5 Lessons My Kids Learned From the Government Shutdown

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Kyle Wiley made the most of the government shutdown by using it as a teaching tool for his two young children.

It almost happened, America—we were two weeks into a government shutdown and ready to leap head first off of the dreaded fiscal cliff. The clock was running out and the landscape of the country was moments away from be transformed into something out of Mad Max.

And just as we were getting fitted for our leather outfits an agreement was reached—and, wow, that was close.

Two weeks was a long time, and there are a lot of terrible consequences to the shutdown, but being an eternal optimist I think there might have also been a sliver of silver lining: Resourceful parents who made the most of the shutdown by using it as a unique learning opportunity for their children were able to teach them about some of life’s biggest lessons. Here are the five that I came up with:

1) Always Play Nice with Others, Even If They Share Different Opinions
Being the middle child of five kids I am certainly no stranger to a little sibling conflict, be it a difference of age, opinion, or taste in TV shows. We often found ourselves in a bit of a power struggle that had to be resolved by either our parents or whichever one of us could beat up the other. Now that I am a parent of two young boys, I am fully aware that I will be caught in the middle of the same clashes of my childhood, and it will be my job to teach them how to sit down and rationally workout their differences, or else face the consequences. Mr. President and members of the Congress, are you all listening? If not, I have a big chair in my house facing the corner with each of your names on it.

2) TV/Social Media Can Distort the Truth
Even now that it is over you literally can’t turn on the TV without hearing about the government shutdown. That isn’t to say that an issue of such magnitude doesn’t deserve media attention. However, between Twitter hashtags, doomsday clocks counting down to “total destruction,” and the ominous music that plays at the start of each news piece, it is pretty obvious that most media outlets are capitalizing on the political gridlock in order to capture ratings. I really don’t blame them for doing it; they are businesses after all, and their profits are directly related to how many eyes see their pieces. However, with that being said, I think that being able to distinguish “ratings grabbers” from “real news” pieces is a skill that should be developed at an early age. You want to teach your children to look at the news with a critical mind so they aren’t easily swayed based on whichever direction the wind is blowing.

3) Being a “Big Boy/Girl” is About Making Hard Choices
I have listened to a lot of commentary from members of Congress, including the House majority/minority leaders, regarding their take on the shutdown. One of the most interesting observations I have made is that in all of the excuses and finger pointing to the other side, not one person is holding themselves accountable for the cause of this deadlock. It almost seems as though each side is content with blaming the other, thinking that’s good enough for the countless Americans who are being deprived of services because of their failure to negotiate. I’m waiting for someone to step up and, here’s a novel idea, actually put the needs of the American people before their own political agendas and be willing to do what it takes to come to a compromise, simply because that’s what government is supposed to do. When that elected official appears, I will point to that person and say to my kids, “You see that (elected official)? Now, HE/SHE is a hero, and that is someone who you should want to be like when you grow up.” Until that day comes I will continue to remain silent.

4) A Little Fiscal Responsibility Can Go a Long Way
Why is the U.S. in this predicament in the first place? Putting political biases aside, the facts are clear: The country routinely spends significantly more money than it has available. That may be a oversimplifying an issue that is rather complex, but that’s basically what has happened. While a nation has vastly more obligations than a family, I think the shutdown can still be seen as a cautionary tale of what happens when someone lives beyond their means for far too long. Planning, implementing, and sticking to a budget are crucial skills that can be taught to kids at the earliest of ages that will serve them well throughout their lives.

5) Despite How Bad it looks, Democracy Does Work
As crazy as it sounds, everything that is happening is not evidence that democracy is faulty, but proof it actually works. If this were a dictatorship the POTUS would have absolute, unquestioned power to do whatever he felt like. However, there are branches of the government that have the power to prevent certain policies from taking form if they do not agree with them. This, ladies and gentleman, is called a system of checks and balances, and it is playing out right before our eyes. Although,  I’m pretty sure that a nation-wide shutdown and potential default probably weren’t what our forefathers envisioned when they included those fail-safes. All of the unnecessary drama would be enough to make some people want to give up on government; indeed, based on what I have seen on some of my social media feeds, many people already have. One day, when my kids are old enough to understand this trying part of our history, I will explain to them that throughout history all great governments go through defining moments that eventually shape their evolution and progress. We will be able to look back on this troubling period with the benefit of hindsight and see how our country has learned and progressed to the even greater country that we are today (fingers crossed!).

What would have happened if our distinguished representatives on Capitol Hill had failed to reach an agreement before the clock ran out? I honestly have no idea, but I shudder to think of the possibilities. The only thing that I’m certain of is that I, like most Americans, would still have a family to raise, no matter what they decided. Government compromises or not, my kids will still expect me to put food on the table, to put clothes on their backs, and to answer those unanswerable questions. All I know is that I will continue to do all three… and then some.

Question: Did you learn anything from the U.S. government shutdown?

Image: W. Honea

About Kyle Wiley

Kyle is a dad who regularly writes about his experiences on his blog www.fatherlystuff.com. He currently lives in Connecticut with his wife, his two young boys, and a bunny.


  1. I was thinking the same way Kiley. I wrote an article here on GMP during this whole thing (http://goodmenproject.com/good-feed-blog/hesaid-three-lessons-children-can-learn-from-the-government-shutdown/) in the same vein.
    I hope the politicians learned these lessons as well. I have more faith that your kids did.

  2. Jackie Moleski says:

    Interesting opinion, but you fail to realize several things.
    1. Government employees also have bills to pay, mortgages, car payments, and children to feed. How can you say the Republican shutdown of the government was OK?
    2. Not only government employees, but contractors who worked in government offices, side by side with gov’t employees also didn’t work for 3 weeks – and didn’t receive any paychecks. I know several people in that position.
    3. The laws for government paid for health care, and access to the information allowing one to choose one’s own health plan instead of relying on an employer had ALREADY BEEN APPROVED by congress, not just once, or twice, but 23 times. Republicans shut down the government and cost the country $24 billion dollars – simply because they didn’t get their way.
    4. The government was not shut down because it ran out of money – the budget had been approved.

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