The election of Donald Trump has magnified and amplified some of the ugliest truths about our country. As a mother, how do I support my children while remaining honest about the terrifying times we are experiencing?
Preparing for this column was overwhelming, even just sorting through the many vile and violent events of the last few months. Feeling overwhelmed brings me to my first job as a parent dealing with these terrifying social and political realities: I have to face the truth myself.
As an adult, I need to vigilantly remind myself this isn’t “surreal.” It is happening now. Our country already is in a time of crisis, and it’s going to get worse.
In the months since the election we’ve seen a rise in hate crimes and hate group activities. That’s true. Then, setting aside recent events, there’s the fact that our country has been heading toward fascism for years — see Naomi Klein’s prescient “ Fascist America, in 10 easy steps” from 2007. Mass incarceration has been happening since the Johnson administration’s “War on Crime,” and the United States now locks up more people per capita than any other country in the world. Most of us have come to accept state-sanctioned surveillance as the price we pay for freedom. Our civil liberties — the individual, inalienable rights we supposedly hold dear — already are torn to shreds. We are living under a government of “ inverted totalitarianism,” where corporate and political powers have merged. Underlying all of it, our environmental crisis is nearly at the point of no return, which means hurricanes, typhoons, droughts, famine, loss of farmland and cities and global political upheavals — the list goes on.
But what do I say to my two young daughters? I believe things will get worse before they get better. I also believe fear is a reasonable response to the current reality. But I don’t want my children to live in fear.
In our family, we talk about social justice and political issues quite a bit. I even discuss my ideas for this column with them, giving them the PG-13 version of the issues on my mind. But this is all so ugly. My daughters already have to know that a man who boasted about sexually assaulting women was elected president. How much do they have to know about the near-certain violence and death we will see as climate change does its damage and our government is run by oligarchs untouchable by laws?
I told them I’m frightened. I told them that as a parent I want to be sure they know they are safe and loved. I told them that because we are white and cisgender and because our family has enough money that we likely are not going to be hurt directly by what is coming. And, while that is good news on some levels, it is horrible on many more. Some of our friends already don’t feel safe. People who have black or brown skin, who are a part of LGBTQ communities or who are Muslim, for example, already have good reasons to be afraid. I said I’m not sure how to handle the bigger, scarier issues when it comes to being a mother but that I’ll do the best I can.
I also told them that we are going to be involved in joining together with others who want to fix what is broken. I talked about solidarity. We talked about — and will continue talking about — where we can best work together with others to make the world a better place, and we will do those things. We will write letters and go on marches, for example. Those are actions children can take, and we will find more.
Also, as a responsible parent, it’s not a cop-out for me to focus on the present moment with my daughters. As I write this, they are sleeping peacefully in their warm beds. The reality is that at the present moment, and for the foreseeable future our lives are safe. Our lives are full of joy, love and peace. As a parent of white, cisgender American children, I’m mostly not forced to inflict the ugliness of the world onto my daughters. But, because I am a parent of these lucky-by-circumstance daughters, it is my responsibility to be sure they know we are lucky.
It is my responsibility to help them know about solidarity and to join with others to be a part of the solution.
Heather Denkmire is a writer and artist who lives in Portland with her two young daughters. After a few challenging years, she is growing her small business, where she helps nonprofit organizations win grants. She can be reached at email@example.com. Her columns appear monthly.