19 January 2009

Living through history: how are you talking to your kids about it?

1218476612_36572c9acf_m.jpgLast night, we watched the Inauguration concert with our kids. Our son became impatient with much of the speechmaking, but we forced him to sit and watch as we commemorated and celebrated our country's progress. As I told him later: "When your kids someday ask you about what it was like to watch Barack Obama become the President, you don't want to say, 'I don't know. I was playing my Gameboy.'"

Today marks Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, and President-elect Obama has called for a day of service. Tomorrow, the Inauguration. It's such an amazing time to be an American -- and I say this as one who generally avoids political and patriotic talk. With all of the dire news about the global economy, the change of leadership has taken on something so much greater than political pomp.

We've been talking to our kids about the election all along, and I intend to keep them home from school tomorrow to watch the Inauguration. In fact, I'm throwing a party for our friends and their families so we can all watch together. As one who has never taken much interest in politics, I'm so excited to share this with my kids.

What about you? What are you doing today and tomorrow? Is it business as usual? Or a special occasion? How are you letting your children know they are witnessing something historic?

Photo by Transplanted Mountaineer

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Oh yeah, We have been discussing (and rooting) for Obama all of 2008 with our kids. We've been pretty involved politically, more than ever before, with donating time and money. I work from home 2 days a week and tomorrow is a day for the girls to be in school. I'm DVR-ing the whole inauguration and we'll watch it together over the course of the next week or so.

I am with the person who said, "To a lot of people, Obama is the first black president, but to a whole generation of young people, he's just the president." This is a good thing. I'm happy to teach my kids to respect the office and listen to what the man has to say because he's good at his job and he can make good things happen, and I don't necessarily see a reason why I have to say "and it's extra special because of where his dad was from and the color of his skin." They may eventually get that, but I don't see a reason why I have to start emphasizing it so soon. I'd much rather the kids grew up in a world where it wasn't shoved under their noses at every opportunity. The world isn't a less racist place when we get a black president, it's a less racist place when we stop feeling the need to specify "black" every time. Every president is history in the making, don't forget that.

Reminds me of the old joke about the boy who comes home from his first day at kindergarten and tells his mother, "I made a new friend, his name is Leon." The mother says, "Oh, that's nice. Is Leon black?" The son says, "I don't know, I'll have to ask him."

For those making a big deal out of this inauguration, did you (or would you have) done the same thing 8 years ago, or if McCain had won? Honestly?

I feel the same as Duane about not making a big deal at all about President Obama being black. My daughter (age 5) has friends of many different races, and to her, skin color makes no more difference than hair color. I also didn't make a big deal out of Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin being women. I remember as a kid hearing about the "glass ceiling" and things like "even though you're a girl, you can be anything you want to be." I kept wondering why people were saying that kind of thing. I always just thought, "What are you TALKING about?? Why COULDN'T I be anything I want to be??? Is something WRONG WITH ME???" So yes, we'll talk about the inauguration and watch as much as we can, but I won't be talking about race, unless my daughter would happen to ask.

I actually blogged about this today, including an outline of the quasi-civics lesson we'll be having for family night tonight. I asked my oldest child (age 6) what MLK and Obama have in common and he said "they both want people to be happy". I loved that response and we left it at that. I am so amazed and relieved that, at least at this point, all three of my children seem to be color-blind, so to speak.

Yesterday while watching the concert, my daughter said, "I know why Obama smiles all the time. Because he has a happy, healthy family."

Agree in many ways about not needing to stress Obama's race. On the other hand, seeing the first black President step into office is a historical moment that can't be underestimated. My kids wonder, in the relatively color-blind world they live in, why it's taken this long.

I told my 3yr old today, "Our people treated black Americans badly. Sometimes we still do. But tomorrow is a special day for celebration because for the first time ever, our people chose a black American to be our leader."

My oldest is definitely old enough to grasp the context of history (Mr G is 11), and is very engaged in this as a transitional point, and yes, partly because Obama is black. I agree with the essential truth that the less we focus on race as a 'relevant' fact, the more we'll move past race issues overall - BUT, context also must be considered. It isn't that we should forget the history, after all - remembering the history is essential.

That said, we also cover the ground of "I'm celebratory because of who he is and what he brings to the job." We're making that part of the discussion. I think Sarah Palin actually helped me recognize that I am not that interested in the gender or race or ethnicity, I care more about the values and the skills and the priorities and the intentions and the vision. I would not be nearly as thrilled if Barak Obama wasn't *who* he is, intellectually, personally, ethically, the whole bit.

So, we're covering both sets of ground. Mr G can tie Martin Luther King Jr. to Hildegard of Bingen philosophically, I think he can make the appropriate extrapolations here as well. The younger kids are less able to differentiate meanings and images. I still want them to pay attention to the event, so it stays in their memory. But exactly why can be a lighter touch.

As for how we're celebrating: We went out to see the presidential train go by - in the freezing cold. I want my kids to remember that, just like I remember Armstrong stepping down onto the moon (I was younger than they are, but it was impressed on me how important the event was). Giving them the tools to understand the complexity of the context is a task that won't be accomplished in a week or a year. We froze our bits off waiting for the train, but nobody was sorry we waited.

Long run - the event is just a ripple in the course of history, but it is one we can recognize and throw a party around. For kids, IMHO, being able to place an event so concretely in their minds is important.

My three oldest children watched the inauguration at school and I taped some of it. When they arrived home we sat down and watched it together and talked about it.

My 4-year-old daughter is very aware of what's going on and is getting a pretty good understanding. My 5-year-old son isn't that interested, but I made him watch a bit and didn't force. My teenager and I discussed more indepth of course. It's an amazing time and I am so proud to share this with my children. My youngest will be about 5 when the election rolls around again so it'll be exciting to "review" with her.

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