The beat goes on: Politics dividing families

Election cycle exacerbates existing
problems between parents and adult children
 

by Sheri McGregor

politics dividing familiesIt’s happening again. Adult children are insisting their parents change their political views—or else.  Are politics dividing families?

Tunnel vision

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.   

 Related reading

 The turning point

When your estranged adult child wants nothing to do with you: Go with the flow?

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21 thoughts on “The beat goes on: Politics dividing families

  1. AvatarCarol B.

    Thank you for raising this subject. My experience is like that of many others in that my 41-year-old daughter decided last December that I was no longer welcome in her life. She sited differences in our political viewpoints as the reason, but given that we’ve never been aligned politically, this rings hollow. There’s a new husband on the scene and insidiously he’s succeeded in separating her from her family and friends, using politics as the excuse. Of course I have great concern about his hold over my once kind, loving, funny daughter, but I’ve come to truly believe it’s out of my hands.

    There’s been no communication from her – at all – and of course I no longer see my granddaughter, a special needs child who I had a very close relationship with. They live 20 minutes away from me. But, life does go on and the difficult days are fewer. And really, the bottom line for me is that I don’t want to be with anyone who doesn’t want to be with me. I wish her well and am sad that our lives no longer converge, but I believe in God’s plan, always.

    It’s been quite a rollercoaster these past months and I’m very happy to have found Sheri’s book, it’s been a Godsend. As has been said often, this is a club I never wanted to join but here I am and life is still good. Faith, friends, and unexpected gifts like this site smooth the way.

    Reply
  2. AvatarL.B.

    I can’t tell you how glad I am to find your article. The last couple of weeks have been h… with our daughter. She came after us a couple of years ago angry about something and berated us 9 days straight through text messaging. I had never been through that before with her. I vowed I would never let that happen again. It took a toll on my health. Well it’s happening again, over our beliefs politically and religiously and is much worse this time. We have blocked her on pretty much everything. Not because we want to, but the stress is too much. She tries to divide us as a couple by going after one of us w/blame about the other….she takes turns. We can never say anything right, twists everything we say and if we don’t say anything she gets belligerent too. It feels like harassment and bullying. It leaves me feeling like a complete failure (although I am learning it is not me but her). She has said such hurtful things to us. She has even showed some of our conversations to her in-laws saying “they agree with her” on what she thinks about us. I almost feel like we need legal help. I am seeking out a counselor at the moment. Sometimes I honestly feel like I am losing my mind because it just keeps going and its such insanity. I can’t believe this is my daughter. Thank you for this. Now I know we are not alone. I am so sorry for anyone else going through this. Are there support groups yet for this kind of abuse??

    Reply
  3. AvatarDiane M.

    I dont really understand the American system of politics or education. I would hesitate to blame educators, but here in New Zealand, we see the negative impact of social media. People are no longer well equipped to converse face to face as so much communication is via social media. Too easy to be rude, dismissive and intolerant. We need to be mindful to lead by example. Be gracious and kind, it’s a big ask in trying times, haha!! Does make some give pause though.

    Reply
  4. MorganaMorgana

    I’m not sure where the intolerance of a different point of view, or even the possibility of one, has come from but the old/young division here in the UK regarding Brexit certainly stirred up a hornets nest. Of course it was never as simple as that but older people who remember life outside the EU where thoroughly vilified for voting to leave. Of course many young people did as well but that was conveniently overlooked by MSM.
    It’s the arrogance of ‘ my way or the highway ‘ which amazes me.

    Reply
    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      Morgana,

      Thank you for sharing something relevant from a country other than the U.S. This is not a strictly U.S. problem, obviously!

      Hugs,
      Sheri McGregor

  5. AvatarMarlis

    Hi Elisabeth
    I do not lay sleepless over our political disagreements. We disagree about most other things too and it gets really irritating when we are lectured about things we have experienced and our daughter has not, but at my age i
    have started to not Care anymore. Let her have her opinion and feel superior. My husband and me are Just making the most of the time we have left
    as i feel it is a now or never kind of time where you have to let go of a lot of things. And we behave a bit as if we had no children (before we were married) It is quite liberating instead of worrying (they never worry about us) and always let them come first as we have done for years. I hope i can keep it up.
    Keep well and all the best

    Reply
    1. AvatarElizabeth

      I do understand Marlis…it is all we can do…I guess for myself, I worry more how things may go if I outlive my husband…or he me…for the one left it will be hard!! But I also trust GOD to help us. This has not been an easy path…none of it really. I had a hard enough life prior to marriage, after marriage and all the way on. Yes, everyone has troubles…but not everyone has this sort. And so nice of Sheri to provide this place to share!! Just remember you are not alone!!!

