Parents react to 2020's first presidential debate

"My children have better table manners."
Katty Huertas / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Parents who watched the first presidential debate with their children now find they have a lot of explaining to do.

For those watching with children, the chaotic debate between President Donald Trump and Former Vice President Joe Biden was equal parts frustrating, shocking, disappointing and somehow, strangely educational.

'Let a toddler mom moderate'

For Florida mom Mary Katherine Backstrom, the behavior of the candidates was more outlandish than anything she's seen in parenting.

"Honestly, my children have better table manners than those two displayed," Backstrom, a writer and TODAY Parenting Team contributor, said. "One acted like a belligerent toddler and the other like an annoyed preteen. I would expect the highest level of discourse from America's presidential candidates, and instead I felt like I was watching a schoolyard brawl."

Backstrom says she spent a great part of the day before the debate correcting her children, ages 4 and 6, and was surprised to feel the urge to do the same during the debate.

"I believe Biden won, but does it even matter?" she said. "It feels like we all lost an hour of our time. I hope they cancel the next few debates, or maybe let a toddler mom moderate."

'Childish and not professional'

Vanessa Hicks let her daughters, ages 12 and 13, watch the presidential debate for the first time. They were not impressed.

"Childish and not professional at all," was the verdict of Jasmine, age 13, Hicks said. "Tatyana said, and I quote, 'It sucked.'"

Vanessa Hicks with her family; watching the presidential debate together did not go quite how she'd hoped.Courtesy Vanessa Hicks Photography

Hicks, a professional photographer in San Diego, said that their discussion after the debate "was the hardest talk I've had."

"We explained that what they witnessed isn’t what politics is really like," she said. "We explained that no one, not even the president, is above rules and the law, and we watched our president not abide by simple rules... We just stressed to them that we are voting for their future."

Watching the debate did inspire her 12-year-old, though not exactly as Hicks had hoped: "She said, 'I wish I was old enough to vote now, because it's scary.'"

'She really wanted to understand'

Rachel Horan, a mom of two from Florida, says she watched the debate with her 7-year-old daughter, Michaela. She told TODAY Parents that she took time to explain to Michaela ahead of time what the debates were and what purpose they served.

Rachel Horan with her 7-year-old daughter, Michaela.Rachel Horan

When it came time to watch, however, the night wasn't quite what the mother-daughter duo expected.

"She really wanted to understand, but said she felt like no one could make any sense of it when everyone was talking over each other," said Horan. "I told her there’s what should be, and what is. It's so hard because we know Trump is notorious for talking over people, and while Biden tried to be respectful of the process, there comes a time when you have to fight back to be heard."

'Surprised and shocked'

For parents of older kids, like Christine Burke, also a TODAY Parenting Team contributor, the debates were less about relating to the toddler-like behavior and more about fielding teens' questions about the spectacle.

Pennsylvania mom Christine Burke with her teenage kids, Joe, 17 and Genevieve, 15.Christine Burke

"My kids were actually surprised and shocked," Burke said of her 17-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter. "There were many times during the debate that we all looked at each other with wide eyes and jaws dropped."

Through most of the debate, Burke says her son shared funny memes with his friends about what a disaster it was while her daughter asked why the adult men were "yelling, lying and interrupting."

Burke said she and her husband, who live in Pennsylvania, hope to have found a way to help their kids process the night's events.

"Watching with teens means trying to explain to them that debates historically are not fist fights, so to speak," said Burke. "It actually led us to decide to watch some previous debates with the kids over the weekend, to compare notes on what debates used to be like."