Kitchen Table Politics
*New column for Toledo Area Parent. Find it here, or all over the city in Adams St. Publishing newsstands.
I love my kitchen table. A few friends of mine made it out of wood used to repair the front porch of our old house. It’s one of those “trendy” farm-style table, but the it was also quite cheap because it was repurposed from an intense building project. It seats around 8-10 people and will be in our house for a long, long time. Recently, my wife and I have been thinking about the role this table plays in our kids lives.
We have three daughters and they eat and draw and read and write at that table. They also laugh and scream and argue and spill and smear food at that table. It holds a significant place in their life and whether they know it or not, it fills an important role in their development. How to clean up and how to have fun with your family.
And while they are learning manners and listening skills they are also learning how Mommy and Daddy interact with each other. Learning about conflict and resolution and sustenance and contentment and lack and want. It is the place our children are filled. We have some really great moments around this table. But what else could happen at this table? What else could our little ones be learning?
A few nights a week, after the kids go to bed, this table transforms into the space where my wife Lindsey and I discuss all different kinds of issues. Sometimes we’re talking about what homeschooling might look like in upcoming weeks. Sometimes we are talking about family and friends or what’s happening in the neighborhood or what bills we need to pay. Sometimes we are talking about current events and headlines and political candidates and campaigns. And while the subjects may change, around this table everything is in someway connected. Yet, we have found that sometimes there can be a hefty, and not so healthy, distance between the kitchen table experience our kids have and the kitchen table experience we have.
We want to merge the two. How can we talk about the issues that really matter to us with our kids? And especially in this election season, how can we talk to our girls about the political issues that matter to our family? How can we begin to merge those two conversations when appropriate and formative to our young children?
I think the best way to form some of the most central habits and perspectives in our children is to begin with those topics and issues that are most central to them. Want to talk about poverty? Talk about hunger at the dinner table and see what conversation emerges. Sure, it may be easy to talk to my three daughters about the possibility of first woman president in US History, but what about crumbling infrastructure and pothole-ridden roads and tap water with microcystin? Go to the lake and ask them what color the water should be. Then start to explore how the water became that shade of neon green. The next time you are on a bike ride together ask them who should take care of the roads? All of these conversations, bit by bit, add up to something.
As we have started to try to explore these discussions, we found we need our children in this dialogue. They are the most creative, intuitive and imaginative people on the planet. Why not give them a shot at thinking about these things?
When we teach our kids, we force ourselves to become more informed. We gain perspective. By talking to our children we discover the issues that really matter. It is an active practice that forces us to be involved. It forces us to research and dig for answers to those questions your kids ask that leave you stumped.
“Kitchen table politics” is a common term in political circles referring to issues that immediately affect our lives. What is more immediate than our kids? What has a deeper effect than their well-being? What if kitchen table politics referred to the issues that mattered to you so much, that you had to talk to your children about it? What would that list look like for you? I encourage you to explore it