DePaul parents reflect on how their parenting has shifted post-election

CNN political commentator Van Jones depicted the nightmare that many parents across the nation were having to face on Nov 8, 2016. “It’s hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us,” Jones said.

“You tell your kids, ‘Don’t be a bully.’ You tell your kids, ‘Don’t be a bigot.’ You tell your kids, ‘Do your homework and be prepared.’ And then you have this outcome, and you have people putting children to bed tonight, and they’re afraid of breakfast. They’re afraid of ‘How do I explain this to my children?’”

In just the few months that President Donald Trump has been in office, citizens of this country have watched as both his rhetoric and executive orders have shifted it. It started with a Muslim ban, and most recently has escalated to a missile launch on Syria.

Families across the world are sitting in their living rooms, observing how these series of events unfold into the various communities across the nation. As messages of division and hate are spread, parents on DePaul’s campus are questioning how to go about raising and explaining to their children how to deal with a social atmosphere that has now been filled with fear.   

English professor: Steven Ramirez

Outside the classroom, English professor Steven Ramirez is facing the challenges of raising double trouble; a two-year-old and a seventh-month-old. Although, Ramirez finds beauty in not having to address certain issues due to their young ages, that doesn’t stop him from thinking about one of his biggest fears; having to protect his children from harassment, a task that hasn’t been an easy one because of President Trump.

“I have a son and a daughter, and there are some uncomfortable social politics that go along with that, social politics that we all had to survive–are surviving–and now their journey begins,” Ramirez said. “It doesn’t help that the President of the United States uses social media in the same way an eleven-year-old might–i.e. to pick fights, and bully, and harass, and make completely baseless accusations–so I must look elsewhere for the standard of what it means to be a decent American, which is something my parents didn’t have to do when I was growing up.”

When Ramirez finds himself unable to convey the messages being spread by our current government administration, he relies on the skills he’s gained from his career as a creative writer.

“To sit down and write is not only an act of creativity, but great discipline. It requires time, and patience and one’s full attention–three things that are lacking in the way people interact with each other today,” Ramirez said.  “The mere act of writing allows me some amount of sanity, and I hope to instill within my kids those hobbies–writing or otherwise–that promote these values. I consider myself someone with a large imagination. When I see my toddler running around in his own little world, I feel both joy and extreme sadness that the world will try to chip away at this. Which is where writing comes in.”

Ramirez has a while before these difficult conversations becomes a reality, and instead is trying to focus his attention on more important matters, like potty training.

“Regardless of who fills this Supreme Court seat, or who’s talking to Russia, my son is holding himself and I’m in trouble if I don’t find a bathroom like yesterday.”

Jewish Student Life Coordinator: Matt Charnay

He’s way past baby talk. Matt Charnay, DePaul’s Jewish Life Coordinator, is becoming aware that his two-year-old son Levi is no longer in the stages where he can’t comprehend what’s going on in the world around him. It won’t be long before Levi is on his way to school without the accompaniment of his father. With an government administration that doesn’t reflect his own views, Charnay is incredibly nervous. Looking at his young son, Charnay hopes through it all, he is able to maintain instilling lessons that represent what it means to truly live a happy life.

“I was always told that to be happy you have to be successful. I think we’re seeing it shift,” Charnay said. “My concern is am I going to be able to live out the values of living a happy fulfilling life, versus what people say is a successful life and transmitting those values to Levi as well.”

To combat it all, Charnay has shifted his parenting to focus on both self-reflection on what’s he doing personally and showing his son what it means to take action.

“I want to be the role model through my behavior and attitude, not what I tell him is the best thing to do,” Charnay said. “Parenting during this administration is about taking action. Taking him to Pride, taking him to the Women’s March, taking him to these places even as a baby is starting precedents now that this is what good human beings do. They advocate for each other.”

In addition to setting expectations by his role modeling, Charnay also turns to his Jewish faith to help guide him in raising Levi.

“It’s really easy in this day and age to just keep scrolling. It’s important even if we don’t agree what’s going on, to know what’s going on,” Charnay said. “That’s the responsibility of Judaism. I love that about my faith. Ignorance is not an excuse. I’m not sitting him in front of CNN all day, but I’m also not shining him away from thing I feel are important.”

In light of the recent threats on Jewish institutions, it’s easy to understand how people can feel pessimistic looking towards the future. But, for Charnay, it’s important now more than ever for him to teach Levi to hold on to his faith, regardless of the spiritual journey his young son decides to take.   

“What I want my kid to understand is religion is a roadmap to being the best person you can be. Everyone reads maps differently. Some people are good at reading maps, some people don’t read the map at all and decide I’m going to get there however I like. Anyone who’s using their faith to tear someone down, to belittle somebody else, to negate their dignity is obviously reading the map wrong. Teaching him the ways I was taught to read the map of spirituality is important to me, but making him follow it to the letter is not. Making sure he’s on the path to being a good person is.”

Associate Director for New Student and Faculty Engagement: Ziena Miller

As former President Barack Obama gave his address at the Democratic National Convention this past year, Ziena Miller and her four-year-old son Jacob watched from the comforts of their living room. Miller recalls the conversation she shared with her son about the differences seen during the Obama administration. When relaying to Jacob, how his friends that look like President Obama for the first time felt represented, Miller found difficulty in answering her son’s question of “why?”  Why were people in power for many years that looked different than his friends? Why did these people not want to give up their power? As hard as this dialogue was, Miller was proud that her son was beginning to question the concept of privilege at such a young age.

“It was really neat to be able to see the ways in which he can think about that and that it wasn’t a “we’re going to shut this conversation down,” because it’s too heavy for you or that it was too difficult for him to understand,” Miller said.

Miller attributes her role as being the associate director for New Student Family and Engagement ato helping her navigate parenthood. With her and her husband both immersed in the field of higher education, they are constantly being reminded of the responsibility they have with raising their son.

“I think it’s a really interesting time to be a parent. As someone who works in higher education, I think a lot about the formation of a human being,” Miller said.   “How do I create a dynamic with my own child and what are the things that I want to take that I see? As a parent it’s easy to dismiss the other side, but I think it’s important to understand where that comes from.  For me raising my son is about bringing that consciousness to life and letting him make that meaning for himself. For my son to sit in a place to see how his friends live differently is important to me”

Miller believes that as long as her family continues to engage in dialogue and have an open mind, this will in turn shape Jacob into a compassionate and loving person.

“(Despite us) knowing that he’s not going understand it all at this age, it’s important for us to talk about it because our kids know about it. They feel it and they don’t have the words for it. I don’t always have the words for it, but I think’s it’s important for him to see me struggle. Hearing him say, “we don’t like what’s happening right now,” and to be able to say ‘no we don’t,’ means that we have to be diligent in being kind to everyone and caring for others.”