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Across the Divide

Tips for negotiating political differences with your family.

Illustration by Emma D.

Having parents or family whose beliefs fall on the complete opposite end of the political spectrum from yours can be difficult, especially during an election year. I’ve been lucky enough to have a mother and father who agree with me on most issues, but I’ve still had to deal with relatives who have opinions that couldn’t be farther from my own, and being forced to listen to a lecture on why a preferred political party’s agenda is “ruining” this country is never fun. But the truth is, differences like these may never be resolved to your satisfaction, so I’ve compiled a few tips to get you through those times when you just feel like exploding with rage.

Listen—it has its advantages.

When someone says something that I disagree with, my first reaction is to fight. But really listening to your parents is just as important as arguing your opinions, because understanding why your parents believe what they believe is part of having a dialogue/debate/argument. There are all sorts of factors that inform a person’s politics, like their age, background, financial situation, religion. You may respect where your parents are coming from, or you may still vehemently disagree with them, but at least you’ll be able to see their perspective. “I understand that my mom’s discomfort with gay marriage stems from both her traditional Chinese upbringing and her conservative leanings,” says Rookie’s Arabelle. “We come from very different places in life. I am not surprised by our differences.” Also, you can better clarify and defend your argument/position when you understand the other side, which is a tactical advantage! “If you’re gonna call your parents out on something problematic they say, do it with a lot of facts that they can’t shoot down,” adds Arabelle. “Come correct or don’t come at all.”

Don’t be baited into an argument.

Sometimes loved ones will try and needle you about your beliefs, whether they’re sending you a politically charged email, turning on a television show that espouses ideas you don’t agree with, or making off-handed remarks on a sensitive topic just to get a rise out of you. Rookie editor Anaheed says that when her father sends her emails of a political nature, she “deletes them without reading them, because I feel like if I respond angrily, I have lost some measure of dignity.” It is extremely tempting to fight with your family if you feel like they’re goading you into it, but by responding, you’re giving them exactly what they want: an argument. Try to take some satisfaction in knowing that you’re depriving them of satisfaction!

Stay calm, cool, and collected.

We’ve all no doubt been there: screaming, crying, YELLING in order to get our opinions heard. This is hard to avoid, because you CARE, and so the impulse is to yell LOUDER. But if you really want to sound convincing, it’s better to be focused and polite. “In my experience, it’s the person who lets their emotions get the better of them that ends up losing the argument,” says Rookie’s Dylan. “When I disagree with my dad, I try my best to transfer the passion I have about issues into compassion, because compassionate communication speaks to the soul and preserves civility, so no one gets red in the face and starts name-calling.” If you insist on discussing the facts that support your argument instead of accusing your family of being idiots, you maintain the high road. “You don’t want to come off as a raving lunatic,” says Jackson, a 17-year-old from Nevada. “You don’t want to look like another teenager who is trying to ‘rebel’ against some ‘machine.” Even if you don’t win the argument, or you come to the conclusion that it’s a lost cause, you will at least walk away knowing that tried your best by remaining mature.

But if you do spiral into an upset against your parents, it’s OK. “I HATE to be told ‘calm down’ or ‘don’t take it too seriously’ about things I care about,” says Arabelle. “It’s important to realize that your feelings—anger, disappointment, and otherwise—are totally warranted, and you shouldn’t let people make you feel bad about them, because politics matter. But you also have to understand that you can’t force anyone to see things your way through sheer emotion, so screaming your head off may feel good, but it’s not the most productive way of doing things.”

Find like-minded people.

“When keeping your responses bottled up is stressing you out, it helps to have like-minded siblings to vent to/with,” says Anaheed. I would extend this advice not just to siblings, but friends and other family members in general. If you live in a house where your whole family is at odds with you on these issues, it’s not healthy to constantly repress your feelings. Seek out people who share your views on social and political subjects, and let off steam by talking it out. Read magazines or watch programs that enhance your political viewpoint. If the fact that your mom watches Fox News bums you out, check out MSNBC to keep you sane.

Realize that you may never be able to change their opinions, and decide what issues really matter to you.

When you have strength in your convictions, someone who stands in direct opposition to them will seem so completely confusing and infuriating, especially if that person is your mom or dad. Even though you might think opinions that differ from yours are outrageous and just plain wrong, your family is allowed to have those opinions, just like you’re allowed to have yours. Whether it’s because your parents are ultimately unwilling to change, or because they’re getting their facts from completely different sources than you are, you have to accept that you might not be able to change their minds, so decide which arguments are worth fighting. “I ask myself, is trying to get my dad to understand the urgency and importance of this issue worth damaging the peace between us?” says Dylan.

