That may be the only political fact we can depend on. (Check that out with Politifact.)
Conversationally speaking, of course, politics are great. Usually.
But the general rule is: Don’t engage.
Stay clear of political chatter if it appears at the family reunion or holiday dinner with relatives who clearly were born on the other branches of the same (?) family tree. It's not worth pruning your tree over politics. Honestly. There’s a lot more to life. A lot. Take a few more breaths. Attempt a polite change of the impolite political topic. Then focus on quietly counting how many times you blink per minute before doing the mental math to convert this to blinks per hour, per day,... whatever it takes. Because the reality is that the quiet meditation that preempts an argument often beats a lifetime of stony family silence.
And stay clear of political chatter with friends whom you love dearly. Love them more than their politics. Sometimes silence with a smile is indeed a virtue. They are adults. They are your friends. (And that’s way better than relatives!) There is no political battle worth damaging a friendship in order to “win”. Reflect for a moment on how you got to be such great friends to begin with. Surely, it went way beyond and around politics. So, maybe you just have unusual and diverse thinking friends? Treasure those differences.
So that leaves your children. And the truth: Politics suck. Tell your kids. Tell them your truths. Then – and here’s the key to being the best parent ever – ask them their truths. And …
Ask. Ask with genuine interest and not disgust or horror ... think back to those relatives hanging out on the other side of that family tree … that should help get you in the right frame of mind here.
Listen again. Did you hear them or just think you heard them?
Trust again. Your children will have important ideas and fascinating perspectives. Some you will know and recognize. Some will surprise you.
Ask again. Certainly, there is some point you can ask them to clarify or expand upon.
If you don’t agree, then teach them – not about “correct political opinions” – but that “not agreeing” is a safe place to be. There should never be a war over politics in your house. There should only be respect for a difference of opinion. And those differences of opinion need not ever be substantiated to your standards – political discourse should never be a matter for a family tribunal.
Toddlers, preteens, teens, and young adults are still forming opinions. (Hell, some of us are still revising our own!) Our kids may be determined and stubborn but they are thinking and debating – sometimes aloud, but oftentimes silently behind the scenes as they watch and listen and take it all in. Trust that. Allow that. Be proud of that.
When you ask them to support their opinions to the best of their ability, remember that this should not involve tactical offense and defense. If your political discussions are more like political competitive sports, then they will end in political silences that will extend outward like a political cancer, silencing other topics as well.
Who wants to talk if the result is being browbeaten, teased, or taunted?
And yes, these family conversations about politics can be easy when everyone just has the same central core of beliefs still. But they can be awkward (mildly put) if you have one of “those rebellious” kids who is determined to disagree just because they never (outwardly) agree with you. But, at some level, isn’t that their job: At (almost) all costs, don’t agree with the parent units?
Show them that disagreements are safe and can be welcome. And that there is always room for anyone to ask questions, to change their mind at any point along the way.
Politics actually begin at home and move outward – locally, nationally and globally. That’s why political discussions begin at the beginning – you talk politics around your children until they ask to be included in the conversations and then you talk politics with your children. You talk about house rules; and you talk about laws. You talk about dictatorships (and the variations on that in your own home); and you talk about elections. You compare. You contrast. You talk about differences. You talk about respect.
You research the local candidates who aren’t all over the news and you ask them what they think. (How accurate is what we find online? Where and what are the truths? How important are the "little" local elections?) If you have the energy and enthusiasm to be politically involved and active on any level, you tell them what you can and treat them as your constituents – because they are. You vote with your children – you actually take (and sometimes, drag) them along. The mechanics of voting can be intimidating. Show them how NOT to be intimidated – or, better still, what to do if you (or they) are intimidated!
And you listen.
You listen better than politicians typically listen.
And you talk politics better than politicians talk politics. Because you are responsible for teaching the next generation about their rights to their opinions and their rights to voice those opinions and the rights of others to form their own conclusions. It’s about inclusion. It’s about learning to decipher truths in the quicksand of quick talk and soundbites and backstabbing and innuendo and all the doubletalk that tries to distract us from listening and prevents us from understanding.
And it’s about teaching our children how (and why) to have a fair debate. At the dinner table. In the car. With people we trust. Who will listen. And not speak over us. But consider and reconsider. Before presenting their viewpoint louder and longer and not necessarily any better. Interrupting isn’t right – even if you (think you) are right. Family time is where it starts.
Let’s face one undeniable, entirely un-political fact: we need more time together.
Where we talk. Where we listen. Without tech.
Because politics suck.
But we shouldn’t avoid these important conversations with the most important people in our lives: our children.
I’m sure that the politicians will have something to say about this. But you should say it first.