Like so many parents, we woke up on November 9 wondering: How will we explain this to the kids? More accurately, we never really went to sleep the night before because this question had been pulsing in our brains for hours in the darkness.
Our kids understand the difference between good and evil. They understand heroes and villains. And of course, like most kids, they know that good guys always win.
And so, throughout the election, we had explained Donald Trump by casting him as a bad guy in one of their stories, a villain. When our boys had asked what his evil super powers were, we had to admit he really had none to speak of. He was just rich, loud and mean.
They responded almost immediately, “Oh, you mean like Lex Luthor?”
Yes, we replied.
After the election, we had to tell them that this time the bad guy won.
From the moment it became clear that Donald Trump would be our next president, Reza, a prominent Muslim immigrant writer, thinker and activist — a triple threat to Trump — suffered a full-blown panic attack. He roamed the creaky floors of our old house sweating, trying in vain to take deep breaths, his arms locked across his chest or, at times, animating imaginary debates.
More than anything else, he felt betrayed by his adopted country. He knew there were large swaths of people in America who saw him as a danger, who wanted to inflict violence on him and who, in fact, constructed their very sense of self in opposition to everything he represents. What he didn’t know was how large that segment was: large enough to tip the balance toward a man who made bigotry and xenophobia the hallmark of his campaign — a man whose victory has already inspired countless acts of hate across the country in his name.
Jessica was having her own meltdown. As a social entrepreneur who had spent much of her life fighting for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed — the very people who will be even further disenfranchised (if not outright abused) by a Trump presidency — she felt an overwhelming sense of shame and regret. Having grown up in a white, Protestant, evangelical suburb in western Pennsylvania – the kind of area that became a bedrock of Trump’s support — she wondered how many people she knew who had made this happen. She envisioned friends, former classmates, former colleagues, people she had gone to church with, people she loved, choosing as their leader a person whose policy proposals quite literally threaten the life and livelihood of her husband and her children. While Reza paced, Jessica’s coping mechanism revolved around deep-cleaning the kitchen, folding laundry, and obsessively color-coding books on bookshelves. Also crying. Lots of crying.
And then the sun rose and our children woke up.
As an interfaith, interracial family — and a vocal one at that — we strive to teach our three young sons about the thrilling diversity that exists in our country, and in the world. This has meant using every opportunity to teach them about different religions; going to various places of worship around the globe; participating in religious ceremonies with friends of other faiths; reading stories from the Torah and the Ramayana in the same sitting at bedtime; talking openly about our own unique faith journeys and doing our best to raise globally-minded, religiously literate kids. We have taught them to love their enemies like Jesus did; to show compassion for all living things, just like the Buddha and to stand up for injustice wherever they see it, as Muhammad taught. We pray together, unified in our faith in a God who is far bigger than any one religion.
But on the morning after the election we had to break the news to them that someone who looks down on people like us, who would prefer we not exist in this country, had become president. That, this time, the villain won.
Beyond that we did not know what to say. We did not know how to tell them that next year, hanging in their classroom at school will be a photograph of a man who denigrates women like their mother, who hates Muslims and immigrants like their father, and who has pledged to break apart families like ours. We did not know how to explain that when they stand in the mornings to pledge allegiance to our flag, our new president — if he keeps his promises — will be actively dismantling so much of what that flag represents. We didn’t know how to explain these things. And we felt paralyzed.
But our kids knew exactly what to do. In the silence, our eldest spoke. “The way we defeat bad guys is by loving them so they become good guys,” he said.
So this will be our response. We will teach our children to be champions of all that Donald Trump denigrates. We will preach and practice equality in all things. We will show our sons how to empower girls and women. We will teach them to respect and learn from all faiths. We will show them the joy of discovering, and celebrating, other cultures. We will gather our friends of all races and creeds and hold them close. We will seek out the people who put Trump in office, who fear us and call us enemies, and we will love them.
We will spend the next four years teaching our children how to be the opposite of what Trump and his campaign stood for.