Sometimes restraint will be impossible. “I feel so strongly about my political beliefs that I can’t not argue with people that disagree,” says Jackson. “I have gotten my parents to agree with me on things that we previously disagreed on.” Maybe your parents don’t know how much an issue means to you unless you really let your opinions be known. “I will fight with my mom forever about gay marriage, because obviously my queerness is not going to change,” says Arabelle. “I’m not going to let her put me back in the closet because it’d be easier for her. It’s my life, and if she wants to be part of it, she’s going to have to admit to herself that I’m gay and that politics directly impact how I am legally allowed to live my life.”

Find the things that you have in common.

When you’re at odds with your family on certain political issues, things can get pretty testy, especially if you’re living in the same house. Unless you’re estranged from them, while they’re alive your parents are probably going to be a part of your life, and you probably don’t want to be fighting with them all the time. Jenny says her parents are pretty respectful of her views, but adds: “My political beliefs don’t come up very often, because mostly we talk about food and gossip about Chinese people we know, and I’ve come to be happy with that sort of relationship. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t love to engage in other types of conversations, but I still haven’t found the right way to do it yet.” Try to focus the conversation on the things that you have in common, whether it’s your shared love of Law & Order: SVU or your favorite restaurant. Sometimes it might seem like you’ll NEVER EVER EVER get along, but at the end of the day, you’re a human, and your parents are humans, and you can find something to smile about together. (Aw, I totally just wrote an Olive Garden commercial, right?)

Not everyone is going to be able to live peacefully with their parents when politics get in the way, and that’s unfortunate. But whether you refuse to give up trying to change their mind, or decide to ignore the subject entirely, it’s your choice, and you’ll figure it out. Good luck! ♦

35 Comments

  • Maren Elisabeth November 7th, 2012 3:11 PM

    so happy Obama won!

  • Claire November 7th, 2012 3:14 PM

    This is such a timely piece. I voted for the first time yesterday, and I supported an independent congressional candidate. My parents and I got into a huge argument – they said that by voting for a third party, I was throwing my vote away, while I maintained that by voting this way, I was doing everything but. I’m glad this piece didn’t stress the concept of “life’s too short,” because politics encompass nearly every facet of life and unmediated disagreements can truly damage familial relationships.

  • Mary the freak November 7th, 2012 3:19 PM

    This was so helpful!
    I am often arguing with my mom, and it almost always ends in a fight and both of us (but mostly her) are telling each other the same arguements again and again. I am sure this will help so much! Thank you. (:

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • Sphinx November 7th, 2012 3:23 PM

    Thank you so much for this!!
    I really love my dad and all, but his political views are completely opposite to mine, and he always says such problematic things…
    We usually get along and stuff, but as soon as the topic switches to policts things get ugly real fast.
    It’s not so bad cause we live in different countries and all, but during this election it was hard not to fight with him. There were at least two arguments that left me in tears.( he really hates Obama, and while I’m not his number one fan, it’s WAY better to have him reelected than to have a bunch of anti-women, anti-gay, pro war lunatics in his place.)

  • landlockedblues November 7th, 2012 3:43 PM

    This was a great article!
    I have an aunt who’s a very close-minded, judgmental person (who I don’t particularly like) so whenever she starts some homophobic rant about how gays are ruining the institution of family or some sort of thing, my approach is to say things like ‘oh uhm i don’t know about that’ and then change the subject and later talk to my sister about how what she said made me feel. As much as I’d like to tell her how much I disagree, I know that it’s the sort of thing not worth being upset about because I don’t think she’ll change her opinion.

    PS: I’m not an American citizen and I don’t live in the US, but I was super, super happy about Obama’s win. So thank you, Americans citizens who voted. :)

  • DreamBoat November 7th, 2012 3:58 PM

    God, Hazel, thank you!
    Ever since I became a bit more “feminist-y” and started educating myself even more, my dad started to bait me into arguments (even if he doesn’t believe in what he’s saying) just so I can prove my point. Although my family is very, very liberal, sometimes I feel like they are all against me in an argument. This will definitely come in handy! <3

    http://psychedelicdaisy.blogspot.com

  • ijustreallylikebands November 7th, 2012 4:34 PM

    I love how Rookie covers all sorts of issues!^.^ And todays background is amazing, love that film so much:D<3

    http://www.glitterycatqueen.blogspot.com

  • Aurora November 7th, 2012 5:06 PM

    This is helpful for friends too. I myself supported Romney, but I have a close friend who is mad because she is an Obama supporter and thinks I’m turning my back on feminism because there were issues brought up and Romney considered cutting money from Planned Parenthood. This will help a lot in finding a middle ground with her.

    • Claire November 7th, 2012 8:08 PM

      Oh man, another Rookie who voted for Romney?! I thought I was the only one! Haha just had to get that out there

      • vintagewhimsy November 7th, 2012 10:49 PM

        Hey! I’m not alone! Well that’s a relief, I thought that I was the only Rookie supporting Romney too!

