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Why It Sucks to Disagree With The Family

Those of you who’ve read a few of my articles know already that I belong to an ultra-conservative (politically and religiously) family. “Family,” in this case, encompasses all of my cousins, aunts, grandparents, and most of my more extended family (second and third cousins included!). What’s more, my family is not your passive ultra-conservative bunch – they read (though I dislike some of their sources), they discuss, and they crusade extensively.

In other words, my family is one big, self-affirming group. Except for me.

A discussion among friends in similar situations recently led to an informal poll of several dozen of our acquaintances about being on the political and religious outs with their families. To our surprise, we discovered we are not such rare birds. In fact, lone ladies in families with unified, differing belief systems are all over the place. In my case, I abhor capital punishment, I think “feminist” is a positive term and not a cuss word, and I believe that corporations must have limits to their greed and that capitalism, though great in some ways, has flaws we must address as a society. Like those we polled – and many of you Persephoneers, too, I suspect – my contrary views constantly land me in hot interpersonal waters with my loved ones.

Most in this situation learn early to bite their tongues. Others cannot handle the constant stress and simply cut off contact with the family altogether. Personally, I can avoid responding to an antagonizing comment four out of five times, but it’s the fifth time that inevitably erupts into a Facebook discussion or a lengthy email chain in which all members gang up to prove wrong the crazy liberal democrat. (Note: I’m actually a moderate, but if you’re at all left of waaaaaaay extreme right, you will look like a liberal.)

Then there’s the stigmatizing, which takes many forms for lone ladies like us. In my case, the stigma of being “the political enemy” in addition to the fundamental belief among the family that I “misinterpret the scriptures” mean that I bear the burden of all the family’s negative feelings about the very worst examples of liberals and apostates. That I’m neither a liberal nor an apostate doesn’t matter. As a deeply empathetic individual, I sense these negative generalizations, and in a more concrete sense, I experience them first-hand around the visiting table.

Yet I believe the most damaging effect of all this disagreement is the sense of isolation so many of us feel. Those of us who do not conform to the family views experience a barrier to family affection. At family get-togethers, for example, we must stand aside (in my case, physically) when the group begins to discuss politics or social issues. Likewise, we become the cause of awkwardness and discomfort in conversations, whether we intend to or not. For example, whenever my father begins to blurt out racist, hateful words about the president, my mother looks pleadingly at me to say nothing or leave the vicinity to avoid conflict.

The truth is, families in complete agreement with one another affirm their mutual beliefs, which enables them to feel closer as a unit. People need such affirmation; people need to preach to their respective choirs. Affirmation means a great deal to social animals. So for that reason, our families have every right to pat each other on the back for their opinions. Yet for someone who just doesn’t see eye to eye with her family, that is affirmation and family time she does not get to share.

As a result, we turn to our social spheres for affirmation. And these days, we communicate with our social spheres mostly through texting, email, or social media. The latter of these poses the biggest problem. Now we are social creatures, Persephoneers, and we need the same affirmation our families presently receive from one another. That much of this affirmation must happen through social media makes it all the more imperative that we don’t have our opinions policed. However, families find our beliefs distasteful and often feel as though they must speak up against them, especially in a public forum. Does that sound like a familiar scenario to you? Does it resemble, say, that visiting table environment in which you try, politely, to bite your tongue? For this reason, while we could hide these comments and discussions from our families, I have to ask, should we really have to?

And the answer in my opinion is, no, we shouldn’t have to. Personally, stubborn creature that I am, I refuse to pretend for the sake of family normalcy that I’m something other than I am. Perhaps this is where those of us who find ourselves perpetually on the political and religious outs with our families have to settle for our own sanity. We should not have to pretend we believe, feel, or act other than we do with the people who should accept us as we are. It’s one thing to bite your tongue at the occasional family get-together, and quite another to bite your tongue every day of your life. Those who find themselves in a large body of affirming family members have the privilege of easy affirmation; the least those family members can do, in my perspective, is let us have ours.

 

Does any of this ring true for you? If so, what’s your situation like? So many of us would love to hear your stories, thoughts, and perspectives on balancing political or religious conflicts with your families! Do you feel like this problem arises more for daughters, sisters, and nieces than for sons, brothers, and nephews?

 

 

By Michelle Miller

Michelle Miller is a twenty-something blogger, cook, freelance writer and editor living in Seattle, Washington. She’s a feminist trying ever-so-hard to embrace her spaces, conventional or not. She looks forward to numerous bad hair days, burnt cremes, a soapbox or two, and maybe (just maybe) a yellow polka-dot bikini in the years ahead.

12 replies on “Why It Sucks to Disagree With The Family”

I’m luckily not in such an extreme situation as you. For me it’s only my grandfather, my father from time to time (and mum and me set him straight when he does that) and sometimes my brother. Even though most of the time I think he’s being a pig just to provocate, which somehow makes it worse because he’s smart enough to know that words can hurt/give off the wrong impression.

 

 

For me this rings deeply true. My brother and I tend to hold sliding spectrum “liberal” values and we come from a very conservative, Christian-Republican (and ne’er the twain shall diverge) home. I don’t think it irks my family less that my brother has the same values I do, but I think they feel safer calling me on it. Is it because I’m nicer? Because I’ve never threatened to just stop talking to them if they disrespect me? Because I have a milder temper? I don’t know. It’s hard to tell which of the differences in treatment between the two of us are just based on our personality differences, and which are ingrained gender roles coming to a nasty head. (Our parents tried very hard, considering their conservatism, not to allow gender roles to determine how they treated us. Aside from a strange delineation in which skills they seemed to think we needed to know, they were fairly successful. I never got the whole “submit to a man” talk, for instance.)

