Back in April, as I shuttled my daughter, C*, from the crafts store to her lacrosse game, we found ourselves on a sidewalk full of Bernie Sanders supporters. There was a huge rally happening in a nearby park, and the Berners were everywhere—carrying signs, wearing t-shirts, selling buttons, and chanting slogans.
I saw all of this in my peripheral vision; navigating a pre-tween through a crowded Brooklyn street is difficult any day, and the Bernie people were not helping. But C had seen the signs and the excitement, and she wanted to process. "Who are you supporting in this election, Mommy?" she asked. I hesitated, remembering my mother's childhood dictum: don't talk about politics, money, sex, or religion in public. Then I remembered I'm not my mother; I talk openly about all of these topics with my children and pretty much anyone else who will listen.
So I told my daughter, "I like Hillary. I think she's the most qualified, and I like her plans for our country."
I suppose I had just assumed C would pick up my viewpoints—and my loyalty to Clinton—by osmosis. My partner and are fairly typical GenX liberals. We compost, we shop at the greenmarket, and we volunteer at our kids' public school. We talk to them about economic inequality, food insecurity, and institutionalized racism and sexism. And yes, we're Hillary supporters. We're ready for a woman president, we're concerned about the future of the Supreme Court, and we are sick of the hate-mongering in this primary cycle. We think she is the better candidate.
Despite my love for Hillary, I have appreciated Bernie Sanders' candidacy. For the most part I like his politics, and I love that a Democratic Socialist has been a serious contender for president. But hearing C say she supported him made me feel strangely betrayed. I wondered if I hadn't been outspoken enough about the election at home. Was I a bad parent? A bad feminist? A bad lesbian?
I knew our son was on the right track. At six, he's too young to really appreciate the intra-party fighting between Clinton and Sanders, but he's got the big picture covered. On primary day he delivered a capsule message to us at breakfast: "You can't vote for Trump! You're both women, and Trump hates women." Mission accomplished there.
I turned to C. "Tell me why you're for Bernie," I said, "I want to know."
"Well," she started, smoothly, as if she'd had this conversation before, or even rehearsed it, "He seems like a nice man. And I think he deserves it more. Hillary has already been in the White House, with her husband, so I just think it's Bernie's turn now. It's only fair." She stopped, clearly expecting me to see her irrefutable logic and change my loyalties. I'd been Bernie-splained by my own child.
We continued walking, and I considered what C had said, framing a rebuttal, and still feeling like the whole conversation was a little surreal. She was using the playground's essential rules of conduct—be nice, and everyone gets a turn—while I was coming from the ugly world of American politics, where, truly, no one is that nice. And lots of people don't get a turn. I took a deep breath.
"You're right, fairness is important. And letting everyone have their turn is important." I had delivered several parental lectures on these topics within the last week. "But when it comes to elections, taking turns and fairness is about everyone getting to say their piece, and everyone getting to vote. It's not about taking turns being president. People are chosen for president because of their qualifications."
I made eye contact. Feminist eye contact. "Senator Sanders is a very nice man," I told C. "Hillary is very nice, too. But there is more to an election than who is nice." I paused to see if she was paying attention. "Plus, historically, women are expected to be nice, not just with their friends but also in their jobs, in ways men aren't, and that isn't really fair, is it? We've talked about that." I was kind of proud of my civics lesson, but not sure I had been very convincing.
C went off to lacrosse, seemingly unmoved by my sally. I texted my partner, Ingrid: "Are you sitting down? C said she likes Bernie! WTF?" I knew I was overreacting, but I couldn't let it go. Parenthood is full of surprises—but I hadn't expected a political rift before C was even into double digits. It's not like we hadn't disagreed before, obviously—but that she was even thinking about which candidate to support came way out of left field.