When the viral image of Michelle Obama embracing former President George W. Bush hit the media, it warmed my heart. Not because I have any great love of our former commander-in-chief, and not because I saw the FLOTUS I have come to love and admire put aside political differences for the camera. My heart was warmed because in that sincere moment, I saw my every day.
On the eve of the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, my husband and I made the decision to watch it with our 11-year-old son. We had to put ourselves under the same rules as the audience in that Hofstra auditorium — no comments, no editorials, no heckling. I confess that I don’t even know who my husband will vote for since we have avoided the conversation. I also confess that after 20 years of building a family and focusing on the things that keep our relationship strong, it doesn’t serve me to know. But we watched the debate because we both have this nagging feeling that we are robbing our child of something important. While we have spent years turning off the television to maintain an emotional détente, it feels like we are denying our son exposure to our most basic electoral process.
At this year’s Rosh Hashanah service I listened to the rabbi discuss the anti-Semitism we have witnessed in the tenor of recent political discourse, in online tweets and discussion boards. Finding the proper tone with my son to bring these stories to him is our responsibility as his Jewish parents, but the tightrope we walk to give him information without editorializing the sources of this new-world order can test us both.
Our household political discussions with my son involve a much sanitized view of our differences. When my son questions our positions on various topics, I try in earnest to present “Mom believes x” and “Dad believes y” with compassion and some explanation as to why and how we care in similar ways but have different views of how the country should be run. But my son is starting to have his own opinions. He wants to talk to me about the election, but offering my unfiltered opinion would mean a violation of the sanctity of my marriage.
Growing up the child of a union leader, I never expected that my life path would hand me a mate from the opposite end of the political spectrum. I was a Jewish New York lefty-liberal to the core, a Boston-educated college student who marched on Washington in 1992 for women’s reproductive rights. I was raised with the teachings of Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism — the “liberal elite,” if you will — and my values and mores attracted me to like-minded companions. So when I met my Jewish, Republican-registered libertarian boyfriend in 1996, I never imagined the next 20 years of ups and downs, kids and houses and, of course, political diversity that at times would bring arguments, misunderstandings, insults and injuries.
Initially, it didn’t seem so hard to overcome. Socially, we were mostly on the same page, so we just avoided hot-button issues for the sanctity of our relationship. Our biggest political drama came in the fall of 2000 when we were watching an election results show that ended without conclusion — we vowed to never watch results night together again.
We didn’t watch the second debate as a family because we knew the subject matter might be more than we were ready to discuss and the vitriol would be too challenging to explain. And last week, with my husband out for the evening, we considered whether it would be appropriate for me to tackle the third debate alone with my son. In the end, we decided against it because my husband was uncomfortable being disconnected from the conversation.
I look forward to the day when talking politics with my children can feel less fraught with potential to cause family strife, but for now we’ll just have to let some things go unsaid. Maybe, in showing our children that two people can come together, build a life and a family, and still find comfort in our own mutual embrace, we’ve done more for them to build their worldview than two parents of same-political influence could ever do.
Amy Bird lives with her husband and two children in Annapolis, Maryland. This article originally appeared at kveller.com and was distributed via JTA.