Pink or lime-green for the nursery. Madison or Mia. Stay home or work. Playground or library. Time-out chair or “I'm counting to three.” Private or public school. Broccoli or carrots.
Parenthood is all about making the best choices for your child, and that doesn't change when it comes to choosing a commander-in-chief. In fact, kids affect how we vote: 42 percent of parents have changed their political views since having children, according to a survey of 1,100 parents commissioned by Parenting. In partnership with NBC News, and with über-smart journalist Kate Snow serving as moderator, we gathered parents—liberal and conservative, Christian and Muslim, urban and rural—to discuss the intersection of parenting and politics.
Meet the panelists: Pauline Owens-Teel, mom of a special-needs child, photographer, Virginia Beach Jason Avant, father of two, founder of DadCentric.com, San Diego Tania Paredes, mom of a 1-year-old daughter, psychotherapist, Miami Katherine Alvarez, mother of a special-needs child, social worker, Las Vegas Jesse Snider, father of two, military veteran, New York City Anna Deutmeyer, mom of a 3-year-old daughter, elementary school teacher, Brooklyn Kelly Vincent, father of four daughters, entrepreneur, Lenexa, KS Denene Millner, mom of three children, writer-blogger-author, Atlanta Aileen Riley, stay-at-home mom of three, Cumberland, RI Aliya Hasan, mom of two, physician, Denver
What are the top three issues the U.S. should focus on?
- 75% said the economy
- 37% said health care
- 33% said education
Anna: Education is my number one. It's so personal to me as a third-grade teacher. I see it, I breathe it, I experience it every day. I'm in a public school, and I see some things that are wonderful. However, I also see some things that really, really concern me, especially with a 3-year-old who will be moving into the public school system in the near future.
Jesse: Economy is a top priority, but education feeds right into that. Look at how we are ranked around the world in math and science. That's where our jobs are going to be in the next decade.
Pauline: For me, it's health care. I'm the mother of an adopted special-needs child. My main concern is what happens when she turns 18 years old and her adoption subsidy through Medicaid runs out. Is she going to be able to live a normal life?
Katherine: I'm with Pauline. My husband and I are special-needs parents, and our biggest fear is “Am I going to die before my child?” It's over $67,000 a year to cover medical costs and therapies. People may not put health care up on top because they're not affected by it right now. When you have a child or family member that's affected, it becomes your top priority.
42% of parents have changed their political views since becoming parents
48% of parents have become more politcially motivated since becoming a parent
Kate Snow: Has anyone changed their views since having kids?
Aliya: It's made my positions stronger. I'm Muslim, and there is a lot of Islamophobia out there. It's OK for me to handle it, but I want to shield my kids from it. I don't want them to have to ask me one day, “Why does this person hate me because I'm Muslim?”
Denene: I've become more firmly rooted in my stances as well. Women's rights have turned into a whole different thing for me now that my oldest daughter is 13. That absolutely carries over into how I feel about my children's right to legislate their bodies.
Jason: My views became less selfish. Before having kids, improving our education system was an abstraction for me. Today I have a vested interest in it because I have two kids who are going to be a product of that system.
6 out of 10 respondents are OK with a single parent being president
Kate Snow: Is there anything that would stop you from voting for a presidential candidate, in terms of their lifestyle choices? If they were divorced, gay, a single parent?
Anna: I'm looking at it from the opposite extreme. I wouldn't vote for someone who wasn't accepting of those different situations because that's what our country is all about.
57% say being a parent makes you a better president
Tania: [Having kids] doesn't make you better, just more aware.
Jesse: Even if the president has kids, I hope it isn't affecting policy. I don't want you tackling issues based on your children's best interests, but based on America's best interests.
Are you OK with your children joining the military?
50% of dads would support their child's decision to join the military
30% of moms would support their child's decision to join the military
Jesse: It would be their decision, but honestly, it did a lot of good for me.
Kate Snow: But what if your child came home and said, “Dad, I'm going.”
Jesse: I would make sure they're doing it for the right reasons. If they say, “I want to drive a tank,” I'm not supporting that. On the other hand, our pediatrician got his training in the army. They paid for his medical school. Education is a good reason.
58% of parents talk to their kids about news and current events
Kate Snow: Is anybody using election coverage as a teaching tool with your kids?
Jason: My son's 8. He's starting to ask questions about politics, but he frames them like an 8-year-old. He'll ask, “Are those the bad guys, Dad?” That's my biggest challenge, explaining to him that this is why we're voting. It doesn't make some people bad.
Kate Snow: On Parenting's Facebook page, Marisa A. wrote, “How do we teach our kids to cooperate when the grown-ups in government can't?” Do you share that same frustration?
Anna: We should be teaching our children that it's OK to disagree with somebody. They should stand up for what they believe, but be accepting and respectful of other people's views.
Kelly: My oldest daughter has come home from school and repeated things that her teachers said that definitely skew liberal. I'll tell her, “Well, that's one view, but here's another view.” I've even written down questions for her to take to school and ask the teachers. It was great because at the end of the year, she had this one teacher, the most awesome guy ever. I probably picked on him the most. We had a nice long conversation, and he enjoyed all her questions.
42% say “The quality of my children's lives will be better than ours”
Aileen: I'm confident that my kids will have a great future. It's the rest of the country I'm worried about.