Why My Kids Give Me Hope In Democracy

The democratic process has always thrilled me. Call me weird, but it’s true. Yet today, when I cast my vote, I didn’t feel the sense of elation that I’ve come to associate with going to the polls and carrying out my civic duty.

In years past, I have always loved voting in midterm and general elections. I love seeing people in line at the polls. I love the sense of duty and accomplishment I feel when I vote. It fills me with a mixture of hope and pride as I fulfill what I’ve always considered a sacred responsibility. This year, however, I crossed “vote” off my daily to-do list alongside making soup and answering the nagging email I’d been putting off. It felt no more sacred than either.

If I’m being honest, my hope and pride have been waning lately. There are nights when I don’t have it in me to turn on the news (not even of the satirical variety). So much of what is happening in the U.S. and the world at large leaves me feeling devastated and immobilized. As if it’s unchangeable. For the first time in my life, I’ve started to feel a deep understanding of those who choose to turn away, to throw up their hands, to put their focus elsewhere. I get why people give up hope. Hope is so damn hard sometimes.

But at the end of the day, whether I’ve watched the dreaded news or not, I always run through the same nighttime ritual. I lock the doors. I turn off the lights and inevitably get spooked by some shadows. And then I quietly sneak into each of my children’s rooms, bathed in the soft glow of night lights and the hum of the air cleaners, and I take a deep silent breath. Some days, when the world is weighing too heavy on me, I slip in beside them and listen to them breathe. I put my hand on their bellies and feel the rise and fall. This is where I feel my pride. This is where my hope resides.

In these quiet moments, I feel a sacred responsibility that eclipses all others — to do right by them. To make my voice heard. To keep working toward change. When I sit beside my sleeping children, I understand that I can empathize with those who lose hope, but I cannot and will not become one of them. I cannot become despondent about the state of our democracy or the state of the world. Devastation can gut me, certainly. It can bring me to my knees. But I have to stand up and dust myself off, and at the end of the day keep hope that my love for my children is stronger than the hate in the world.

I don’t have to feel elated as I walk to the polls or donate to relief funds or call my representatives. But I do have to keep showing up and doing the work to make their world a better place. I have to end my days with hope, and I have to earn that hope with action. I have to show my kids that the world is worth fighting for, even when you don’t feel like it, because it only gets better if we keep showing up. I want them to share in the hope that I have: that they’re going to make our world better. I want to show them how.

There are still days when I feel angry and devastated and sick to my stomach. Often change feels so frustratingly far away, but I keep reminding myself it isn’t impossible. Hope isn’t always where I start, but it’s where I must always end up.

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Glamour, Women’s Health, Babble, Yahoo Parenting and more. She lives in Reno, NV with her husband, three young children, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

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