In my house I am generally the dropper-off and the picker-up for my elementary-age daughter, and because we live only 500 feet or so from the school, I prefer to walk that distance in the name of daily exercise and getting the dog to poop. Drop-off ain’t no thing. Just slingshot the child into the maw of public education with a prayer and a shouted “I love you!”
Pick-up is different. You spend at least a few minutes surrounded by strangers with kids that your child sees on the playground or in class. You could sit there in awkward silence and pretend you don’t speak English, and I’m not denying I've tried that, but it doesn’t work very often in a city as diverse as Houston. Out of sheer peer pressure and the need to organize attendance at birthday parties, you’re going to strike up conversations with these people you will likely see for years to come.
And some of them are way on the other side of the political spectrum from you. Here’s some basic parenting advice for dealing with that.
5. Don’t Discuss Politics
This is first and foremost. Pretend you’re at work and that having a heated political discussion is the sort of thing that will get you fired. You can bring up current events, sure. There was a fair amount of group discussion around me on the mechanics of early voting, for instance, but you want to make sure it never leaves the general. In true Southern fashion, those who overstep that line into advocacy when all we want is for the bell to ring so we can go home are to be met with cold stares and awkward silences. Am I saying censor and repress yourself? Yes. Yes, I am. In these situations, it’s really for the best to clam up.
4. Don’t Friend Them on Social Media
I have exactly one other parent from my daughter’s school on my Facebook friends list, and she has the sort of job where if she gets caught arguing or saying the wrong thing, there goes her paycheck. Other parents are like coworkers; you see them all the time and you don’t necessarily benefit from their input at 11 p.m. when they’re hopped up on the news source of their choice and have a few drinks in them. Exchange phone numbers and texts, sure, but keep them out of your online space unless you are really sure they are going to fit in there.
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3. Find Common Ground Elsewhere
You wouldn’t know it these days, but there are literally dozens of other subjects besides politics that people can jaw about, especially with the shared experiences of living in the same community and going to the same school. Talk about your jobs, favorite recipes, best places to take kids on the cheap, or how mind-numbing after-school events can be. You might actually learn something new this way. Too much social media has given a lot of us the impression that others hold contrary views simply to annoy us.
2. Be Helpful
Community is important, and if you think it isn’t, then you’ve never been stranded and needed a ride from a neighbor. One of the best ways to smooth relationships with the people who live near you and that you see every day is simply to be helpful. Offer to take the kids for ice cream if their parents are running late. Share whatever basic life tips you’ve come up with for living in your area. Buy their Girl Scout cookies and those crappy coupon books the Boy Scouts sell. Lend folks books and pie plates and tools. Tiny kindnesses go a long way to keeping everyone polite when friction arises.
1. Be Ready to Fight When It’s Truly Important
I can’t stress this enough; never let your child play at another parent’s house without asking that person if he or she has guns and how they are secured. I know owning guns is one of the most hotly debated issues, but the discomfort of discussing it pales next to the tragedy of a dead kid who played with a loaded weapon.
Likewise, bullying inspired by the bigoted rhetoric that has infected America over the past year cannot be tolerated. It’s one thing to yell at a kid because he won’t share his toy. It’s quite another to tell him to go back to his country. Life is politics, and we can often agree to disagree, but you have to be willing to take a stand sometimes. And if the worst that happens is a tense silence at pick-up, you got off far luckier than a lot of people I know.