        • BritishFish November 9th, 2012 8:49 PM

          I thought I was the only one who voted for him too! haha.

  • I.ila November 7th, 2012 5:12 PM

    I remember the question about this at the NYC rookie reading! I felt so connected. Yesterday I came home to find my younger siblings watching election coverage… on Fox news. And my mom was at some scary Republican Women’s luncheon? I haven’t actually told them that I am not republican and that I can’t stand Romney, but i just try to avoid the subject because it’s not worth the argument.

  • Abby November 7th, 2012 5:14 PM

    I LOVE this. I’m so glad to have parents that almost totally agree with my political beliefs. We still disagree on abortion… they’re vehemently against it personally (less so politically… as in they are for allowing it in cases of rape and incest and the life of the mother), but I think it’s okay… but we just don’t talk about it. They also just don’t know for now that I’m an atheist… I’m sure that wouldn’t exactly sit well with them. But anyway… I’m thankful that they agree with me on most things… but this is great!!!

  • thebrownette November 7th, 2012 5:26 PM

    LAST NIGHT I DREAMED I WAS WRITING AN ARTICLE LIKE THIS.

  • jenaimarley November 7th, 2012 5:46 PM

    This is so perfect especially with family-oriented events (like thanksgiving) coming up soon!
    I am really lucky to have a really open-minded and progressive family (I have two moms for goodness sakes!) but the town my parents grew up in and in which a lot of my family still lives is really close-minded and conservative which can be hard to deal with especially when they are espousing ignorant views that are particularly hurtful.
    I think discussing ideas with people who disagree with me is really interesting and important though!
    So thank you so much for this thoughtful guide! <3

  • NotReallyChristian November 7th, 2012 5:53 PM

    Can I just say how much I LOVE the background image today? Me and my friend Daisy (who is so cool, and will always go and see all the best movies with me) went to see Submarine when it was in the cinema, and it was perfect! So beautifully shot, and so sweet – and even though it’s set in I think the 80s it describes rural British teendom perfectly :)

  • Nomi November 7th, 2012 5:56 PM

    Svuuuuuuuuu <3333

  • lunacita November 7th, 2012 5:58 PM

    I feel as if Rookie is strongly left-leaning when it comes to the political spectrum. Not too much in this particular article, but overall in general. I don’t consider myself a Republican, but my views(same-sex marriage not included) are more towards the right. I absolutely love reading the articles here on Rookie and being a part of the community, but I feel somewhat separated since it doesn’t seem to be fairly balanced or open in political opinion. Please don’t forget about us conservative girls out there!

    • Claire November 7th, 2012 8:11 PM

      Yes, I completely agree. I am extremely fiscally conservative and consider myself pretty socially liberal, but my ballot reflected my right-wing leanings yesterday. I am an avid Rookie reader and am certainly open to every side of every argument, but I do feel alienated when articles like these assume that Rookie’s readership is entirely liberal. Maybe I’m just in the wrong place.

      • Anaheed November 7th, 2012 8:19 PM

        Hi you two! It’s true that our staff members tend toward the liberal side — though I actually have no idea if all of them would identify that way. (We’ve never asked! There might be a secret conservative in the mix.) But that doesn’t make it impossible, or even hard, for us to be fair and to keep our conservative readers in mind with every article we publish.

        The pointers in this article work no matter what kinds of political differences you have with your parents. You could be a Republican with Democrat parents, or vice versa, or any other combo and they would all apply with zero adjustment.

        You are part of the Rookie community, and we are happy and proud that you’re here, and if we do anything specific that makes you feel less welcome, please let us know.

  • ellie0226 November 7th, 2012 6:07 PM

    Just in time for Thanksgiving! I think I’ve cried out of frustration the last three. Instead of saying what we’re thankful for, my family screams at each other from across the table!

  • tuntematon November 7th, 2012 8:26 PM

    Obama 4 lyf <3

  • Ben November 7th, 2012 9:00 PM

    this is good to read cuz thanksgiving is on it’s way and my family usualy discusses politics then, and this year i have my own views and am more educated in politics so now i will know how to share them effectively.
    I was telling my mom at school my friends didn’t really want to discuss the election today and i wanted people to talk to about my relife that Obama was elected and so she asked why (she voted for him she was just wondering) and i said same-sex marrige and adoption and women’s equal pay and rights to abortion and then we where discussing abortion and I told her my thoughts and she talked about hers and i listened and it got me to think about it in a different perspective but my views are still relitively the same.

  • Maddy November 7th, 2012 9:05 PM

    Well, I think we can all agree it’s awesome that women now hold an all-time high of 20 Senate seats! And we have our first openly lesbian senator! :)

  • lacecat November 7th, 2012 11:29 PM

    Thank you so much! My parents, especially my dad, are very republican. We’ve had many arguments due to politics. But these help for the next round

  • Hropkey November 8th, 2012 1:30 AM

    This is definitely a timely article. My family has lots of libertarian-leaning Republicans, while my mom and I are left-leaning moderates. I think a big part of it is their upbringing. Most of my family was born in the former Soviet Union, and are distrustful of government in general. I think it’s important to remember everyone is approaching the issue from different viewpoints.

