Last week my second grade daughter game home from her Catholic school and said “Mom, so-and-so’s parents are voting for Trump. They said he has more faith.”
All at once, I could feel my head spinning with remarks; my skin getting warmer: “Has more faith? In what?” “Do they know how he treats women?” “When did ‘faith’ trump kindness?”
But I said none of that. I could see that although she made a statement, she was expecting a response. I’d kept politics out of our conversations and this was my moment to create influence. To look a 7-year-old in the eye while I have her full attention and respond to something that was obviously causing her some confusion.
Unlike myself when I was younger, her mind and heart are led by faith. I want to say this is mostly by accident, but in hindsight, it’s not. I knew as a single parent I wanted her to be able to lean on someone, something else, besides me. I didn’t really discover my spiritual path until I was pregnant and in a rocky marriage. Although I didn’t attend church much during this discovery process, I found what I was looking for through a combination of reading, prayer and meditation. I was confident, and still am, that my relationship with God does not need to be defined by Sunday worship in the traditional sense.
I wasn’t confident, however, that I could teach my daughter about God. So I sent her to a Catholic school to establish a foundation. Every now and then, we’d accompany my grandmother to her Congregational church, an open and affirming place of worship where we encountered all walks of life. Each night before bed, I’d ask her if she wanted to say a prayer. Sometimes she would, sometimes not. Then I’d ask her what she was thankful for. I took her to Yoga classes so she could learn to connect with and respect her body. I introduced meditation and the importance of silence and deep breaths when we felt troubled- or even if we did not.
And then, after hearing my daughter’s statement, I remembered defining faith by these very things is exactly the problem we need to avoid. It has nothing to do with devotion to a particular religion, in fact, much like this election I fear a strong devotion to anything that divides us from one another also separates us from faith. Faith is not simply trusting in the unknown, but more importantly, a practice of bringing humanity closer together.
Faith is a verb. It’s in our actions, the way we treat others, our genuine compassion not only for those closest to us, but those we have never met. We teach faith not in words but in the nonverbal way we live day-to-day.
For me, this election season has been a wake-up call as a parent. What am I doing to make sure my daughter is confident and kind, that she respects herself as well as her peers? Now more than ever, we need to set an example for our children, showing them that leadership isn’t a role assigned to one given person but an opportunity, as well as a responsibility, for all of us. The potential for kids to influence and change lives begins whenever we start purposefully modeling the behavior as an adult. This can be as simple as asking our children, every single day, something they did that was kind or if someone did something nice for them. It can be giving back when we can by being present with those who need it most. It can be getting rid of the mentality of “helping Americans first” and ignoring those who do not have homes to return to in Aleppo or those who are without food in Haiti. When did we start prioritizing the world’s suffering?
These are the things that matter.
Borders divide us. Religion divides us. Politics divide us. If we want that to change, we do not wait or remain silent or even ask our peers, instead, we educate our children- our future- and we do this right at home.
Kids will not learn how to be a kind, compassionate, active citizen from the President of the United States.
But I do not tell my daughter this (although I will show her in time). Instead, I look into her big blue eyes, full of hope and wonder and innocence and explain to her in a way she can comprehend:
“Three artists will look at a sunset and paint it with different colors, using various strokes. That doesn’t mean they aren’t all artists. Four dancers will hear the same music and their steps may all be different. They are all still beautiful dancers. And just as you and I have faith, so-and-so’s parent’s do, too. We just understand and express our faith differently. It doesn’t make us right or wrong, it just makes us … human.”
(This article originally appeared here on The Huffington Post)