Teaching Children to Fight: Raising Kids With Democratic Values In The Age Of A Trump Administration

Jinna Halperin Elementary School

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Since the election, dinnertime conversations with my ten year old daughter and six year old son have taken some unexpected directions.  In the early days, following coverage of Donald Trump’s boasts about grabbing women, we discussed how no one can ever touch us without our permission. We talked about abandoning our country altogether —as well as our cozy blue bubble in Arlington, Massachusetts— and moving to Canada, an idea that my son vehemently opposed. We also had ongoing debates about whether it was okay to say that we hate someone, a point on which my husband and I remain divided.

Beyond all that, two conversations stand out as the most startling. One night at dinner, my daughter mentioned the proposed Muslim registry because it related to a book she had read on Japanese internment camps. Almost reflexively, I responded that if there were such a registry, we would sign our names in an act of solidarity.

“But they would kick us out of our house!” my son yelled.

“How could we do that? Then they would come after us!” my daughter added.

I explained that one registry could give way to another, especially knowing that a white nationalist, anti-Semite had just been welcomed into the Oval Office. I then recalled the words of Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

As a white, liberal, formerly complacent Jewish woman, I accept that I should have done more to prevent Trump from becoming president. How could I remain silent now with all that was unfolding around us?

So in the past few weeks, we have dragged our children to three different rallies. At the Boston Health Care Rally, we stood outside Faneuil Hall on a blustery winter day. We arrived late, after some familial disputes over whether we should attend, with the children insisting that we not go. In the end, we managed to pry them out the door, each of us grumpy, me about being late and missing the headliners, Senators Warren and Markey, whose speeches I livestreamed on my phone.

We arrived in time to hear several other members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation. Afterwards, we pushed our way to the stage, and my daughter was lucky enough to get Senator Markey’s signature.  We then headed inside for tea and hot chocolate, before returning to find Markey chatting with a small group of people. We joined the group, and he immediately turned to greet each of us individually. We shared a nice exchange, and then as we walked away, he called said to my daughter, “Now remember, Aurora, you’re the leader.” We left with cold hands and frozen toes, but feeling hopeful and inspired. My husband turned to me and said, “Aren’t you happy we went after all, even though we were late?” I was indeed. Score one for a teachable parenting moment.

The days preceding the historic Boston Women’s March were uniquely challenging for my household. My daughter’s flute recital was scheduled right in the middle of the march. After failing to reschedule it, we debated whether we should miss the recital all together, arrive late to the march, or split up and meet at the march afterward.

“It’s fine if we get there late,” my husband said. “It’s important that she have the opportunity to perform on stage.”

“I see your point, but this is history in the making,” I argued. “There will be more flute recitals. Now is the time to stand up and be counted, and let our children know that sometimes the greater good is more important than the individual.”

“We can still do that if we get there late,” he countered.

“Perhaps,” I conceded, but as I thought about it more, I felt it was important to be there from the start.

In the weeks before the march, my daughter volunteered at her sewing school to make Pussyhats. As the project gained publicity, she became somewhat of a rock star, with eager protesters waiting in lines that snaked out the door to collect the completed hats. I was thrilled she was supporting the effort, despite the fact that I was forced to answer the obligatory question, “what’s the meaning behind the pussy cat hats?”

In the end, my daughter decided to miss her recital, partly based on her desire for us to stay together, in case something bad happened at the march. Despite being a claustrophobic introvert who detests crowds, I stood on Boston Common surrounded by 175,000 allies united in our support for equal rights and our opposition to the Trump Administration.

A few weeks before the inauguration, we had what was perhaps our most alarming and contentious dinnertime discussion. At the time, the concept of a Muslim registry or ban seemed preposterous.

“Who is worse,” my daughter asked, “Donald Trump or Hitler?”

“Hitler,” my husband assured her, without even a moment’s pause.

“I’m not so sure,” I countered, much to his disbelief.

“How can you say that? Of course, Hitler was worse,” he pushed back with an incredulous look, as if I was being intentionally hyperbolic.

“Only time will tell, Trump’s history has yet to be written,” I responded firmly with sincere uncertainty.

Since then, we attended our third rally, this one opposing the Muslim ban that drew 20,000 people on one day’s notice. Again, we brought our disgruntled children. Standing proudly with our “Jews for Muslims” sign, written by my non-Jewish husband, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves next to the retired rabbi from our temple. Later, we stumbled upon an impromptu brass band. The children stood atop a pillar for optimal viewing, we sang protest songs, and the day was made: another small victory for teachable parenting moments.

Widespread confusion defines the nascent days of the Trump Administration. As a parent of young children, my fear and concern are palpable. While the America I know becomes increasingly unhinged, I find myself as a parent navigating through unchartered terrain. How do I explain a world that I am ceasing to understand? How do I provide comfort when I am at a loss for where to find it? Now more than ever, I find my children looking to us for guidance. Despite my growing angst, I cannot succumb to my fear for the sake of my children. I must teach them to stand up for what they believe and repair the world. I must remind them to respect others and embrace the beauty and power of diversity; the very essence of being American.

Following the election, my daughter was asked to write a “This I believe” statement. “This I believe,” she wrote, “to be a leader, you have to be compassionate toward others. To be a leader you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” And so we must. Now begins the journey of teaching our children to fight, just as long as it’s not with each other.  


About the Author

Jinna Halperin

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