The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Parenting with Heart & Soul: Leading by Example

Posted in soulfish by Juliet on June 29, 2010

The campaign to legalize marijuana in California is underway. Since I’ve chosen to make my support high-profile, and I’m touting my “soccer mom” status to show how mainstream and widespread this campaign has become, I realized it was time to talk to the kids.

Our kids are four and eight. Jane, age four, has a fuzzy understanding of politics and the law. But Eva is eight, and a bright, deep-thinking eight at that, so we can talk at a more advanced level with her.

Like most grade school-age kids, Eva has a strong innate sense of fairness. Kids are born with a keen concept of justice and it blooms until the indignities and injustices of school and their young lives stomp it out. (Or until some boring junior high civics curriculum drums it out.) There are some great government teachers but why are they so thin on the ground?

Here’s an example of Eva’s typical thought process. Her school has three rules: Is it safe? Is it courteous? Would it be fair if everyone did it?

Eva’s analysis is: “Of course it would be fair if everyone did it. That’s what makes it fair!”

(Eight year olds often have a strong sense of semantic literal-ness to go along with their inborn sense of justice.)

Over the next several months, I’m sure there will be events, rallies, and the like, to promote Control & Tax 2010. Is it fair of me to bring my kids?

My initial instinct is to bring them. I believe in teaching by example. I disagree with the current law. In word and deed I can show my kids that we follow the laws, and we advocate to change the ones we think are wrong.

I explicitly tell them, “Our family follows all the laws, big and small. We also follow all the rules of school, clubs, and other activities. Even if we won’t get caught or it doesn’t seem like a big deal, we follow them because it’s the right thing to do.”

Also for the record, I explicitly tell them, “Our family doesn’t do drugs. We take care of our bodies. We only have this one body, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. When you’re 21, you can decide whether you want to drink wine. When you’re 18, you can legally smoke but we really hope you never do because it’s awful for your body. No matter what you decide when you’re legally old enough, you are absolutely not allowed to smoke or drink when you’re underage because it’s against the law.”

[Also for the record, as our girls grow up, we will decide whether to allow them sips or tastes of our wine here at home, before age 21, but we will never allow them to drink-drink here at home, or attend parties where parents serve alcohol to kids because “it’s safer and at least I know where they are.” But we already do a “finger dip” of wine from our glass during shabbat kiddush and I could see allowing a college-age child home for vacation to have a small flute of champagne at home on New Year’s Eve, for example.]

So back to the issue of rallies and events. When Prop 8 was on the ballot, we told the kids about it and explained our opposition. We framed it in terms of fairness, which kids get.

So how to explain the marijuana law?

I started with: it’s illegal right now, to have it and to use it. Some people believe it’s dangerous. Other people, including us, believe that not only is it not dangerous, it actually can be good for some people, especially if they have certain diseases or sicknesses. But, it changes how you think and how your mind works, just like wine does.

Jane lost interest but at eight, Eva could understand and wanted to know more. I explained about drug dealers, Mexican cartels, and the law of supply and demand.

I told her there would be plenty of people who agree with me but there would be others who didn’t.

I told her she didn’t have to have an opinion if she didn’t want to, but I would let her decide whether she wanted to attend rallies or other events. Jane said right away that she wanted to go (she likes anything involving waving signs or honking.) Eva said she wants to decide on an event-by-event basis.

After discussing it with the kids, how do I feel about bringing them along? I need to look deep within: am I teaching them, or trotting them out simply to make a point or put them on display? (“Look! I’m a normal, average mom with my kids.”) Am I teaching my kids a lesson, or trying to teach society a lesson? Basically: what is my motivation? And what will the ultimate outcome be for my kids, who are my priority?

During the Prop 8 controversy, it felt very distasteful to me to see pro-Prop 8 folks use their kids to stand on street corners waving signs and shouting slogans.

Why, exactly, did that feel so very wrong to me, when I had no problem having my own kids do the same thing but on the other side of the debate?

In the final analysis, I think it comes down to the fact that I don’t see Prop 8 as being about sex. We talked about Prop 8 a lot and never brought up actual sex once. On the pro-Prop 8 side, though, it seemed to be about nothing but the sex, and the kids waving signs felt very leering and prurient. In contrast, giving kids signs about love, family, and fairness — the truest of family values, by the way — felt very right.

Much like the Prop 8 debate isn’t about sex, the marijuana legalization debate isn’t about drugs.

Frankly, I haven’t made a final decision yet. I am keeping an open mind and being flexible. Stay tuned.

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