I do know that there are certain topics that I just can’t discuss with my parents – my mother more than my father – because the conflict is too great and too maddening and because I am the daughter and I will never come out looking ok, and they will pretty much never hear my perspective on these issues. It’s rough knowing that there is nothing I can see to help my parents stop viewing my perspective not only as “young,” ignorant, uninformed, and incorrect, but also as morally suspect and corrupt. It’s hard especially when these are people I obviously care about, whose good opinion I covet, and whose negativity is directed at viewpoints I crafted carefully after a lot of careful consideration, research, and thinking.

I can never decide what’s worse: being written off  on account of my age and therefore just not being taken seriously, or being written off and labelled as morally inferior.

I make facebook filters and try desperately to remember to use them, but there’s always someone newly getting offended no matter what I say or no matter how innocuous I think it is.

I don’t go through this as much because my family isn’t really political at all, but I do get this kind of thing from a lot of my friends. I’m not always so good at keeping my mouth shut (which has gotten me into trouble) but at the same time, I’ve been ambushed before by friends on Facebook for innocuous things. This has led me to limit who is allowed in my Facebook life and who isn’t, and remove people from my friend’s list if they can’t control their rage. Likewise, I’ve had to do the same for a few family members who can’t accept that I’ve quit going to church and I’m marrying a Jew. There came a point when I realized that my relationships with those people (particularly family) only became more offensive because they knew my every thought and were constantly reading about my abhorrent lifestyle, so I removed them as well. I’m proud to report that we still talk to each other and that now when we do talk, it’s a lot less about my liberal views or my sinful relationship. For me, limiting their access to me has made me saner and improved our relationships tenfold.

I wonder if it’s a general trend: younger family members tending more liberal, older ones more conservative. Hardly a rule or a comprehensive explanation, but perhaps part of it.

Mercifully, my family’s fairly apolitical. I know my dad’s more conservative than either my mother or I, but we’re all moderate enough not to ruffle each others’ feathers too much. I also think we all tend to bite our tongues in general to avoid conflict.

See, SOME of the older members of my (largely conservative) family – and Michelle’s, too, I happen to know – chalk their conservatism up to their age bracket, but I don’t think that’s the case. (In my family, two of my liberal aunts are consistently left out of this older-and-supposedly-wiser scenario.)

I think it’s possible that some young folk initially break from their parents’ leanings and establish themselves along a different part of the spectrum to create an individual identity.

In my case, the areas in which I disagree with my family are fundamental, based on paradigms unlikely to change anytime soon (re: capital punishment, equality of women) and not going to shift right as a I get older (I’d like to see a man “rule” me).

It’s possible my economic views may shift, but I’m doubtful. I’m so moderate already, and I believe I have a thoughtful, rounded view of capitalism. Whereas some argue it is a system without a flaws, or a system whose flaws do not need addressing, I fundamentally disagree for reasons related to the paradigm I mentioned above.

I just don’t think my beliefs have much to do with identity, but with good old fashioned, well-thunk-out convictions.

Perhaps some of the age/political divide is because as young people, we generally have nothing to lose and everything to gain and it’s our hope that we’ll be given equal access to the good things out there. As older people, we’ve been through so much to get what we have that we’re willing to fight tooth and nail to keep it.

I think the age analysis is true too though and that the door swings both ways. They are old and wisened by life; We are young and more attune to where society is now. Both camps often maintain that they are right because of their age.

Yeah, I just know just as many moderate or liberal people as conservative in the middle aged to older age groups, so I have a hard time listening to conservatives in that age group define their perspective by experience and age alone. Different experiences lead to different perspectives, no? And having fewer years of experience shouldn’t invalidate the perspectives of younger people. Especially not bright, observant, responsible younger people.

Certainly. It’s not right for either side to invoke their age as proof that they are right–though it seems us younger people get the brunt of it. It’s kinda like the God Argument. “Well, God said so, so you’re wrong.” “Well, I’ve been around for a long time so how do you know?” I don’t know if god exists. I don’t know what you’ve been through. These arguments are not debatable. Until science proves us wrong, age does not make any one of us an ounce more knowledgeable.

What I’ve heard, through school and discussions, is that the whole political spectrum has become more liberal throughout time. So when the older generation was our age, the views they had were “liberal”, for the time period (I can’t speak for everyone, of course). It’s just that those views haven’t changed, but the political spectrum has, which is why they are now seen as conservative, and we, the younger generation, are seen as liberal (in general).

It’s hard to concede that point when our parents’ generation were marching against the war in Vietnam and now they’re trying to excuse the one in Iraq. I don’t think our political sphere has gotten more liberal, and our parents’ generation’s views have not stayed the same; they’ve gotten consistently more conservative as time goes on and then frequently try to tell us that we will do the same. You know. When we’re older and wiser. In the U.S. at least (and I’m not sure where you’re writing from), there’s a deep backlash against perceived “liberalism,” which includes a lot of basic human rights (like equal rights for women and minorities) – not really “liberal” values at all. We’re watching state by state as basic medical rights for women are being revoked or restricted, legally. If the majority of people don’t support it, they certainly aren’t doing enough to stop it. One of the writers here at Persephone has been doing a great piece on political distinctions and what terms like “liberal” and “conservative” actually mean, and I think they help to inform how I use those terms, but essentially here I mean conservative as in retentionist – keeping things the same as they “have always been,” and liberal as reformational – “intending to progress.”

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