  • karastarr32 November 8th, 2012 2:32 AM

    Luckily, my parents and I have similar political views, so I don’t have as much tension. It was really interesting, though, because this is the first year my parents were able to vote because they just got citizenship. When reading the ballot paper, we had some interesting discussions about medical marujuana and assisted suicide. Ultimately, she voted no on both, but it was nice to have an interesting debate. On the other hand, I will use this when talking to my friends, most of whom are VERY conservative. In the last election, we had a mock debate. Because nobody else was cheering for Obama, my friend and I lost our voices :) in the end of my school election, McCain won with 81% of the popular vote, but that’s what really got me into politics…. :)

    • Maddy November 8th, 2012 4:27 PM

      omg a republican in massachusetts? :P crazy! haha

  • Jane Lane November 8th, 2012 3:09 AM

    I always struggle with sticking to an opinion because person A thinks one thing and person B things the opposite. But I don’t know everything so who am I to say who’s right and who’s wrong. And I know this isn’t quite right but it feels that standing up for my opinion is like saying that the other person is wrong and they aren’t seeing clearly but that doesn’t sound right. I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING! Everything I think is stuck on “but who am I to say?”

    • Zebbie January 18th, 2013 12:58 AM

      The problem with the United States is that you have the freedom to think neither A nor B or a combination of both, but you have no hope of a candidate who is option C.

      Even the U.K. has four parties in Parliament. Why we only have two and yet a far more diverse (and loaded) population than they do is beyond me.

      Like they said in the Matrix — red or blue? If you want purple polka-dots, you’re out of luck.

  • Aubrey November 8th, 2012 2:48 PM

    On election night, I spent all night in my room, tracking the progress and airing out my anxiety on every social network I could and was absolutely THRILLED with Obama’s victory. When I went to see my parents’ reactions (stalwart republicans), my mother was crying and my father was ranting about how the US was going to become a shithole as they flipped to Fox News’ sourpuss coverage of the election results. I got into a huge fight with my parents that night over why Obama was clearly the better choice for our country that ended in my mom giving me the silent treatment and my father saying he’d failed to teach me “good values”. Most of the time I try not to fight with them, because it’s generally pointless and only succeeds in further convincing both of us that OUR views are the correct one, but it really is SO frustrating. I’m just really glad this article exists, and that there are other people dealing with the same things that I am.
    xx aubrey
    also, love today’s background

  • rschatz November 8th, 2012 10:08 PM

    Thank you so much for this article. I come from a family who leans conservative on many social issues, and I get into huge screaming matches whenever we talk politics. This will help me a lot.

    This doesn’t have much to do with the article: I can’t help but be angry when people say that Republicans are stupid or dumb. I know that my parents are not stupid or dumb. They just have different opinions. Even though I don’t agree with them, I know that they are NOT stupid. They use the knowledge that they have to support an alternative opinion. They are entitled to their opinion, and though I may not like it, I still respect it. That’s how I would want someone to treat me.

    ^Again, I know that this doesn’t have much to do with the article, but I just had to get that off of my chest. Thanks for the great article again.

  • zoezoezoezoe November 11th, 2012 4:20 AM

    thank you this is so important!!!

  • stephanieaurora November 13th, 2012 7:30 PM

    What a great article! I really love this site, even though I find many of the topics on here to appeal to more left-wing readers. I myself am a liberal Democrat and I support Obama. However, I applaud Rookie for letting readers know with this article that it’s okay to stay true to your beliefs, even if you don’t fully agree with feminist beliefs. It’s okay to not be pro-choice and still support gay marriage or vice-versa.

  • stephanieaurora November 13th, 2012 7:40 PM

    A couple more points:

    Even though many people quickly side with one party for many reasons, I think it’s very important to ALWAYS explore both sides of an argument. That is, if you want to do some research on politics, then yes, watching FOX is not exactly the best place to get your info. But neither is MSNBC. Even if you’re Democratic, for example, both TV programs tend to be factually inaccurate. Read or watch programs that are politically neutral. :)

    Second, I know that this is a little off topic, but while I have the chance… ABORTION. I have noticed that with Democrats, feminists, and other left-wing groups, many argue that Republicans are pro-life because they want to take away women’s rights. However, I strongly disagree (personally) because I interview Republicans about this topic and this is not the case. Whether you a agree or not, a life is a life and abortion kills. This is the Republican view and I think it’s very important to understand this side of the issue. Many women vote pro-life not because they want to take away their own rights, but because a fetus is still life.

    And I am pro-choice.