When Trump Blames “Many Sides” He Contradicts Vital Lessons We Teach Our Children

On Saturday, my husband and I sent our daughters outside to play as we watched the horrific images coming out of Charlottesville. We watched as men clad in swastikas, carrying weapons and torches, shouted hate throughout the streets of a typically lovely, tranquil college town. We watched as a car rammed into a crowd on a street usually filled with students and families out for a stroll or a bite to eat. We then watched, equally horrified, as our president placed the blame on many sides. I peered out the window at my daughters innocently playing in the backyard and was as grateful that they hadn’t heard these words as I was that they hadn’t seen the images of the protest.

Blaming many sides contradicts critical life lessons we teach our children. When we blame many sides, we equate the behavior of hate-filled groups who stand for the oppression of others to the behavior of those who are willing to risk their own safety to stand up against hate. When we give people a pass for standing alongside Nazis, but denounce those who stand up to them, we need to stop and think about what message this sends to the impressionable youth of our country.

Bullying prevention is taught in school across America. We teach our children what we know to be true, that bullies and victims are few and the majority of the participants are bystanders, those who witness bullying and do nothing to stop it. Most kids are bystanders out of fear of retaliation, or feelings of helplessness. While the mindset of a bystander is completely understandable and teachers are sympathetic to their feelings, we encourage them to act as upstanders. We implore our students to stand up for someone being bullied, assuring them that they will be protected. If we can expect an 8-year-old to be an upstander, then why aren’t we encouraging adults to do the same?

When our president condemns “many sides,” he condemns the upstander right along with the bully. President Trump is equating men marching through streets spewing hate to the men and women who filled the city center of their community to show that hate does not have a place there. On one hand there is a bully marching for the oppression of women, immigrants, people of color, and the LGBTQ communities, and on the other is the upstander sticking up for those who have been marginalized. By placing equal blame on upstanders, we are sending a message to our children to allow hate. We are teaching them apathy. We are telling our children to continue being bystanders, for otherwise they will be condemned along with the bully.  

strong kids

As parents, we have concern over who our children spend time with. We want to meet our children’s friends and their parents so that we may consider their values and character. We encourage our children to surround themselves with positive influences who will bring out the best in them. We are concerned over who our children align themselves with socially because we know that these people will not only have influence over them, but also determine how they are judged by their peers, their teachers, and people in their community.

If my child was continually hanging out with friends who openly used drugs, though assured me she was drug free, would I feel unconcerned? Of course not. Even if she stayed sober, she would be aligning herself with a group whose values did not stand with her own. School officials and future employers would have every right to question her judgement. If the police entered a room filled with drugs, she would find herself in trouble just by being present. We teach our children that they are a reflection of those around them. We must hold adults to the same standard.

When we refuse to condemn white nationalists for Saturday’s despicable riots because “other groups” were also marching, we give people a free pass to align themselves with hate while skirting blame. Forgive me if I have little sympathy for men who claim to have been marching simply to save an historic relic. You chose to knowingly march with leaders and members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups. You chose to align yourselves with hatred and you should reap the consequences, whether that be public shame or a loss of your employment.

When our president makes vague remarks about placing blame on “many sides” and refuses to condemn hate groups, he is sending a clear message to our children. Waiting two days to condemn specific hate groups still sends the same message. My children were playing outside on Saturday, but many weren’t. Children and teens across the nation heard the words of the president and received a message which blatantly contradicts the lessons they have been taught by their parents and teachers. Today, they heard a politician backpedal after national outrage that spread across party lines. So what can we do?

We let them hear our outrage. We let them know that today’s words were a start, but not good enough. We teach our children that hate is unacceptable. We encourage our children to stand up against hate of all kinds. We teach them to make their friends based on who is kind and who brings out the best in them, no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Whether they see a classmate being teased over her headscarf or the contents of his lunchbox, I will teach my daughters to be fierce friends who always choose to be the upstander.

I will teach with my words and I will show with my actions. If I want my daughters to be fierce, they need a mother who is too. So my daughters will see me feel anger over injustice. They will see me defend anyone being subjected to hate and oppression. They will see their mother align herself with people and groups that celebrate inclusion and love. For my daughters, there will only be one side, and that will be the side that fights hate. Always.

An Uneaten Lunch

A single glimpse of my daughter’s lunch box brought me to tears this morning. It’s just a canvas case, clad in multicolored butterflies, and dirtied by peanut butter and the crayon she once used to proudly write her name on it. I saw just the top of it peeking out of her backpack and a wave of sorrow crashed over me.

Today marks four years since the Sandy Hook shooting. Four years since 26 lives, 20 of them first-graders, were snuffed out in a violent, senseless rampage. At the time, I was a mother of a two-year-old and a 5-week old.

Living in a postpartum daze consumed with diapers, feedings, and sleep schedules, I was somehow able to live for days seemingly unaware of the nightmare that occurred 3 hours from my home. I knew mostly what happened, but, perhaps out of sheer biological defense, I did not allow myself to fully register this cataclysmic tragedy. At a time in my life when a Target commercial could send me into hysterics, my hormones somehow came together to shield me from this event, knowing I was too fragile to handle its gravity.

It was several days after the shooting when reality came crashing down upon me. I happened across a letter written by Nelba Marquez-Greene to her daughter Ana, one of the first graders killed on that day. Her letter was a beautiful tribute to the little girl she would never hold again, but one line struck me to the core.

The layers of this are complex and while we may not agree on all pieces- perhaps we can agree that no parent, grandparent or caregiver should ever again put their child on a school bus only to have their backpack and uneaten lunch returned to them by an FBI agent and police officer- because their child was executed at school.

An uneaten lunch. Ana and her classmates never got to eat their lunch that day. Instead of being greeted by a child’s hug after school, 20 sets of parents were approached by FBI agents holding their children’s uneaten lunch.

For weeks I thought of these lunches. What do you do with an uneaten lunch meant for your child who is no longer on this earth? Do you eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that they couldn’t? Do you save the bag of popcorn as if it is a relic of your lost child? Do you throw it away?

For a few days, I had been able to disconnect myself from this tragedy, perhaps because the very idea of it was unfathomable. I was able to avoid the innocent faces that flashed on my television screen, willing myself to look away and not recall the color of their eyes. The image of an uneaten lunch? That I could not escape.

Parenting is difficult. There are days when I question every decision I make, from what I’ve served for breakfast to how I rushed through a bedtime song. I worry that I’m not giving my children everything they need. I lament that they don’t listen. I complain when they have exhausted my patience. I have made my parental rants, jokes, and self-proclaimed mediocrity part of my personal identity. Today, however, I remind myself that, while parenting is hard, loving my children is the easiest thing I have ever done.

Today, my older daughter is in first grade. She was sent to school, her lunchbox tucked safely away in her almost matching backpack. She was sent to school just like 20 other first graders were sent to school four years ago.

Today, I am a mother who must remain confident that my daughter will come home, as she always does, with her face revealing the evidence of a lunch that was eaten. She will give me kisses that leave me with the light scent of her cherry yogurt, and I will know how truly lucky I am.

Today, I will not get annoyed, as I too often do, that her lunch box is filled with crusts and dirty napkins. My reminder to throw her scraps away at school can wait for another day.

Today, I will be grateful for the privilege of packing a lunch for her again tomorrow.