Don't let the election destroy your family.
By Diane Dempster
When we get married and start having kids, most of us dream of having a cohesive family “team.” We’ll enjoy the same things, rally against the same adversaries, always have each other’s back, and basically just enjoy each other (at least almost) all the time.
It’s a gift when it happens, and can cause serious conflict and heartbreak when it doesn’t.
Politics is one of those more murky subjects that can cause serious derision in relationships.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of families (some pretty famous ones) where conflicting political positions don’t seem to get in the way of warm, healthy relationships.
Unfortunately that isn’t my story.
About 15 years into my marriage, my (then) husband experienced some key events that caused his political and life views to completely shift. It felt strange at first; almost surreal that someone on my team was now a turn-coat. And to top it off, he was pretty vocal about it — some would say militant.
We spent a few years arguing and trying to convince one other to change their mind, and then a few more years trying to figure out how to make it work in spite of our differences. In the end, and mostly for other reasons, it was time to leave the marriage. But this story isn’t so much about my lost marriage as much as it is about the aftermath.
At some point, my daughter decided to be on “Daddy’s team.”
It’s a beautiful thing when a daughter bonds with her father — it teaches her how to have solid relationships with men, and provides her with someone to lean on. But sometimes when you connect too much with Dad, it gets you silent lunch for arguing with your classmates about how terrible their presidential candidate is. That is my brilliant, strong-willed, opinionated daughter!
I was conflicted. Had I completely failed as a parent to set forward a reasonable socially responsible position? Could I let her go on with her opinion, knowing it was based on mimicry and blind allegiance to her father rather than on facts and logic? I had raised her to speak her mind, modeled strength and discernment — and here she was, arguing with me (and anyone else who would come to the table)!
I started with silence (and a lot of deep breathing). You don’t have to come to every argument you are invited to, right?
But quickly my own need to be right, combined with some serious flash-backs from a failed marriage, started to get in the way of biting my tongue. I knew it wasn’t healthy to argue with a kid, but I needed to find a way to stand proud in my beliefs and avoid conflict.
Based on my own experience, here are 5 steps you can take to manage the (potential) conflict from differing political views within families and relationships:
1. Really listen to the other person's opinion.
Remember, this is someone you love and value. Take the time to understand their point of view.
What is their logic? What are their underlying beliefs?
(Temporarily) shut down that voice in your head that says how crazy their opinion is to try and figure out where they are really coming from.
2. Be willing to validate their right to their own opinion.
I’m not saying you should agree, or even give a nod to crazy, but there are ways of helping people who are important to you to feel heard — even when you disagree vehemently! Try using phrases like:
- “I can tell you really feel strongly about this!”
- “Your passion around this issue is clear.”
Take a deep breath, and acknowledge their position in the spirit of family.
3. Focus on what you have in common.
It can help to avoid direct discussion of those murky waters, and find things that you agree on. Yes, this means sometimes changing the topic — and you might need some support for your family members to help with this.
4. Don’t try and change their mind.
I’ve learned that there are some issues that are so black and white to people that no amount of logic, compassion, reason, or act of divinity can budge them. In fact, most people actually shut down when they feel like someone is trying to attack or change their point of view. Listen and share, but don’t make your main goal to get them to come over to “your side.”
5. Know when to walk away.
Walk away from the discussion so you can keep the relationship! Or, in other famous words, ask yourself, “Is it better to be right or to be happy?”
This is particularly hard when the person you are arguing with is your child, and their logic is just plain loony!
But at some point, most arguments become less about what’s right or wrong, and more about winning. Be willing to agree to disagree and move on, even if it is temporary. Come back, if you must, when things are more calm, open, and start again at the beginning with really listening.
Most of us believe in free-speech and defense of our constitutional rights. Unfortunately, this doesn’t only apply to people who agree with us!
Creating the environment for healthy disagreement also sets the stage for re-evaluation and change. If there is any hope for your crazy family member to come to their senses, it’s more likely through a peaceful, open approach than an all-out war.
P.S. As my daughter matures she is getting much more open to other opinions — and to logic (rather than emotion) based discussion. I give some credit to my approach over the past few years. Oh, and BTW, she is definitely NOT voting for Trump!
Elaine Taylor-Klaus and Diane Dempster, founders of ImpactADHD.com, teach/write about practical strategies to parents of “complex” kids with ADHD and related challenges. To help your kids find the motivation to get anything done, download their free parent’s guide, The Parent’s Guide to Motivating Your Complex Child.