The Day After: What Do We Say to Our Children?

This morning, my Facebook feed was one parent of elementary-aged school children and younger asking, “What do I say to my children now?”

From whichever side of the aisle — whether the adults in your household and extended family voted for Clinton, Trump, or a third-party candidate — we need to discuss the results with our children. We also, though, need to remember that children need to be addressed in an age-appropriate way. Here is what you can say:

  • Today is a special day.

I cherish the day after an election every time. In other parts of the world, the smooth transition of power is not a given. One of the things I treasure most about American democracy is that even in an election year when our citizens are so divided, we wake up the day after, pick up, go to work, and the country doesn’t erupt into civil war. We are still able to have productive discourse with individuals who don’t agree with us. We are privileged to live in a country where that is true; it isn’t in other places in the world. We need to teach our children that this smooth transition is what makes our society a special place, and that we should not take it for granted.

  • Sometimes we don’t get what we want.

Children are in a constant process of learning that life “isn’t always fair.” In democracy, majority rules. Children are learning to compromise: majority rules, if everyone wants to play one game, and we want to still play with our friends, we might need to agree to play their game this time. Yes, it’s simplistic, even over-simplified, but this is an age-appropriate understanding of the situation.

  • It’s important to fight for what you believe in, but just as important not to be a sore winner or a sore loser. 

Kudos to both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for their speeches last night. Trump’s speech expressed gratitude to Clinton for her extensive service to our country. Clinton’s speech expressed hope that Trump will be a good leader for this country. Each of the candidates and their respective constituents fought hard, and campaigned in ways that were often difficult to watch. Their blood was boiling at times, and they got our blood boiling at times. At the end of the day, when a decision is made, we need to embrace one another, and move forward together.

  • Lo alekha ham’lakhah ligmor, velo atah ben-chorin lehibatél mimenah. “It is not up to you to complete the work, but neither are you free to distance yourself from it.”

These words from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) resonate deeply right now. Trump posited a clear point of view that appealed to voters who are hurting. It’s okay not to agree with his point of view, but, particularly if you don’t understand those who voted for him, can you look deeper? What are the challenges these voters are facing that made Trump’s ideology appeal to them? What can we do better to help these individuals? What can we do to maintain our own point of view in the years to come?

  • Your voice matters.

Whether your candidate won or not, the work you did to promote and sustain this democracy matters. Just because your candidate didn’t win this time doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel in future campaigns. Just because your candidate won this time doesn’t give you the right to be complacent next time.

A beautiful contemporary prayer by Alden Solovy for this election asks God to “Bless our future President with / Wisdom and strength, / Fortitude and insight, / Balanced by a deep humanity / And a love of peace.”

Let us all be inspired by these things, and let us continue to raise future presidents, representatives, and active citizens of the United States of America who are blessed with these ideals as well.

About the Author
Cantor Hinda Eisen Labovitz is the cantor of Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and serves on the executive council of the Cantors Assembly. The is a graduate of Hebrew College's School of Jewish Music where she was ordained Cantor and earned a Masters of Judaic Studies degree and Boston University, where she earned a B.A. in Religion and a concentration in Special Education. The views expressed in her blog are her own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the congregation or the organizations in which she participates.
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