Election cycle exacerbates existing
problems between parents and adult children
by Sheri McGregor
It’s happening again. Adult children are insisting their parents change their political views—or else. Are politics dividing families?
Four years ago, several parents wrote to me, distraught over sons and daughters who threatened to disown them because their politics didn’t align. This time, more parents are sharing their stories, and the rhetoric is more intense.
Here are a few examples:
- A father writes that his grown daughters started college and adopted an entitlement mentality. Although he raised them with values that included working for what they wanted in life, he reports, “They say life should be easy and believe that everything should be free. An odd teaching from a college that isn’t cheap.” He has required that they work to pay for part of their education and pitch in around the house, which his daughters don’t like. They have decided they don’t like him, and have become downright rude. While not physically estranged, emotionally and in their worldview, they’re on another planet. As the Presidential election draws near, they disrespect his views, and often tell him, “OK, Boomer,” (a new phrase young people use to dehumanize elders). The daughters, though, may be in for a surprise. Dear old Dad is growing weary of their surly superiority. He’s contemplating booting from the house and no longer paying their tuition.
- Another father says his son, who had been fully estranged for more than two years, was careless about Covid-19. The son called to check in on his dad but wasn’t empathetic to his fears. “He says the virus is politicized,” the father says. “He doesn’t get what it’s like to be in your seventies plus have another health risk factor.”
- A widowed mother writes that her 34-year-old son cannot tolerate her fiscally conservative views. When he repeatedly made every conversation political, insisting his “far-left” opinions were right, she suggested they agree to disagree and talk about other things. He said he couldn’t separate politics from the rest of his life and called her a racist. Shocked by the charge, she says, “I asked him for examples, which he couldn’t provide.” He yelled at her, repeating the word “racist,” louder and louder as he stood over her chair. Shaken by his obnoxious rancor, she asked him to leave and stop coming around until he could control himself. That was two months ago and, other than a few emails in which he continues to harangue her, there has been no contact. She says, “I love him and wish things were better between us, but he doesn’t get to choose what I believe.”
- Another mother says her son rejected her and her husband (his father) during the last Presidential election year. When it came to their votes, it was his way or the highway. Two years later, he began reaching out and even brought their grandson for a visit. After that, they video chatted every few weeks. Recently though, his demeanor has changed. “As the election draws near, I can feel him rejecting us again,” she says. Their daughter, with whom they have shared a good relationship, is also now putting political views ahead of them. She recently sent her mother a text saying if they didn’t dissolve their assets and “support the revolutionaries,” she would stop all contact. The mother replied that at their age, they would support just causes on their own terms. The mother went on to encourage her daughter to do something to make a difference about what she believes: “Volunteer to clean up, rather than destroy. Get a teaching degree and educate the next generation for a better life. Or get a law degree and help those needing assistance.” The daughter’s reply was “rote.” These children are 37 and 39. “Old enough to know better,” as their mother says.
What I see in these stories is bullying, disrespect, and even arrogance. That’s not so different than other estrangement situations. These “children” are like many who harshly judge their parents in terms of what they determine are unchangeable traits. Then they use these so-called traits to justify the rejection. This is the opposite of parents, who most often try to sidestep conflicts and get along. Or, as the widowed mother above says, “Agree to disagree.” That’s why the parents whose son rejected them over the last election welcomed him back with open arms. They try and empathize. Living and working where he does is worlds away than his quaint hometown, where his parents still live. He’s adopted different values. It’s too bad that, at least during the election cycle, he has trouble seeing his parents as whole people. They may differ politically but are still worthy and good.
Do politics bring out what’s already there?
The political season amps up the opinionated and highlights the intolerance of those who insist that others agree, but some parents have faced similar strong-arming all along. Those whose children make a stink about their views might look at the current behavior with an eye to the past. Upon reflection, the widow whose son calls her a racist says, “He’s always been a bully. Politics just makes it more intense.”
Maybe your political views are very important to you, so when your “children” say those opinions are immoral, wrong, or stupid, it’s tougher than usual to try and keep the peace. That thought begs the question: Should you always stand down? Sometimes, preserving your own peace takes precedence over trying to get along.
I can understand the father whose daughters dishonor him. It’s tough to live with adults who devalue you and your beliefs. Maybe he’s right, and the school of hard knocks will remind his daughters of the lessons he once instilled in them: ideals about adult responsibility that their college culture has apparently erased.
For the parents whose son and daughter have rejected the salt-of-the-Earth values they were raised with, peace means recognizing that the world has changed. Nowadays, political rhetoric is often about right and wrong. Everything from global warming to eating meat has become an issue. These parents believe the fear that now permeates every facet of society has taken away all the fun. “People used to get dirty, drink out of a hose, and not be so worried all the time,” the mother says. The couple can only offer their children messages of love and encourage their interests as they always did. Meanwhile, they’ll vote as they deem best.
Politics dividing families: What do you think?
In the peer support forum here at the site, political discussions are not allowed. That rule has not changed, but I want parents whose children reject them for their political beliefs to know they are not alone. Here, in comments to this article, I hope you will share your experiences in this regard and support one another. Please be respectful and kind.