Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Readers’ Responses to Grandparents’ Political Rants

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My column, “Grandparents’ Political Rants Are Upsetting,” elicited responses from many readers.

Impacts on Relationships

A common theme expressed by several readers is the impact this presidential campaign is having on personal relationships. For example, one reader wrote: “Good advice — I think you might need to do some reruns of this [column] in the weeks ahead. [The magazine] The Week had a connected caveat: during this election cycle, more than any other in the past, avoid heated political conversations with people you care about who have opposing views — the risk of losing that relationship ‘permanently’ seems to be higher than usual.”

Many columnists are writing about how relationships are affected. In a recent New York Times column by Frank Bruni, “Trumping on Eggshells,” he says Mr. Trump’s candidacy has increased “ . . . the number of us who are steadfastly avoiding conversations we’d normally have. We pride ourselves on not letting political arguments disrupt personal relationships. We have friends across the ideological spectrum. We esteem leaders from both parties. We value a healthy give-and-take. But we can’t fit Trump into that”.

In a WSJ article titled “Till Death—or Donald—Do Us Part: Couples Spar Over Trump,” columnist Michael M. Phillips interviews couples who support different presidential candidates. One telling comment: “It’s making it a testy time,” says Ms. Hinman, a 56-year-old attorney. “I know we’ll weather this storm, but there are moments when I think, ‘I have no idea who you are.’ ” Mr. Phillips summarizes: “There’s something about Mr. Trump that makes it hard for people who love him, and people who hate him, to love each other”.

Impacts on Discussions

A grandfather explains how this presidential race has affected his discussions with his seven-year-old grandson. “Yesterday my grandson asked me if Trump was going to ‘build a wall.’ He was obviously concerned. I told him that the wall was not between the US and the world, but Mexico, and that it would not happen if Mrs. Clinton is elected. Normally I say let the discussion be unbridled, but not when a candidate boasts about the size of his penis and claims that a television interviewer was having her period, and on and on.” This grandfather is not alone in finding those discussions difficult and unpleasant.

These comments from another reader: “Your suggestions for how to limit/corral the ‘discussion’ are great . . . for normal, thinking people. It sounds like the grandparents [in this situation] are the emotional, bombastic, and bullying type, so I am not sure [any political discussions] can be managed in a way that don’t end badly because you’re asking these knuckleheads to behave like mature adults. They have shown that they are not. Really tricky — at the end of the day, the parents should try what you’ve suggested, and prepare for the fallout.”

There was fallout.

Update from the Young Mom

My husband and I took your advice to read the column you wrote to our children and get their thoughts on the options you suggested. Because you changed some of the details of the situation, our kids never knew that the column you wrote was actually about our family. Our older one said, “So we’re not the only ones with grandparents like ours!”

The kids did not think your first option of letting their grandparents “have free rein” and say whatever they wanted to say would work because, as our little guy said, “They will just keep talking and yelling.”  

They wanted to try the second option of telling the grandparents (when they started talking about the candidates) that we, as a family, had so many other things to talk about with them that we wanted them to talk about politics for only five minutes.

A few days later we had dinner at my parents’ house. I explained to them what we had decided. When I said we’d like their comments on politics to be no more than five minutes, they both erupted and said they would talk about whatever they wanted to talk about for as long as they chose, and that no one, especially a “libtard” like me, was going to tell them what to do.

Our younger child started crying and said he wanted to go home. Our older son told his grandparents that he hated them and that they were terrible people. We soothed the kids in the car and told them we were sorry for the upsets. We promised them that they would never again have to endure their grandparents behaving like that.

When we got home my husband and I decided to e-mail my parents an ultimatum: If they wanted to spend time with their grandchildren, there would be no discussion whatsoever about politics. Two weeks went by without hearing from them. We reassured our kids that our giving their grandparents this ultimatum was the right thing to do.

I have to say that things were very calm in our household.

Finally, we got an e-mail back from them. They never apologized (this didn’t surprise me), but they did say they talked to their pastor and he helped them see that talking about politics was not as important as spending time with family, especially with their grandchildren.

We accepted their invitation and went to their home for a visit (we wanted to be able to leave, if need be). It was awkward at first, but then my parents really focused on the kids, asking them all about their school activities, their friends, their sports. I am sure my parents did a lot of biting of their tongues not to talk about politics, but it ended up being one of the nicest visits we’ve ever had with them. Our kids commented that they had a great time, they liked being with their grandparents, and it was nice that no one was yelling.

We like the direction this whole thing is taking. We thank you for your guidance. My husband and I would have never thought to give my parents an ultimatum! We’re glad we did.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

E-mail queries to [email protected]

Dr. Rancourt’smost recent book is,
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen:
 Helping Young Parents and Grandparents Deal with Thorny Issues

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