Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Voting with Kids

I have failed my country today.  I am not voting.

I moved over the summer and between getting settled, enrolling kids in school, looking for a job, starting a small business, and the millions of other things that occur, I just didn't register to vote in my new precinct.  It's not something I'm proud of.  In fact, I'm pretty damned ashamed of it.

I have taught my children since a very young age that part of the responsibility of living in a democratic/republic society is voting.  Every year.  Regardless of the issues.  Not only voting, but learning about the candidates and the laws and being educated when you go into the polls.  Every year for the last nine years, I have been accompanied by at least one child to the polling booth.  Who comes with me varies according to schedule and interest, but I'm a huge believer in modeling.  I want my children to see me modeling the kind of behavior I hope they will one day practice themselves.  My children have participated in conversations about political parties, laws, and even watched as I filled out ballots and have been able to insert the ballots into the machine.  Our children--that is, my husband's and mine--are well aware of our political and social views and why we believe the way we do.  This information didn't come about by random conversations overheard between mom and dad.  It has been a growing process over many years of answering questions, opening dialogue, and explaining our belief systems to our children.

I don't live in other people's homes, so I'm not really sure what goes on with other people.  I wonder sometimes if other parents talk with their children about politics and the election process.  My daughter has recently been learning about the branches of government and how each one functions.  However, she's already very well aware of how the election system works.  The ideas of representatives, the electoral college, even the president vetoing certain bills is not new to her.  Don't get me wrong. She still has the typical questions:  "If we're a democracy, why do we use an electoral college?  Why do our votes get grouped together?  Why don't we use a popular vote?  Isn't that more accurate?"  Good questions for an eleven-year old.  But she's well on her way to understanding her role in this complex process that we call government.

I think education about government, and our role in it, is a lot like educating kids about sex.  I know some people never educate their kids about sex, and others wait until a certain age.  With my kids, we answered questions as they had them, gave them the proper terms to use, and expanded their information as they seemed to have more questions.  Taking my kids to the polls is not always easy.  There have been a few times where the line has been long, where they have witnessed other adults talking viciously about candidates my children knew I was voting for, and even the natural kid desire to fill in the ballot him or herself.  But it's a process, and I'm proud that my kids are familiar with it.  I never stepped into a polling place until I was eighteen years old.

I want my children to understand that voting is not only a right but a responsibility.  Democracy is not something that comes naturally or easily in a country of millions.  I want my own children to understand the responsibilities that every citizen owes our country in order to make it function well.

I'm waiting for one of them to ask me about elections today.  So far one is out of town with his dad and the other is still asleep, so I'm safe for the time being.  And my faux pax will be corrected long before the next election comes along, that's for sure.  But a basic understanding of democracy--as well as its rights and responsibilities--is due to every child.  I see it as a very small way to pay back the thousands of men and women who have fought diligently for this country, to maintain my right to sleep in my bed, to eat what I want, and to even write this blog.

So if you can, go vote.  And take your kids with you.  It's very cool to them, and gives you a great chance to talk about how our country works.

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