It's easy to be cynical about politics.
For one thing, there's the corrosive influence of big money in choosing who governs us. The Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for limitless political spending, which has exploded in recent federal elections.
We see candidates spending the majority of their time fundraising and assume they are beholden to those interests once elected. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump openly talks about attempting to buy influence through donating to politicians on both sides of the aisle throughout his career.
It's not surprising that a recent Pew survey found that elected officials are seen as less honest and more selfish than ordinary Americans.
Money aside, many voters see little difference between the candidates, or dislike all of them.
Politicians are seen flip-flopping their positions, some within 24 hours. The most recent Republican debate featured plenty of name-calling and shouting. There have been screams, shouts and violence against protesters, even those silently watching, at Trump rallies.
How many parents would tolerate our children behaving this way?
Given all of the above, it's not surprising that many parents limit their kids' exposure to politics. When our children hear us complain about how crooked politicians are, or how corrupt the system is, they absorb the idea that it's better to be disengaged from the political system.
It's not. It's better for our democracy to have informed and engaged citizens.
We just have to find a different point of entry.
The airwaves are dominated by a handful of high-profile races, but there's democracy unfolding in the details. Census data shows there are more than 500,000 elected officials in America. Local races -- from school boards to statehouses to city councils -- impact our daily lives. Go meet some local candidates and find one whose values reflect your own -- someone whose ambitions are guided by principles and a genuine desire to serve.
Teach your kids -- and maybe remind yourself -- that being a public servant can still be a noble endeavor.
As parents, our civic duty goes beyond showing up at the ballot box every few years. It includes raising a generation of citizens who believe they can have a voice and effect change.
In an election year filled with hateful rhetoric that could have completely alienated my children, they are instead excited about watching their aunt, my sister, run for district judge in Houston. They are learning how democracy works -- warts and all.
We've watched her work 12- to 14-hour days, without breaks, for months -- demonstrating the amount of sheer determination and drive it takes to sustain a campaign. We've seen her building coalitions, reaching out to many different groups, getting endorsements and yes, even raising money. My kids have seen that convincing others to support you takes believing in yourself first.
They are learning what it means to donate your time or money to a candidate you believe in, and how much effort it takes to get just one citizen registered to vote. They have learned that there are people who don't vote because they can't get time off of work on Election Day, or lack transportation, or simply don't know where or how to do so.
Experiencing a local race from the inside took me back to my freshman year of college, when I was finally old enough to cast a ballot. It was a presidential election year, and I had the enthusiasm of a freshly minted voter.
Years of bitter partisan gridlock since then had nearly put that fire out.
But this year, on Super Tuesday, it was reignited by the spark of other citizens.
There was the man who had been eligible to vote for more than 30 years, casting his ballot for the first time. There were pictures of young Air Force ROTC cadets who were just old enough to vote. My brother-in-law posted pictures of a Vietnam veteran and his daughter at the polls, with the caption: "He wants you to know that you have no excuse for not getting out to vote. Many have sacrificed for the right to vote."
There were the people who lined up around buildings and waited for hours for a chance to have their voices heard.
My mother told me that she had to pull over while driving home after voting for her daughter. Overcome by emotion, she broke down and cried.
In the ugliest election cycle of my adult life, there have been times when I've felt more discouraged about the political process than I could ever imagine. But remarkably, I've also felt incredibly hopeful and proud.
We infect our children with our attitude toward the political process. And if we want better leaders, we stand to benefit from encouraging our brightest and best to want to solve our nation's challenges. The more hopeful and involved our children see us, the better future we are building for our country.
It's one way to eventually get the government we deserve.