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Five Questions with Brittany Candrian Richman
This month’s special guest is Brittany Candrian Richman, co-author with her twin sister Andrea Candrian Reeve of the The American Moms blog. Brittany worked on the 2004 campaign, as a staff assistant at HHS, and as a researcher/fact checker in the White House Office of Speechwriting. Andrea worked on Capitol Hill. Through their popular blog and @theamericanmoms social media following, they focus on “civics, civility and raising kids in America.” In this month’s “Five Questions With…” feature, Brittany tells us why getting our kids involved in their communities matters and how to talk to your kids about current events and describes one of her family’s very special holiday traditions.
Q: Congratulations on the success of The American Moms blog and your immensely popular social media following. There are many mom and parenting blogs out there, but the one you write with your twin sister and former Senate staffer Andrea Candrian Reeve focuses on civility, civics, current events and family. You even issue a series of “challenges” around civics and presidential history. Why did you choose this approach?
A: My twin sister and I started a civics and civility blog because ultimately, we saw a need for it. After the 2016 elections, we realized how important and needed this conversation is in households across America. We saw so many people upset by the 2016 election results who failed to grasp that voting is only one component of civic engagement—there’s so much more all of us can do to get our candidate of choice elected and to make a difference in where we live.
Our main goal is getting families more involved in their communities, discussing important topics at the dinner table, and becoming actively engaged and informed in things that matter. On our blog, and on Instagram, we discuss civics, history, current events, ways to get involved, etc. We try to make it fun by sharing presidential and historic recipes, issuing challenges, offering kid-friendly ideas (like SOTU BINGO) to get parents to understand and realize that civics and history matter but they don’t have to be snooze-worthy topics. Certainly, my time in President Bush’s administration and Andrea’s work on Capitol Hill helped us in this endeavor.
Q: On your site you do post recipes (including Mrs. Bush’s “Cowboy Cookies”) but you also provide guidance to other parents on how to talk to their kids about what’s going on in the news. What advice can you share about helping our kids understand what going on in the world today, including the topic of violence?
A: As parents, it is our responsibility to help our children understand what’s going on in the world around them and to help them recognize why it matters. Thinking the news won’t interest them or is beyond their understanding doesn’t do them any favors. In fact, helping them understand current events can help them find their passions and discover ways they can get involved. At the end of our current events Instagram posts, we always try to pose a question or thought to get conversations on that topic started with families.
I’ve had some amazing conversations with my kids (ages 10, 7, and 4) about what’s happening in the news—locally and worldwide. We often talk about it while we are driving to school in the mornings. Last spring, during our last local elections, my oldest son took an interest in the mayoral race. We talked a lot about it and issues in our city that needed attention. My son decided to write the incumbent candidate a letter about one of our parks needing updating. When the mayor wrote him back and said the park would be updated that summer, my son was elated. You never know what can happen just by discussing local news with your kids! Even my youngest often chimes in on these conversations. And even when he doesn’t, I at least know he’s listening and learning.
There are obviously age appropriate ways to discuss current events, particularly when it comes to topics of violence. For younger children, for example, it’s important to remember to keep explanations simple and focus on the positive. For example, with school shootings, instead of saying “A bad man hurt people,” try something like “Some people got hurt at a school today, but a lot of teachers and police officers rushed in and helped them.” With older kids, you can obviously go into more detail, but you still have to be careful not to tell them anything you wouldn’t want repeated on the playground.
For more suggestions about talking to kids of various age groups, you can head to our parents’ guide to talking to kids about violence.
Q: What have you learned are the keys to building a social media following – especially on Instagram, where you have more than 24,000 followers?
A: Trying to figure out how to grow on social media is always a challenge. We felt our presence on Instagram was important, because we wanted to get in front of where other parents are spending their time. So many parents are scrolling through lifestyle and fashion blogs daily and our hope was that if we could just get their attention for a few seconds a day on something completely different, then maybe it will help start the process of creating a more civic-minded culture.
Though we’d love to have even more followers on Instagram, because we feel our message is so important, we are grateful for the supportive community we’ve garnered so far. Thankfully we’ve had some help along the way and had our message shared in the news, through podcasts, on other blogs, and by other people with whom our message has resonated.
Q: Can you share a favorite story or moment from your time in the Administration? Is there a leadership lesson that still serves you well today as both a parent and a content creator?
A: Every day at the White House was memorable. I'll never forget the White House holiday parties, meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office as part of the speechwriting staff, interviewing parents of fallen soldiers for potential speech mentions, or just walking down the hallway to the restroom and passing people like Secretary Condoleezza Rice en route. One of my most treasured memories, however, was when Mrs. Bush's office invited the speechwriting staff to the author breakfast for the National Book Festival. The breakfast itself was amazing, of course, and it was incredible being able to sit down and chat with award-winning authors. But what made that day so special was that my dad just happened to be in town visiting for his birthday, so I was able to bring him with me. We still talk about what a memorable day that was.
A lesson I learned from serving is that laughter is the best medicine and that our attitude is everything. The speechwriting staff was filled with some of the most intelligent and witty people I've ever met. I couldn’t have survived the long hours in that job without co-workers who made me laugh and reminded me to stay positive. It made the long hours bearable. I learned that even when you have serious work to do, you still have to take a deep breath and remember to smile and see the joy and humor in life. I’ve tried to pass that lesson onto my kids as well. If they are in a bad mood or had a hard day at school, first they get a hug, but then they might get tickled!
Q: Finally, do you have a favorite family holiday tradition that you’d like to share?
A: My family’s favorite holiday tradition is decorating our Christmas tree. We aren’t the family who has a perfectly decorated, themed, or color coordinated tree. We have dozens of ornaments from all over the world, including homemade ones from my childhood and now from my own children. Every ornament has a story and that’s what makes it something we look forward to every year. Hanging each ornament reminds us of those memories. My favorite ornaments, of course, are my White House ornaments. I have one from the years I worked at the White House, the year I got married, and one for every year my children were born. They love hearing the stories about them. Someday I’d love to have a tree decorated entirely of White House ornaments—but that might be a bit over the top!
Since we moved to South Dakota a few years ago, if the weather permits during the week of Christmas, we also like to go up to Mount Rushmore (just 15 minutes from our house). It’s decorated for the holidays and we sit inside by the fireplaces and eat Thomas Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream (his own recipe). We’re usually the only ones there that time of year and my kids love it.