A Lesson In Civics for Moms and Kids

lesson in civics

Anything new in the political landscape?

No, just another presidential year with no big stories, you say?

Cool.

Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The most recent election sent us all spinning and wanting to do something. Either your candidate won and you are excited to see what the next four years brings. Or, yours didn’t and well, all the feels. But, this isn’t an article about politics. We don’t do that here. Instead, I would like to suggest a few ways to get engaged in the issues no matter what you think about the leadership. They are just one person. We are many.

1. Get Educated

There are a billion and one things a person, particularly a mom, could concern herself about – healthcare, economy, environment, equal pay for women, paid maternity leave, etc. Instead of being overwhelmed here at step one, decide what is most important to you. Pay attention to all aspects of what’s going on in the world, but take the time to read the in-depth articles only for two or three issues that mean the most to give them the full attention they deserve. (Side note: do you agree or do you think we should know 50% about everything vs. 100% about some of the things? I see pros/cons to both.)

As appropriate, discuss these issues with your kids. Take a cue from their history class to tie in with what is happening today. Ex. Women started working outside the home in record numbers during World War II. Now they make up half of the work force, but don’t get paid the same as their male counterparts. Why might that be?

Next, we need to learn where the candidates stand on these issues. To that end, I suggest you search out unbiased media. This might be considered hard to come by these days, but I believe that NPR does a good job in presenting facts. Personally, I subscribe to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to ensure I am better educated about our area’s officials and issues. Invite your children to read the paper, too. Sure, they may start with the comics or sports section, but that’s okay. One day a cover story may just catch their eye.

If possible, please give donations or buy subscriptions to the stations and publications that speak to you. Journalism is a dying but vital industry. We can’t let advertisers dictate what is reported! 

2. Hear from The Other Side

There has been a kerfuffle about the rise of fake news. I don’t like this, but I do believe we should take in biased media. Hear me out. To better understand what the “other guys” think, I’ve tried watching the channel that normally makes me a little ill. It’s important to keep (slightly) current on what these channels are reporting so you understand what “facts” are being tossed out there so you can present an educated perspective.

If your children are older, it might be interesting to have them watch with you. As we are now in the holiday season, they may notice heated debates between extended family members. Watch these channels and immediately discuss what the child saw and how that might frame someone’s opinion. 

3. Support Advocacy Organizations

I appreciate we are all busy women and we might not have the time or energy to put in calls to our elected officials (more on that in a second). If this sounds like you, I’d suggest finding an advocacy group that supports your cause(s). Join their newsletters. Read their white papers.  Answer their calls to action. Attend their events. Give money if you can. Involve your whole family in volunteer or rally opportunities, as appropriate.

4. Engage on Social Media

I know, I know. We all took Twitter off our phones in the week following the election. If we wanted to keep any sort of relationship going with family and long-lost friends, we knew better than to see every single status update. That’s not what I mean.

Instead, I’d suggest joining Facebook groups of like-minded folks. These semi-private (nothing is fully private on the internet!!) groups can provide a sounding board for ideas and moral support if the people in your real life aren’t doing that for you.

5. Think for Yourself

I hope it goes without saying, but I’m going to put it in writing anyway – how your husband, mother, friend, minister, or children vote should have no effect on your decision. Of course our life experiences and those on the journey with us will color our opinions, but just because your better half is a Hufflepuff doesn’t mean you can’t pick Slytherin.

Read this twice: NO ONE EVER KNOWS HOW YOU VOTE!

In this same vein, please use this opportunity to teach your children that they, too, can think whatever they want to think. They shouldn’t follow the popular kid blindly into any decision. What is now just what to wear on Wednesdays may someday become who we bully after school.

6. Engage Your Officials

If you are ready to take bigger action, contact those that represent you in government. Here is a great site to figure out who that is. Also, here is a link to an informative Twitter thread on how best to get your voice heard within their offices. 

Note: If someone only hears negative things all day, they are going to go a little bonkers. If your official does something good, give them a call to say “thank you.” Nobody wants to just hear whining or ranting 24/7.

Always remember your children are watching. They will notice that you took the time to make a call or write a letter. They will hear or read your polite language. They will realize you can engage in civil discourse even with those with whom you disagree. These are all important life skills even if they don’t yet understand the purpose.

7. Look Locally

One could argue that your local city or village officials affect your life much more than the president. Consider researching your school board’s actions or review the parks department’s strategic goals. As moms, things like the local library system or business improvement district affect us daily. Attend town hall meetings or consider joining volunteer committees to get more active in these departments.

Depending on your town’s rules, teenagers may be invited to volunteer on these committees, too, or join special groups of their own. In Shorewood, teenagers are invited to an advisory board at the library. The city of Waukesha has a whole Leaders In Training program just for teens.

8. Turn it off

As parents, this is a lot to take on our already overburdened shoulders. If it comes to it, just turn it all off. Maybe for a few minutes, maybe for a few days. Don’t turn it off forever, but take breaks. Spend uninterrupted time with your children. Have a conversation with your spouse without looking at your phone. Read a book. Take a bath. Stop worrying for just a minute. For better or worse, it will be there when you are ready.

Do you have any other ideas on how to stay engaged? We’d love to hear them in the comments.

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