The birth of a first child broadens your perspective. As your appreciation for things like seat belts and savings accounts grows, so does your attention toward the world at large. Society’s trajectory, which you may not have given much thought to before, matters in new and terrifying ways. Suddenly, public policy matters.
This was my experience eight years ago when the first inauguration of Barack Obama coincided with the birth of my eldest son. I had always been conservative. I had always voted Republican. But my interest in politics had been passing and academic. Policy didn’t really affect me, or at least didn’t seem to. Then came that first cry in the delivery room, like a school bell at the start of a day, signaling the time to get to work. That’s natural. A lot of folks come to politics on account of their kids.
As concerned as I was, however, I never felt as though my son was directly threatened by the president. I never panicked. I certainly didn’t wring my hands with the same sense of despair recently articulated by Jorge Valens in a piece at Medium.
Single father of a two-month-old daughter, Valens laments the imagined effect President Trump will have on his “screaming poop machine.” To an extent, I get it. New parents are nuts, imagining threats around every corner. However, raising a daughter in Trump’s America needn’t be so scary. Here are three tips for getting through it just fine.
1 . Learn, and Teach, How the World Actually Works
Consider this your primary parental mission. Your young daughter lacks the capacity to act rationally in pursuit of her interests. That’s why she needs you, to be rational and act in her stead.
To be rational, you must first recognize that which is real. This is particularly important as a parent, because your job entails getting your kids to a point where they can do the same for themselves.
I bring up reason and reality, because they seem absent from Valens’ chief concern regarding the Trump presidency. He writes:
I’m still horrified as a new parent facing a world that is hostile to my child in so many ways. For the next four years (or more) I’ll be living at the intersection of my parental and political anxiety, where the uncertainty of first time parenthood meets the thought of raising my little girl at a time when misogyny, xenophobia, racism and dishonesty are acceptable qualities for our leaders.
We’ll come back to those qualities in a moment. For now, let’s focus on this notion of a world “hostile” to a two-month-old girl. Put simply, it isn’t.
We do not live in a malevolent universe working feverishly to consume your child. Reality can be dangerous, for sure. But it’s not malevolent. It’s not out to get you. It simply is what it is.
Mental health is determined in large part by the ability to face reality, and its many persistent dangers, without collapsing into a puddle of impotent panic. You have the tools to confront your environment and forge the means to survive and thrive. The most notable of these tools is your mind. Control your attitude. Act intentionally. Pursue values, and you’ll tend to be just fine.
Treating the world as innately hostile will limit your potential. Worse than handicapping yourself in this way is handicapping a child by transmitting the delusion. Success requires only that you act rationally in pursuit of values, and remain free to do so. That’s how reality works.
2. Teach Her to Seek Value, Not Approval
It’s a mistake to grant others control over your self-esteem. Valens writes:
… at some point, [my daughter] is going to go to school, find a job and interact with the world around her. She’s going to have to go to the doctor. She’ll make friends and fall in love. There is not a single point in her life where she will be unaffected by a piece of bad policy, the lack of a good one or someone treating her differently because of who she is.
We can debate the specifics of policy, and argue whether it’s good or bad. Before we do, however, we really ought to dispense with this notion of equal treatment.
None of us treats everyone equally. You don’t treat your boss like your wife (assuming your boss is someone other than your wife). You don’t treat your kids like a stranger. You don’t treat an old woman crossing the street like a teenage boy doing the same. People, and our relationships to them, have real and meaningful differences. Our treatment adjusts accordingly. So, yes, someone will treat your daughter differently because of who she is. That’s okay, even appropriate, and often laudable.
Generally speaking, it should not matter to us what random people think. We shouldn’t teach our children to fret over how strangers regard them. We should teach them to value only that which is worthy of value. If some moron thinks less of your daughter for no other reason than her gender, who cares? What does that take from her? How is she harmed? We used to distinguish between the power of sticks, stones, and words. Get back to that.
3. Teach Her to Avoid Being a Victim
Hand in hand with ignoring the worthless opinions of others, our children should learn to stand up for themselves and avoid being victimized. Valens writes:
My daughter will encounter people who will treat her badly, pay her less and deny her opportunities because she is a woman. Many will justify these actions by looking to our president and his administration as an example.
Why would she let that happen? Why would she work for less than she’s worth? Why would she tolerate bad behavior?
We offer value in exchange for value in a free society. If your daughter’s skills command a certain level of compensation, she will get it. As a parent, you should instill her with that confidence. A woman who anticipates mistreatment may signal lesser value to those with whom she negotiates. Don’t handicap your daughter by instilling that. Help her to believe in herself instead. She need not fear the big bad world.
Following these tips will facilitate happy and healthy living, even amidst the worst public policy imaginable. For confirmation, note how the world still turns after eight years of Barack Obama.