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raising activists, teaching children to vote

Teaching Our Children to Be a Part of the Process by Taking them to Vote

Alexa Bigwarfe's picture

There was a time when my children were small and I often skipped voting in the midterm elections. I had a lot of excuses - no one to watch the kids, I didn't want to stand in line with them being nuts all around me, Midterms weren't important anyway.

Wait, what?

Now it's hard to believe that I thought ANY of those things. I was at home with my children, but I'm sure there are plenty of working moms who have also run their list of excuses around voting. If we've learned anything over the last several years, it should be that it is important for us to show up and vote EVERY TIME we get the opportunity.

To start, Midterms are tremendously important.

First of all, any number of national spots are being elected/re-elected and it's a fantastic time to get rid of the people who have been there for too long or no longer support or help women and mothers by their policies and voting records. 

Secondly, so many VERY important local and state elections occur during the midterms. We're voting for our governor, my state representatives, and our school board in this election. These are all tremendously important.

Third - bonds, referendums, and local tax/policy issues. We have numerous key issues on the ballot, as I'm sure you do too. 

As my children grow older, I realize just how important those school board seats are. I understand that the local taxes, bonds, and other referendums truly have an impact on my day-to-day life.

Women's issues are suffering because more women don't show up.

Reproductive health issues, gender wage gaps, protections in the workplace, paid sick leave and other healthcare initiatives... these are so critical to us as women, as mothers, but they aren't going to be addressed if we aren't ensuring that candidates who are willing to talk about and support these initiatives are elected. 

We have a large problem in this country with apathy and expecting that things will just work out. The problem is, they don't just "work out". Rights are being stripped, fascism and racism are growing, it feels like we're moving backward on many gender and rights issues... we can no longer sit on the sidelines quietly and just hope for the best.

But voting is only one part of the equation.

As engaged mothers, we need to also raise our children to understand how important it is to be a part of the process, to use their voices, to speak up about the issues that impact them, and to make sure they are backing the people and the policies that support those agendas. It's my opinion that we need to raise children that are comfortable discussing issues and public policy without resorting to anger and arguments. And this will come more naturally if they are raised believing that discussing issues is normal and important.

Tips for teaching your children to be part of the process:

  • Model the behavior. The best way to teach them the importance is to show them. Take them with you to the polls. I took my kids with me to the last election. I suppose one of the benefits of low voter turnout is that there was absolutely no line. I had no issues walking right in and was casting my vote within 5 minutes. I even let the girls click on the boxes for me. They got stickers to show they "voted" and they understood the significance of being part of the process.  The line is not always short. Plan accordingly. Do not take the children with you in high traffic times (first thing in the morning, lunchtime, or after work) unless you are prepared with activities. Some voting sites will move women with small children to the front of the line, but not all. 
  • Talk about the issues. Obviously, we don't have to get into the details on reproductive rights and hot topic issues with the kids, unless you really want to, but it is important that they understand why voting is important. Why it matters who is elected, and what the governmental process is like. There are many resources - books, websites, educational programming, that can help you teach it at their level if you aren't sure how to do this. 
  • Take them to rallies or other events. In 2019, I plan on taking my girls to the Women's March. I have taken them to events hosted by Moms Demand Action. It's usually quite fun and opens many doors for conversation.
  • Try to remove emotion and anger from the discussion. This one is tough, I know! I remember one day I said something about Trump, and my six-year-old screamed, "Trump!?! I HATE Trump!" While I thought it was a little funny, I also felt embarrassed. I want to raise children that are thoughtful and deliberate, but I don't want the discussion to be hateful. It's especially hard in certain circumstances, but I subscribe to the old southern saying, "You kill more flies with sugar than vinegar". (Say that with a strong, southern drawl, y'all.) But it's true. Anger and emotion just lead to more anger and emotion. No one learns, listens, or changes based on that approach. Instead, talk about the issues, the legislation. Why is it important? What does it mean? How can we impact change?
  • Involve them in community activities. We raise money for organizations that are important for us, we do walks and runs and charity events that help organizations and causes, we serve the needs of our community. And I can see my children impacted for life when each time they participate. As a child, my parents took me to serve in Soup Kitchens and deliver meals and items to homeless or needy families. These actions drilled into me a sense of compassion, desire to help others, and a realization of how much our family had in comparison to others. We did not have a lot, by the way, but more than many. To this day, my heart is bigger, which leads me to continue to advocate on the behalf of those who are marginalized.

The list could go on, but I find these to be a great place to start. Don't get overwhelmed in the process. Find what works for you, and go with it.

Whatever you do, don't skip the midterms, even if you can't take your kids with you this time. Bring them a sticker and let them know you voted and why it was important. 


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