On Casting Votes and Raising Kids and Living Life

Late last week, Katie picked up a campaign flyer that hadn’t yet made it to the recycle bin.

“This guy has ‘the energy and skill to get the job done,'” she read, then narrowed her eyes. “Wait a second. Who sent this, anyway? Are they just saying that because they want you to vote for him? I don’t think you should believe it.”

So we talked about political campaigns, about the things candidates say. I found the legal disclaimer–
“Paid for by . . .”–and showed it to her. Jonathan asked her about negative ads–“If we got something that said, ‘This guy is no good!’ who would you think had sent it?”–and she didn’t even have to think about it.

“Somebody else who wants the same job.” She paused, considering. “But then, how do you know who to vote for?”

Excellent question, kiddo. How, indeed?

After the kids were in bed on Monday, Jonathan and I spent the rest of the evening filling out our ballots.

(How’s that for quality time?)

We stayed up later than I had planned, which was, I suppose, partly my fault for putting things off until the last minute.

But also? There were twenty-six people in the governor’s race alone.

Twenty. Six. Plus another twenty-three running for the US Senate seat. Not to mention the numerous other offices at both the state and county level. I didn’t count them all, but there were easily more than 100 names on my ballot.

(Confession: I did not research every one of those 100+ people, so there’s a possibility I let the perfect candidates slip by without giving them my vote. My commitment to civic participation only extends so far.)

I’ll admit, as I waded through candidate’s statements, as I read campaign promises, as I looked up news reports and websites and history, there was a part of me that wanted to chuck the whole thing in the trash and go to bed.

After all, we live in California. The outcome, at least in the major races (and even many of the minor ones), felt like a foregone conclusion. I could go through the process of voting, could do my civic duty, but in the end, what difference would it make, really?

We have a lot of conversations these days, Katie and Jonathan and me. She’s always had questions–so many questions–but she’s at an age where she’s becoming more and more aware of the adult world around her, and she’s keenly curious about how it works.

I’ll be honest: talking about the trustworthiness (or lack thereof) of campaign mailers was easy. No real minefields, there. But other conversations have been trickier. Much trickier.

From my earliest days of being a parent, I’ve carried the weight of this enormous responsibility I’ve been given. It’s a heavy thing, being entrusted to care for and guide these precious people, and I’ve often felt ill-equipped for the job. As my role becomes less one of keeping her alive and more one of helping her learn how to be a human in this modern world, the task becomes all the more daunting.

(And, as I’m sure the parents of tweens and teens will tell me, I suspect the challenge will only continue to grow as she gets older.)

After all, I hardly know what I’m doing. How can I teach her how to navigate the complexities of life in the twenty-first century when, so often, I don’t know the answers myself? What if I mess it all up?

I did it. I persevered through the entire ballot. I even–dare I say–made a reasonably informed choice for each office.

I was thinking about this yesterday, after it was all said and done. Why? Why take the time and effort to do something that seems to make so little difference?

There is, of course, the obvious answer that a right left unused, unexercised, can easily be taken away. That voting represents more than the opportunity to choose a particular candidate or platform: it stands for an individual’s freedom to determine their own path, to have a voice in the society and culture in which they live. Too many people, throughout history and even now, in 2022, have been stripped of that voice, of that right, and those of us who have it should not take it lightly.

And, too, my vote might not do much on its own, but, when combined with those of like-minded friends and family and strangers, it has the power to become a formidable force. There is strength in numbers, in joining together with fellow citizens to determine which course our country will take.

Beyond those reasons however, there’s the simple fact that voting involves me in the process. I become a participant instead of an observer. Doing the research necessary to make an informed choice forces me to look at and understand the issues, to consider how my vote (and, more importantly, how I live my life) affects my neighbor. I’m not responsible for the outcome: I’m responsible for the part that has been given to me to do.

Voting is an act of faith, an act of faithfulness, regardless of the results.

(Which is something I’ll keep telling myself, even as I grumble about the system and cast a highly skeptical eye over my so-called options.)

And perhaps I need to keep telling myself this as well: that having tricky and challenging conversations with my curious girl is, too, an act of faith, and act of faithfulness, regardless of the results.

(Though of course, in this, even more than when I cast my vote, I hope and pray for the very best result possible.)

Even as I pray and question and research and try to work out the best way of being a parent, of being a person, in this complex and fallen world, even as I shoulder the responsibility of shepherding these young lives well, I need to keep reminding myself that their future is not up to me, not dependent on me.

I’m not responsible for the outcome; I’m responsible for the part that has been given to me to do.

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