In the aftermath of Wednesday’s election result, we may well hope that Trump will be humiliated, ejected from public office or shot by David Attenborough. But none of us really knows what is going to happen next. We have absolutely no control over it either. In the months leading up to the election we have been bombarded with editorials, GIFs, jokes, predictions and opinions about Trump and what it all means. And whilst it’s important to express what we think, satisfying to share our views with other like-minded people, or, even better, row with strangers on the internet about them, ultimately it achieves very little.
Most of us have scant control over anything, other than ourselves. Yet in the aftermath of the election result, you’d be forgiven for thinking that our outpouring on social media was what was going to save us. Since we woke to the result on Wednesday morning we’ve given it so much time, so much energy, that public grieving for The End of The World As We Know It has become a full time job for most of us.
People opine on Facebook about what kind of world they’ve brought their kids into. The simple answer is: this one. A world where children learn that whatever happens mum and dad will make it ok. Or they won’t.
Our children are far more influenced by their parents than a politician 4000 miles away. But as we ignore them in favour of our screens, we forget this. As we get caught up in a wave of hysteria and hopelessness, documented, of course, on social media, we forget to look to the places where we really can effect change.
Which is why, if you’re a parent, the sensible thing to do is to see Donald Trump as a massive wake-up call. He is a reminder that no matter what is happening in the rest of the world, our number one priority should be our children.
So we teach our sons to respect women, and teach our daughters to respect themselves. We teach both sexes to be kind to everyone, not just those who live in the same size of house, with the same coloured skin. We teach them not to bully their siblings, that getting angry and stamping their foot is not the best way to get what they want, (although it can certainly be effective in the short term.)
Yes, this might mean we only get to change one or two people. We won’t win any plaudits, there’s nothing to show off about on Twitter about a child who knows that boasting is unattractive and calling people names is wrong. But over the course of a lifetime, these things do matter. By getting our sons to understand that no means no, we protect the women around them tomorrow.
The work of raising good citizens is often grindingly dull, repetitive, frustrating beyond belief. Insisting, day after day, that your toddler sits down in his chair for mealtimes and that his siblings say please and thank you, is a thankless, tedious, task. You get no badge or certificate when your kids turn out to be responsible, pleasant human beings.
But it is worth considering what happens when you don’t do this stuff. You get plenty of attention when your daughter takes to cutting or starving herself. Or when your teenage son feels so powerless and pissed off that he thinks the only way people will listen to him is with a gun.
Visit our prisons or children’s homes, talk to our social workers, consider the rate at which people rely on medication to get them through each day, and you’ll see what happens when parenting goes wrong.
I am not suggesting that Donald Trump won because America was too busy on it’s phones. But when we fail to teach our kids respect, tolerance, empathy and compassion, we create the circumstances where the Donald Trumps of this world thrive. Donald Trump is about fear, greed, and domination. That stuff simply doesn’t cut it with adults who possess those former qualities. Qualities that, to borrow the Irish phrase, we don’t just lick off the floor. Qualities that someone took the trouble to ingrain in us, day after day after day.
But, increasingly, we allow our attention to be lured towards online news and opinion and away from what is physically in front of us. We move towards that over which we have no control, away from that over which we have a lot. And in doing so we infantilise ourselves, we strip ourselves of our power. Not only is this stupid, it is also horribly unfair on our kids. We’re the parents, we’re meant to be the grown-ups, we’re meant to be paying them attention. But what kind of example are we setting when we take to social media to rage about the unfairness of a decision that didn’t go our way, throw our hands in the air and insist that the rest of the world is stupid? Not only that, but as we get stuck into Twitter spats or Facebook rants we fail to notice what’s happening in our own homes. With one eye on our phones we fail to see that our daughter is miserable, or our son is struggling with his education.
But our kids are noticing. They are watching us all the time. It might not seem like it but they’re noticing when we volunteer to help with a school trip, to do the shopping for an elderly neighbour or help take care of someone else’s kids. Just like they’re noticing when we yell instead of explain, when we blame our partners for something we should have done ourselves, or call someone fat, stupid or a liar. They are masters of imitation, as I recently discovered when my four year muttered ‘bloody hell’ as he struggled with his wellies.
There will be another Trump. Just as there will be another Brexit. And although we can cast our votes and voice our opinions, there will be little that, individually, we can do about it. The one thing we can do though is divert our attention away from our screens, back towards our living, breathing little people. And hope that when it comes to their turn to be the ones in charge, they choose the right things to pay attention to.