I woke up at 4 a.m. on the morning of the U.S. election. I was in my four-year-old’s bed (he’d woken up during the night) and checked my phone to see the latest news. It was almost exactly the same situation I woke up to on the morning of the EU Referendum and exactly the same kind of nightmarish news.
For the second time this year, a huge political decision had been made by citizens overwhelmingly based on fear, mistrust, and hate.
On both mornings, after reading similarly horrified tweets from people I follow within my own wishy-washy liberal echo chamber, I lay there awake next to my sleeping son, thinking about what kind of world he and his brother are growing up in.
They’re lucky. They were born into a loving family, a British middle class one, and growing up as white men they should have the world as their oyster, free from oppression and xenophobia. But there’s still so much to worry about on their behalf.
Having children is an investment in the future, so events like Brexit and Trump’s election victory have affected me more than they would have done before my sons were born. I have very liberal values and (still, just about) believe that the world is moving towards being an ever-more inclusive and tolerant place, where nobody is discriminated against or attacked for being a different color, race, gender, or sexuality.
It might not feel like it this morning, but I’m hoping this is a short-lived reaction to that irreversible shift towards freedom for all. That’s exactly what I want my sons to believe as they grow up.
Look at the millennial vote in both the referendum and the election, and you can see why there’s hope. Our children are growing up in a diverse, multinational world, and most of them like it that way. Their friends are gay, trans, bi, whatever, and most of them like it that way, too. Brexit and Trump haven’t been caused by the generations that will rule the world in a decade, and while the old maxim says that you get more conservative as you grow up, that doesn’t necessarily mean you get more racist and sexist, too.
So what can we, as parents, do to ensure that the likes of Trump and Nigel Farage can only have a fleeting victory in their war against progress and compassion? We can teach our children not to fear otherness, but to embrace it. We can show them that it doesn’t matter what someone looks like, that what matters is in their heart. We can demonstrate that love is love, never mind who it is between. We can teach our children never to cause pain or take away someone else’s happiness.
At a time when there’s so much divisive rhetoric on TV and social media, these lessons and messages couldn’t be more important. Our kids need to know that immigrants aren’t criminals who need to be kept out by a big wall or viewed with suspicion and malice. They are people like us, who are trying to find a better life for themselves and their families. And our sons need to know that women can be leaders, and they aren’t to be (deep sigh) ‘grabbed by the pussy’, like the President Elect of the United States of America says they are.
I’m scared by what the events of this year mean for the world my sons are growing up in, and I can’t even imagine what parents of children of a minority race or religion must be feeling. But I know that hopeless despair won’t achieve anything.
Our children are an investment in the future. It’s up to us to raise a generation that will reject the dark side of politics and spread love, joy, respect, tolerance, and equality around the world. That’s the best way I can think of to fight back against the tide of fear and hate and mistrust that has swept through our world and left us facing such uncertain and troubling times.
Hug your children tight, and tell them that you love them every day. Better times are coming.