  6. AvatarPM

    A large contributor to parental estrangement is the western educational system. We have trusted the K-12 public schools with educating our children. That trust has been betrayed by teaching them a far-left ideology that rejects Judeo-Christian values. Our kids have learned far-left ideology over many years that targets the nuclear family for destruction. Once at the university level they are already primed for further brainwashing by socialist/communist ideology. The sad thing is that we unwittingly have paid for their brainwashing and betrayal of their family. It is very hard for these young indoctrinated adults to recover from far-left brainwashing. Parents unfortunately have no chance to remedy the damage. My heart goes out to all of these parents who are suffering with grief and loss. Thank you Sheri for your work in helping all of us to believe in a better tomorrow.

    Reply
  7. AvatarLois G.

    Just before my oldest son became estranged from us two years ago, he told me it is elitist to vote Green. I was flabbergasted. He probably used our political differences as a pretext to pull away, but I do think he meant what he said. It was an ill informed statement, but not uncommon unfortunately.

    My other son is more understanding of my politics although I know he won’t vote like me in November.

    Greens have a saying; no vote shaming. Indeed.

    Reply
  8. AvatarBerna

    To Julie
    I agree completely. School and universities have a huge influence on our children and there is not much we can do about it as at one point they are adults. I wont mention which spectrum the teachers and professors belong to as this poste might be deleted. In my country (Denmark) small children spend too much time in daycare and Kindergarten and not so much with their parents. All this is undermining the family and a sense of belonging and ultimately results in a lack of respect for your parents i think.
    Social media is encouraging disrespect towards others. You can say anything you want even to your parents.
    These are huge changes in our society. Like you i would never have disrespected my parents and actually at a young age was aware of the hard times and the sacrifices they had to make.
    Our Young people have so many choices nowadays and opportunities. Maybe that is the problem. And parents just dont mean what they used to. We better get used to that.

    Reply
  9. AvatarPEGGY W.

    This needs to posted on your FB page to share with so many estranged parents desperately trying to understand their estrangement.

    Reply
  10. AvatarJoan

    A couple of thoughts. First of all, young adults of my generation (I am 60), would have never said to their parents “OK Boomers”. How disrespectful! Politics or not, it just didn’t happen. And thinking back to the 1960’s, even though the younger generation was against the Vietnam War, I don’t recall that they demanded that the parents acquiesce to their political views or be “disowned”. Conservative older adults were well aware of the “new generation”, and that was that. It was “live and let live”.
    I think social media is definitely fueling the hatred and downright meanness that we see being displayed in the world today. I also think that these young adults, aside from feeling very strong about their point of view, feel invalidated when their parents don’t adopt their values. They need to “separate” from their parents, strengthen their sense of self and not feel so threatened if their parents don’t see things their way. And that takes some maturity.

    Reply
  11. AvatarElizabeth

    I think what a lot of families are experiencing today is exactly what the education system in this country hoped to produce…the lack of family closeness or ties altogether. We have 1 of our 3 kids who is at the extreme opposite of us in the political area. Fortunately none of us try to be rude or mean about it and often do not discuss things. If she did not need us so badly, due to her bad divorce and ensuing troubles, maybe our situation would be different. What we see in our daughter is that she has basically replaced her religious upbringing with a political party…people will believe in something…make something else into their god. We see that. I should mention that in the past decade we left the religion we raised our kids in and joined another…so for our 2 kids who are religious, that has been hard. We understand that…though we had every reason to do as we did. But for those 2, strangely enough, politics we DO agree on. But for other reasons, 1 of them has next to nothing to do with us (it is called when a son takes a wife). We live in a very sad time. One of great intolerance and lack of family ties. I have great empathy for those facing such extreme demands from their children…basically a disavowal of all the values that were held by their parents. I feel that any child for whom one would change their political views, in order to please them, the demands would not stop there…in time that child would demand something else. We live in a time of entitlement…and a forgetting of what good manners mean…and the fact that truely we DO NOT HAVE to say everything we think!!

