “out of the bubble” of your usual circles. Volunteer together in a different part of town. Gather supplies for a refugee center. Or attend a cultural celebration of a different ethnic group in your community.
3. Teach Your Kids to Seek Common Ground with Their “Opponents”
An offshoot of the “othering” problem I mentioned above, political divisiveness has choked out much good will in our country. I’ll be honest here: The people I’m most tempted to “other”? They’re the ones who don’t share my political convictions or beliefs about justice.
This is the political trend of our times: We draw a battleline in front of us, and anyone who doesn’t stand on our side of the issue gets branded as stupid, or unpatriotic, or downright evil. It’s become so embedded in our cultural DNA, it’s hard to resist the pull—people on all sides have been guilty of hurling hurtful words and harboring bitter resentments toward the “other side.”
In truth, there are good, smart, decent people on both sides of the aisle—and many who stand between. People who love democracy. Who have been uniquely shaped by their background, geography, and life experience. Who sometimes come to different conclusions than our own.
And if we want to keep this democracy standing, we have to work together.
So what if, instead of holding so much fear and distrust of our political opponents, we started asking each other honest questions? What if, instead of assuming everyone else must be unreasonable and lack good sense, we started genuinely trying to understand their reasons?
Let’s teach our kids to respect people with different perspectives than their own. Encourage them to recognize the things we share: We all want positive changes for our families, businesses and neighborhoods. We all want to live in safety and peace. We all want our country to be healthy and strong.
Yes, we may have a thousand different ideas about how to best make that happen. And it’s going to be messy trying to hash it all out. But democracy is at its best when we seek common ground and work together: Usually, wisdom and insight can be found on both sides of the issues, and we’re more likely to hear it if we’re not busy calling each other names.
Put it Into Practice:
Check your conversations: Do you have political parties or leaders who you strongly disagree with? Or fellow friends/family members with different political leanings? How do you talk about them in the presence of your kids? Avoid name-calling or mean-spirited comments. Genuinely look for, and point out, your common ground.
4. Teach Your Kids to Seek Out Other Perspectives
I recently watched a “conversation” play out on Facebook about a hot-button social issue. (You already know where this is going, don’t you?) People on both sides of the issue had a lot to say, sometimes in ALL CAPS, with ****** words, and lots! of! exclamation! points! And in the end, I don’t think a single opinion was changed.
Aren’t we getting tired of this?
These days, the art of conversation seems to be dying, especially the art of give and take. We often go into conversations with an agenda—something to give. Less often, we start a conversation with the intention to take—to admit our blind spots or weaknesses and ask for insight from others.
When it comes to social and political issues, are we willing to share and listen? Are we really open to hearing a different perspective? Will we believe someone if they tell us they’ve had a different experience?
If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then we’re not really conversing. We’re just taking turns performing monologues. Which might be entertaining. But it’s not dialogue. And it’s certainly not going to help us connect or understand each other better.
For democracy to flourish, we must learn how to be “we” the people, not “me” the people. And that means taking time to consider different voices than our own. So often, when I’ve finally let go of my own agenda and truly listened to a voice from the “other side,” I’ve been humbled. I’ve been educated. And I’ve come out with stronger and wiser ideas to inform my position.
We need to teach our kids the art of true conversation. Real listening. Let’s teach them the truth that we all have a limited perspective, and encourage them to learn about experiences that are different than their own.
Put It Into Practice:
Seek out at least one news source or commentary that’s different from you own political leanings and watch/read with the purpose of trying to understand their concerns. A great resource to help you figure out the political leanings of various news sources can be found here: https://www.allsides.com/media-bias/media-bias-ratings
5. Teach Your Kids That It’s Okay to Change Their Opinion
I remember sparring with a particular friend over political issues during my college days. I’d never admit this at the time, but in the midst of those debates, he brought up ideas I hadn’t considered before. In good debate fashion, I would plow right past them and bombard him with my own facts and figures. All bluster and bravado, we’d never give each other the satisfaction of admitting a point. But in truth, those debates often led me to refine my position in healthy ways. Dare I say it? Maybe I even changed my opinion about a issue or two!
And you know what? The sky didn’t fall in. I wasn’t struck by lightning. And Jesus just kept on walking right beside me.
I think it’s important to teach our kids how to hold political opinions loosely. We shouldn’t clutch ideas out of fear they might be challenged: If they’re good ideas, they will hold up to the challenge!
On the flip side, if God guides us toward a deeper understanding of an issue, or reveals an area where our opinions have been a bit warped, we should lean into this reshaping. Yes, Truth exists. There are right ideas and wrong ideas. Solutions that are more just and right than others. But there’s only One who understands that truth perfectly—and the rest of us are just trying our best to follow Him.
Sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes we realize there’s a whole new angle on an issue we were only looking at from one side. Sometimes we get hit with the hard reality that our good intentions did not equate to good impact for the people we were trying to help. And when we do, we need to let go of our pride and admit when we’ve been off base.
Let’s teach our kids that there’s no shame in refining or changing a political opinion. In fact, it’s actually a sign of humility and growth. The way we build a stronger and wiser country. As long as our ultimate goal is to keep seeking out God’s wisdom, we shouldn’t fear where our political questions take us.
Put It Into Practice:
How do you react when your kids start to challenge your political leanings? Does fear drive your response, making you double down on your positions? Or do you really listen, willing to concede a point if you learn something new? Instead of belittling their new ideas or trying to poke holes in their arguments, try asking your kids questions. Give them an example to follow for seeking understanding and true dialogue despite disagreement.
Make it a matter of family prayer to ask for God’s wisdom when it comes to political issues.