While I try to be as politically agnostic as possible in my work, I cannot help but take the first presidential debate as an opportunity to highlight a parenting moment. Regardless of your political views or favorable candidate, I think we can all view this moment as purely parental, leaving politics out of it.
Debates, or rather any conversation, can get ugly when people’s families are brought into the mix. This is where cultural conditions, societal pressures and, of course, expectations can play such a large role. During the first debate, Donald Trump asserted that Biden’s son “Hunter got thrown out of the military; he was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use.” While Biden’s other son, Beau, received an honorable medal after serving in the Army National Guard, it would have been quite easy for Biden to pivot the attention to Beau. However, Biden does not do that. Instead, Biden reaffirms unconditional positive regard and love for both of his sons, regardless of either of their choices, accolades, and circumstances.
This is a great learning moment. As parents, it can be easy to give in to the societal pressures of how we think our kids should be. And when they don’t behave or achieve what we or society says they should, it can be easy to feel disappointed, ashamed, or embarrassed. However, like Biden, we must separate ourselves from our children and simply love, support, and honor them for who they are, rather than what they do.
Not only does Biden reaffirm his pride in his son for who he is, he normalizes struggle. Biden’s response of “my son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem; he’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son,” illustrates this idea of unconditional positive regard.
Politics aside, I think we could all learn a little something from Biden’s response. As parents, we should not feel shame for our children’s behavior or choices. This is part of the parenting process and the child’s development. The choices our children make are theirs to own. They are not a reflection of us. Our job is to show them unconditional positive regard, not because of their choices or accolades, but in spite of them. When we do this, we create a positive environment, in which children feel loved, valued, and supported for who they are on the inside, rather than external conditions of worth.