    Reply
    1. AvatarElizabeth

      Marlis, Please do not beat yourself up as to how things have gone for you. The ONLY reason 2 of our 3 agree with us politically is pure and simple…they are GOD followers. Our other child is most definitely not. Our older 2 were in college at the same time, and our son told us his sister believed “all the stupid fluff” whereas he most definitely did not. I DID homeschool…though the older 2 just part of their elementary years and for about 1/3 of their classes and the youngest 100% from start to entering college age. We lived in one of the most awful towns in the USA in my opinion, most all the years our kids were at home. My husband tried to get a job elsewhere, but we were chained there. Finally we were able to leave by the time the youngest was 16…not time enough. ALL the churches in that town, to my knowledge, are terribly flawed. I am not sure why any of them met…though it was a very selective social club. My husband and I were always involved in the music wherever we went…so it is not like we did not try. Long story…my theory was that the town was infected by the people and that culture there. It was not even a town that had been around all that long…maybe started in 1948 or so. Then we had kin on both sides who were bad eggs. Had we to do life over, we would have had even less to do with them…some of them had the main purpose to help our kids disrespect us and separate…they were successful for a time with the middle one…who is not a GOD follower. By now however, it is THEM who are mostly ignored. But we have been through a sort of hell quite frankly. And our youngest was severely damaged by vaccinations. I could write a book on that alone. So our lives were anything but easy. And our son married a girl who did not think he should have kin apparently. Though we liked her, it was not reciprocal. Sadly. But we are 68 and 70 now…we enjoy life so much as we can…but we are neither one in good health…so perhaps our sojourn upon this sad place is not too far off from the next life. Which we so look forward to with great anticipation. I lost several babies in miscarriage…we are looking forward to meeting them…as well as our beloved ones who have gone ahead. GOD above all else has been our comfort. We are grateful beyond words. The ONLY reason we are sane really. I was thanking HIM today for the fact that so far I am physically quite strong even if not in best of health and my prayer is to be able to take care of my hubby so long as he lives. I appreciate this place. Really the only place I have found where we can be open about this problem. If your children abandon you, even the same as our son has us…others feel you must be bad parents. But not necessarily so. Were we perfect? No. But we did try our best. It is all any human can do!! Be encouraged, you are not alone. I feel that Julie has explained it very well too!! And of course, Sheri!!

  12. AvatarMarlis

    Hi Sheri
    Thanks for replying.
    I am just wondering what have these parents done (which apparently we did not) since their children have the exact same political View as them with probably lots of interesting political discussions.
    Whereas we are judged by our children and have to listen to their insults because we see world events in a different light (thanks to our life experience). Well i wish i knew. Maybe it is just the Big question for all of us on this blog
    WHY are things the way they are and was our parenting not good enough?
    Thanks to your wise advice i am beginning to realise that the question is pointless and i could only do my best at the time.
    All the best
    Marlis

    Reply
    1. AvatarJulie

      It’s probably not about your parenting. It’s about peer influence and the poisoning of their minds by radical college professors who have all the power in a classroom. That’s my conclusion. I can look at mine and their differing views, and it pretty much follows which college they attended. Hard-working conservative young boy goes to far-left college and comes back “entitled.” THAT part might be partially our doing since we paid part of his way and he took out loans for the rest — loans which some politicians promise he won’t have to pay back. If I had it to do over again, I would have homeschooled through college, or sent them to a trade school, or let them pay their own way, or started them working toward a career without college. The co-signing of loans was a bad idea.

      I don’t understand, though, the lack of respect. That has to be driven from social media and the culture. I would never, ever have treated my parents poorly, even when I was 180 degrees different in opinion.

  13. AvatarCynthia J.

    Our political views have a lot to do with why I believe our daughter has become admonishing and critical toward us the past few years. She’s let us know she’s very disappointed in us and also that she’d like to sit down with us to discuss events so she can educate us. It’s hard not to laugh out loud! That would only anger her. In order to take the lead in creating a peaceful home environment, we started to be more discreet about what we watch, listen to and discuss when she was home. But she left anyway, raging at us about our opinions being of no value. Recently, she has taken risks with her physical safety due to her political passions and said she would be happy to die for the cause.

    Reply
    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      Hi Cynthia,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and situation. I know other parents will find your experience helpful to them. (I hope your daughter will be safe.)

      Hugs,
      Sheri McGregor

  14. AvatarMarlis

    This is what is happening in a lot of families i think. However there are children who apparently completely agree with their parents including their political views. I could name a few families who are in politics in my country.
    Our daughter disagrees in most of what we believe in. Therefore we avoid political discussions. I do not like being treated like an idiot. She does not understand that our upbringing was completely different. Times were different. I think she is being childish and imature. The so called tolerant young people are extremely intolerant towards anybody with different believes and values.
    They would never admit their intolerance because they lack selfreflexion. You would think that there would be some understanding towards parents who have raised them. Sad times we are Living in.

    Reply
    1. rparentsrparents Post author

      Hi Marlis,

      You bring up an important point about intolerance. It’s obvious that while you are attempting to tolerate her behavior by not discussing politics since it’s a hot-button issue, many who are passionate about their political viewpoints are not willing to tolerate any other views and continue to poke at people who do not agree with them and start fights. It is tearing some families apart (and society at large). You are so right though, that there are families who agree on their viewpoints and politics brings them closer—thank you for pointing that out.

      Hugs to you, Marlis.

      Sheri McGregor

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