Elections offer parents teaching moments

11/4/2008

By Rev. Michelle Foster
Conference Staff

All the news coverage seems to focus on the presidential race. It, no doubt, will be a turning point in our nation’s history. We will either elect the first African-American president or the first female vice-president. Nov. 4h will be a day of new beginnings for our country. 

My two elementary children are even caught up in the hype of this presidential election. They are recognizing the candidates’ names and pictures on bumper stickers, yard signs and billboards around the city. Over supper, on more than one occasion, both have engaged their father and me in conversations about the election as they try to decide which candidate they should vote for in their school’s mock elections that will be held in the near future. All of this got me to thinking: Is it appropriate that my two young boys are already becoming aware of the political society in which we live? Is it helpful that they know what some of the issues are which separate one candidate from the other? What is the right language that I, as their parent, should use to speak with them about such a complex issue?

Finally, it came to me. I need to speak to them about the issues that they understand. I need to speak to the situations that they find themselves in daily as they engage with other children and families at school, at church and in our extra-curricular activities. Some of the issues that we now discuss in our car rides, around our dinner table and in conversations on the back deck include:

• Education – We discuss the importance of education and its gift to shape and form our lives into the person God has created us to be. A staggering 35 percent of students who enter school in Mississippi do not graduate. We share with our children the expectation that we have to see them graduate from high school and continue their education in college.

• Poverty – 30 percent of Mississippi’s children live in poverty. We find ways to let our children see poverty first hand so that they have a point of reference for our discussions. We talk about the ways that we have been blessed through God’s goodness and how through our own hard work and commitment we are able to provide for our family. We discuss some of the different situations that people encounter as they live in poverty. Constantly, we encourage our children to live out the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

• Money — Who isn’t talking about money right now? We have just recently started paying our 7-year old a weekly allowance for certain household chores that he completes. There are some responsibilities that are “part of being a family,” and he doesn’t earn money for these things. Every week he must divide his allowance into three categories: tithe, savings and spending. As we go to various stores, he now uses his own money for toys, candy, etc. This provides many opportunities for us to talk about delaying gratification, the importance of tithing and the importance of saving for various unplanned event that may arise in life. The byproduct in this is that we are able to help our children understand that money is not in endless supply.

The point of all of this: The issues being discussed in this presidential campaign effect us all, regardless of age. We need to understand exactly what is being said and unsaid. Most importantly, we need to ask “how does this effect the children?” 

If we really want to be about making disciples for the transformation of the world, then we have to be active in transforming the world from what it is to what it can become for our children and all the generations to come. 

Will you be a part of these conversations with the children?

Foster serves on the Mississippi Conference staff working with children’s and family ministries.