In 1984, at the age of eight, I cast my first vote in a presidential election. It wasn’t voter fraud- it was my elementary school’s mock election. And why not? Reagan won in a landslide, of course. I had voted for Mondale. I didn’t feel embarrassed, or influenced by my peers. I felt mad that so many people were voting wrong. I found the actual presidential election quite disappointing, as well, but at least it came as no surprise. Actually, being an eight year old- it did still come as a bit of a surprise. Somehow I believed that all the other kids would be proven wrong once the adults had shown them the error of their ways. This is an example of how life experience makes us smarter.
I seriously doubt any of us kids knew much about politics. There was no review of the different party positions, or footage of debates. That would have been more interesting. Instead of learning about the issues, we all just cast our vote based on the information we came with that day. And where did that information come from? Our parents.
It shouldn’t be surprising that we all knew where our parents stood on the presidential race that year. But what else did we know? Kids are like sponges, and some of what they absorb is completely involuntary. Like the way I catch myself saying things my parents used to say. It’s just in me, and I can’t stop it. But in those young years when our parents knew everything, we heard the things they said and believed they were true. Their influence ran deep in us. It still runs deep.
As a parent, this makes me nervous. Adults can sometimes say things to one another and then forget about it. Children will remember things forever. And kids are kind of clueless. They also take things to heart. They seek approval, and they want to agree with their parents. So, if parents are not careful, they may be teaching their kids all sorts of lessons they are not even aware of.
If my parents said just one negative thing about someone, it molded my opinion of that person, and their lifestyle. Even now, some of those perceptions remain. I am thankful that my parents were so accepting of others. Mostly they just left me with negative feelings toward modern country music and cheesy sitcoms.
No matter how hard parents try to drive the right messages home, just one careless remark can undo all of it. How stressful is that? Now think about all the people you know with children. Luckily (or for some, not so luckily) many of the things I absorbed as a child became a permanent part of me long before peer pressure made its full impact.
So what about the influence of peers? Who remembers junior high school? All it takes is one influential kid getting the wrong messages at home, and you suddenly have one hundred kids acting on those wrong messages.
On top of this already complicated parenting dilemma, we have no idea what our daughter understands. And because she does not talk, we tend to be careless a lot. I am kind of at a loss with how to teach her life lessons. I worry about missed opportunities. I am probably getting ahead of myself with Teghan. She is young, and her language development isn’t to the point of forming ideas about people and things based on what she overhears at the dinner table.
At least, I don’t think it is. That’s the trouble with her receptive language always expanding at a faster rate than her expressive language. Most of the time she appears as if she has no clue we are even talking- but I know I could say the word “pancakes” from two houses away, and Teghan would be there in five seconds. So what exactly is she absorbing from us? And what if she has questions? She must have questions.
Are we answering those questions for her and we don’t know it?
Maybe I am just feeling sad about missing this part of parenting. Helping Teghan figure out the challenges of human relationships. Guiding her as she slowly figures out how the world works. Watching as she develops her own rules for morality and justice. Patiently waiting out her bad music choices…. I know we may never get those opportunities. At least, not the way we understand them. It will be different with Teghan, and I am suddenly realizing that I am clueless. I have no plan at all.
She will be five years old soon. She is connecting with us better than ever before. She is attempting more words. Are we explaining enough things to her? Are we over explaining? The other day I was trying to show her where we live. If she understood parts of it, I definitely lost her in the details. Yesterday I tried to explain to her who Barack Obama was. I thought, maybe I should just work on explaining what the heck a country is before we get into what a president is. It doesn’t appear to matter. She just wants to tap on the TV screen.
When I was Teghan’s age I liked to memorize things. I knew the lyrics to lots of Beatles songs (another excellent parental influence). I could recite all of the presidents in order. I still remember the book that taught me all the presidents. The picture of Andrew Jackson frightened me. I wonder if Teghan memorizes things in her head, or if there are images that frighten her.
I am just going to keep explaining things and hope that someday she will learn to communicate enough to give me some direction. I am going to do my best to influence her, even though I may feel as if we are both walking around blindfolded.
And she may not know who she wants to vote for in this election, or the next….but we have plenty of years to work on that.