Culture At Large

Discussing disgraced politicians with your kids

Caryn Rivadeneira

When my 9-year-old strolled up to my desk yesterday, I almost slammed my laptop shut. Henrik’s known to start reading over my shoulder, and I didn’t want him to read what I was reading.

But I was too late.

“Who’s Rep. Weiner?” Henrik asked. With a quick laugh.

So I answered, “A congressman from New York.” Easy enough.

“Why’s he in the news?”

And that’s where things got tougher - even though I’ve had a lot of practice with these awkward conversations lately, thanks to John Edwards and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others.

While my husband and I are not ones to back away from tough discussions with our observant and inquisitive kids - we believe age-appropriate truth telling is the best policy - I, at least, am getting awfully tired of having to explain the moral failings of our public leaders.

I’m tired of having to hold up leaders - who should be esteemed and respected - as examples of the dangers of power and pride, of self-centeredness and a quest for immediate gratification.

Of course, while Anthony Weiner’s type of moral failing - sending sexually explicit pictures to various women, posting one on Twitter (wow!) and then lying about the whole thing - may be new, the loose sexual morality of politicians is not.

In the United States alone, sex scandals have erupted at every level of government - from city councils to presidents, from Thomas Jefferson to William Jefferson Clinton. While once upon a time, a more limited (and probably accommodating) media protected politicians from the public’s knowledge of their sins, today is obviously a different story. While not every sexual misdeed becomes public, a lot of them do.

And I’m glad. I’m glad because kids deserve better. Having leaders who have the common courtesy not to harass others with pictures of their “bulging underwear” doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Married leaders who can manage to bear children with their spouses only seems like a reasonable request. And leaders who can admit and own up to their failing before the press finds out - or at least tell the truth when they do - seems appropriate.

Our kids deserve the chance to grow up in a country where our politicians are revered, where kids can aspire to political life without it being a suspect career choice. Our kids deserve to live in a country (if not world) where choices have consequences - no matter who you are.

So I’m glad we hear about this - even if I am tired of explaining it to my kids - because it gives us parents a chance to step up and demand better. Demanding more of our leaders isn’t saying that we expect perfection or that there can be no room for mistakes and grace and redemption. Demanding more simply recognizes that for some (if not most), power is a dangerous, addictive thing. Demanding more means we expect - and pressure - leaders to face consequences for bad behavior, not as punishment, but more like tough love.

During their time away from office, we can pray that these leaders re-gauge their moral compasses, find healing or perhaps get help. We can pray for great redemption stories, which, by the way, make for excellent conversations with our kids.

Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, Justice, North America, Home & Family, Parenting