I was just talking to my 19-year-old son about the upcoming State of the Union address. Politics have always been a part of our family life. Casual dinner table conversation, serious advocacy, humor — all threads of political discourse have been welcome and encouraged, from early on.
When at all possible, we vote together and watch events like the State of the Union together. It’s a family tradition that might not be a jolly as decorating the Christmas tree or fireworks on the 4th of July, but it’s our little tradition, and one I’d highly endorse other families cultivating.
My first memory of watching civics on television with my family was when my dad called me in from playing outside so that we could all watch Nixon resign. I didn’t have context for what was happening, but I knew it was important.
Watching the SOFU isn’t going to be dramatic, but that’s the point, it’s a planned pulsebeat. It’s context. And watching the address has become a thing. We’ll have snacks. We’ll see if Vice President Biden naps or winks at the camera. We might multi-task, with me on Twitter and him on Facebook. And we’ll pay great attention to the substance of what is said and isn’t said. We’ll consider our country and President Obama’s leadership, his progress on his promises, his success or struggles with bi-partisan support.
We don’t care if that’s wonky. If fact, we hope every family is wonky like that.
I once worried if my children would grow up to rebel like Alex P. Keaton, as GOP conservatives in reaction to the liberal viewpoints they cut their teeth on in our home. But it hasn’t gone that way. They haven’t replicated my stances whole cloth, one has fiscal bent towards Libertarianism, and they are both affected by the coming-of-age generational forces that include 9/11, technology and the recession. Each challenges me plenty, either overtly or simply by asking questions.
Parenting didn’t radicalize me–I was politically aware and engaged long before I had children. Being a mother certainly shaped my interests and concerns, and some of that focus has changed over time. Not being from a military family, for example, I was awakened in a new way to foreign policy when my older son registered for the draft and was targeted by recruiters. This economy affects me, I worry about how it affects others, and I also have direct experience with how it is affecting the morale, career/education goals and job prospects for young adults.
I think educating your children about civics and weaving political discussions into your daily life is the best way to ensure hope for your future. I know that at the very least, I’ve set loose two very thoughtful voters and active citizens. And I very happily have someone to get wonky with during the State of the Union Address tonight. Maybe he’ll even wash the popcorn pot and bowls afterwards. It might be too much to hope for, but that’s when you really know you’ve done your job right.
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